Du Sable-Caniapiscau-Koksoak 2009

Entire route of the Caniapiscau is very dangerous, each lake joined by many miles of rapids, impassable falls, much portaging. Trip should not be considered except by very expert canoemen and, by them, only after much research and study of previous reports. Governmental travel permits for this route may be difficult, if not impossible, to obtain.
Nick Nickels, Canoe Canada, 1976
 
What would life be like if we had no courage to attempt anything?
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
 
 
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Introduction

The Du Sable (also known as Sand River) is an important tributary of the Caniapiscau River. The du Sable has been at the heart of a geographical and toponymic confusion, both about its source and about its name. Contrary to the map of Mrs. Mina Adelaine Benson Hubbard (1908) describing her George River expedition, the ninth report of the Commission on Geography of Canada (James White, 1911) as well as maps of the province of Quebec published by the Ministry of Lands and Forests in 1914 and 1935, the Du Sable does not originate at Sand Lake, although both Du Sable and Sand Lake outflow belong to the  Caniapiscau watershed.  The Commission de géographie du Québec has accepted the name Rivière du Sable in 1944, replacing the name Sandy River, in the belief that the river originated from Sand Lake. Du Sable or Sandy River is, according to White's report, the translation of the Naskapi name Katakawamastuk. According to the Naskapi of today, the real Du Sable River is/should be what is now Du Sable's tributary from the left, named officially Kayakawakamau, which means "river of the lake of sandy beaches" (this lake is the official Lake Weeks). As for the Du Sable River, the Naskapi call it Misinichikw Sipi, i.e. the "Big Otter's River", named after the giant otter. According to their myths, this monster lived in a cave near Eaton Canyon, in a place they call Kwatasiu, located about a dozen kilometers downstream from the mouth of the river. The Innu name confirms the relationship between the river and a giant otter; they call it Meshen Tsuk Shipu (the big otter river). This name is, however, awarded also to the Kayakawakamau River, which adds to the confusion even more. There are also traces of the giant otter in the English-language names, since a small tributary of the Du Sable has the official name Big Otter Creek. White's and Mrs. Hubbard's maps have a Big Otter River marked as a tributary of the Sand River.
The Du Sable River is currently the most natural access route to the Caniapiscau since the damming and complete diversion of the latter. The section of the Caniapiscau between the Duplanter Dam and the mouth of the Du Sable River is basically dry. In other words, the Lower Caniapiscau is accessible only by its tributaries. The Du Sable is generally considered too difficult to be enjoyable by the average paddler. However, the big advantage of this access route, which starts on Lac Bazil near Schefferville, is to enable travelers to see the incredibly amazing Eaton Canyon. Before our trip, there were only two known descents of the Du Sable, both before the Caniapiscau diversion, starting below Francheville Canyon and both led by Hubert Yockey, Manhattan Project scientist.
Excerpt from the book "Canoeing North into the Unknown" by B.W Hodgins and G. Hoyle:
1979 - Hubert Yockey, Tom Proctor, Tim Zecha and George Rines, Americans, with three decked Berrigan canoes, flew in to Lac Vincennes, the headwaters of du Sable River, and canoed down that river, the Kaniapiscau and the Koksoak to Fort Chimo.
1980 - Yockey, Ed Gertler, Terry Zecha and Mark Holthaus repeated the trip of the previous year, the last on the Kaniapiscau before it was dammed and the waters of Lac Kaniapiscau diverted to the La Grande and James Bay Hydroelectric Project.

We were lucky to obtain an excellent 1980 trip report from Ed Gertler before we embarked on our trip (Ed lists also Tim Zecha's brother Terry as a trip participant). Thus, it seems to us that our descent was the first of the complete Du Sable from its source.

The Caniapiscau River is a tributary of the Koksoak River. Through history, this river was also known under different spellings: Kaniapiskau (Albert Peter Low, 1898), Canniappuscaw (William Hendry, 1828) and Caniapuscaw (James Clouston, 1820). The name in Cree language means "rocky point". The Inuit call the river Adlait (or Allait) Kuunga (meaning: Indian River). It was also known as Wauguash River. The River originates on Lac Sevestre, 53 km south-west from Fermont, Quebec and is 737 km long. Together with the Koksoak it used to be the longest & biggest Quebec River (with the obvious exception of the St. Lawrence). Well known for its beauty, it was the pride and natural treasure of Quebec until 1985 when Hydro Quebec diverted the upper Caniapiscau into the La Grande hydroelectric complex of James Bay, drowning around 9,600 caribou in the process. There are many spectacular waterfalls and canyons on the Caniapiscau (although the Upper and Lower Gorge are now completely dry), the most spectacular and world-famous being Eaton Canyon (although the Canyon seems to "mysteriously disappear" from provincial maps after the diversion, and also from the list of Quebec-parks-to-be. Government conspiracy? You be the judge). Eaton Canyon was first documented by geologist A. P. Low in 1893-1894. It was named in honour of Low's assistant David I.V. Eaton, who took the technical measurements of the canyon. Interestingly, Low's report shows the name of the canyon spelled "Eaton Cañon". Meanwhile, the Naskapi call this amazing place Kwatasiu, which means "there is a hole (or a cave)".
About 10 km off the main Caniapiscau flow, on the tributary Swampy Bay River, there used to be a Hudson Bay Company post called Fort Mackenzie which operated until the end of WWII. One of the fort's buildings is still standing and is (according to what we've heard) being maintained as a hunting cabin. The Swampy Bay River used to be the main connection between Fort Chimo (currently Kuujjuaq) and the Schefferville area, because while it has many waterfalls and gorges bypassable by portages, its rapids are not as difficult as those on the Du Sable. This was also the route the Naskapi chose for their relocation journey in 1956.

The Koksoak River is the union of the Caniapiscau and the Mélèzes (Larch) rivers. It flows to Ungava Bay, passing beside the Inuit village of Kuujjuaq, which is a natural terminal for canoe trips. The original name of the river is Kuujjuaq, meaning "a great river" or "river". The Koksoak has an average width of 2 km.

For our trip, we had 3 sources of information: the above mentioned Ed Gertler's trip report from 1980, Ron Beck's 1998 book (about 1976 canoe trip) The River Less Travelled and a trip summary by Richard Clark who canoed with his daughter Leisha down the Serigny, Caniapiscau and Koksoak in 2006.
 
Our trip was accessed via train from Sept Iles to Squaw Lake Air Saguenay airbase, Schefferville (see our George River Trip Report for logistics).
 
August 2   Ottawa - Sept Iles
3am: Hit the road, headed for Sept Iles, with Jamie as our return driver. We stopped in Quebec City for a 'tourist walkabout' for an hour. Saw a huge humpback whale from the Tadoussac ferry. (Last time we crossed here, we saw belugas). We arrived in Sept Iles by 6pm, checked into the Comfort Inn, then went out for a nice seafood dinner, and then off to bed early.
 
August 3   Sept Iles - Schefferville
We arrived at the train station by 6:20am, unloaded and Jamie was headed back to Ottawa by 6:45. Luckily, there was no extra luggage charge even with our extra 25kg food drop (3 checked luggages & one carry-on allowed per person). The paddles and some loose stuff was tied into the canoe. We had purchased our canoe and two passenger tickets well ahead of time. There was a big group of tourists & seniors headed for Wabush. Another big group was headed to the Aventure Ashini camp on Indian House Lake on the George River. We got to Schefferville at 9pm in the dark and Big Chaos reigned as the train emptied and everyone rushed to grab their luggage. Luggage tags are for 'paperwork' purposes only - nobody ever looks at them, or your receipt for them, once they are attached. Luckily, Lynette spied our barrels being carried off by the Ashini group and quickly reclaimed them - our packs were marked with similar red duct tape, so the mistake was understandable, but a little sc
ary - imagine if we'd lost our food & equipment barrels and they ended up on the George River! Carl from Air Saguenay met us with a cargo truck and drove us, our canoe and our packs to their Squaw Lake base, where we bedded down for the night in one of their cabins.


August 4  Schefferville - Lac Bazil - Riviere du Sable

Squaw Lake Air Saguenay airbase:  Laco up early but nobody else in a hurry...
Air Saguenay airbase at Squaw Lake
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
Breakfast was bacon & eggs at the Air Saguenay kitchen at 6:20. Our flight was not booked till 9am. Henri (our Innu pilot) and Jean in the office were very friendly. We chatted with folks and showed them on their big wallmap where we were going and where we had been. They warned us about a seriously buggy season up north. The Beaver was out of commission, so they served up the Otter for us at Beaver rates - we are going to be spoiled again! It took less than an hour from dock to rock on Lac Bazil at km 546.
It was good weather & flatwater so we just loaded and left without installing the spraydeck... a big mistake... you'd think we'd know by now how UNPREDICTABLE North Quebec weather is!  Actually it is very predictable - it will do one of everything every few hours. Paddled into SW wind until lunch. As we slowly turned North, the wind ended up behind/beside us. Clouds soon filled the sky and turned gray with occasional rainbows but not much rain until late afternoon and even then it was not a hard rain. By 2pm we reached the end of Lac Bazil where a narrows dropped out of sight: First rapids of Du Sable River! A rocky, bushy shoreline & bugs discouraged scouting, so we left shorelined/walked until we could see it all. Paused in the shallows to install the spray deck after all.
First rapids on Du Sable
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
We decided to run it - it was a fairly good center or just left of center run with lots of rock dodging and a fairly typical shallow runout. There were other shallow bottlenecks during the day. The weather cleared as we campsite-hunted and set up our tent in an uneven moss bed & our bugtarp on the rock shoreline in the wind so the bugs would not be so bad. We finished at 6pm at km 514 (flew 28(?) nautical miles & paddled 32 km today).

Our campsite on Du Sable
 ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

August 5  Back to Rain & Bugs (= North Quebec!)

Slow morning. Big fish feeding along shoreline like an orca after seals. Wind a bit more west and in our faces all day. Crossed to a noisy rapid. Easy scout & nice run down left side (R2). Soon came nice but shallow R1-2. Paddled into a stiff wind across Lac Bringadin and could hear Rapid Henry across the peninsula. A sudden hard rain hit on approach and we got soaked. We snuck right to the brink of the rapid and took 2 barrels and dragged the canoe past the first drop over the wet, slippery rocks to a big eddy from which we could scout & run the rest after contemplating our route over a soggy lunch.

Rapid Henri
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

We ate lunch there, in the rain... Rain... get used to it... the weather changes about every 15 minutes in north Quebec! Lots of black flies, but they did not seem too hungry this time. The rest of the rapids ended up being a nice R2. An R1 at the narrows looked big because a strong headwind meeting the current lifted quite a chop. Muskrat and lots of geese. Goose poop everywhere. The stiff wind makes even running swifts difficult! Lac Chaigneau welcomed us with whitecaps, gusts of wind and rain squalls. Fighting the wind is annoying so Lynette let it blow us into a shoreline beach at 3pm and said "Let's camp here!" We went in to check the shelter of the bush, but lots of bear sign sent us back to the beach where we set up camp in the sand in the lee of a few alders.

Campsite on Lac Chaigneau
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

It was windy even in our shelter and water took some time to boil (the wood quality didn't help either!). The temperature dropped, so we had few bugs to kill. Into the tent quite early (6:30-7:00) - it was not pleasant to stay out in that wind! Terrain so far: tops of hills bare; black spruce boreal forest thick & healthy. Camp spots not too frequent, esp. for more than one tent. We camped at km 498 (16 km today).

August 6

The wind blew hard all night with occasional driving rain. We woke up to the same and, with the expectation that to try to paddle into it would be miserable and not very productive, we just hung in the tent listening to nature's music. Reluctant to re-erect our shelter, we finally emerged at noon and had a peanut butter brunch in the shelter. We waited in the vain hope that it had to eventually get better. More rain & squalls passed and we finally headed out at 2:20pm. The weather remained as ugly as in the morning. The wind was directly against us with little cover. Most of the time it was either drizzling or raining. We heard, then saw a floatplane above us at one point, but the pilot most likely didn't notice us. The last section of the day - about 1-2 km across a bay - was really ugly with huge waves and a strong headwind. There was a beautiful sheltered beach at the other end, with a nice wide-open mossy protected area just past the shoreline alders.

Campsite on Lac Chaigneau
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

We stopped there at around 4:45pm and decided to stay there for the night, hoping the wind would calm down for the next day. Laco found a caribou antler in the water. The wind dropped around 8pm allowing the bugs to come out in numbers. We decided to try to get an early start the next day, if the weather favours us. We camped at km 492 (6 km today).

Campsite on Lac Chaigneau
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

August 7   Windbound Hike & Francheville Canyon

The wind really started to howl at 2:25am and kept on. For some reason, Lynette refused to get up at 4am:-\  We didn't get up until 7:-0  So much for an early start;-)  We ate a warm breakfast, but the weather was just getting worse & worse. Bored, we decided to hike the nearest hill (between 9:25 and 10:40am) in the rain and wind with a cloud of hungry bugs still following us{:-(  Even though rewarded with nice views misted by various densities of rainbursts, we felt pretty miserable - It was just too cold & windy to stay long on the top of that hill.

Hike at Lac Chaigneau
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

We tried to dry up in the tent. Wind was alternately rising and dropping, so after lunch we packed and waited for a lull (it took quite some time) in the surf. It quieted tiny bit around 2:20pm so we headed out and then it got better after the first 3 km once we were able to use the shore lee. Just before a first R1-2 we found an old cedar canvas canoe, goose decoys, sleeping bag remains and old iron stove, all stashed high on an island.

Old canoe
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The R1-2 was shallow so we tried to follow the deepest channel. Saw a bald eagle. Steady rain all day. Lac La Grange had lots of shallows. The start of Francheville Canyon was obvious from distance as the lake narrowed to rocks and a steep shoreline. The current flowed quickly around the corner with rapids right away and lots of noise from around the corner, so we pulled out right at the start of the rocks on the right shore and went to scout. Caribou trails took us anywhere we wanted to go.

Francheville Canyon
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

Francheville Canyon narrows quickly, constricting the river into big waves and the steep shoreline quickly becomes cliffs & canyon walls, so once you decide to run it, there is no getting out. From upriver, the lower end looked like two ledges and seemed unrunnable, but because the top was runnable, we decided to scout the whole canyon.

Francheville Canyon
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

Eventually we decided that the whole Francheville Canyon is runnable (at that water level). For us, however, other than being alone, it was the end of a cold & wet day - 6pm - and we were already wet, cold & tired, not properly dressed, so we decided to warm up by portaging it instead of taking the risk.

Francheville Canyon portage
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

It was an easy 720m on good caribou trail and we were finished our two loads by 7:45pm. Lots of camp space at either end. We set up quickly to cook dinner while the dark day turned into an early dark night and we needed headlamps by 9pm. Everything is sooo soggy! We camped at km 480.5 (11.5 km today).

Campsite at Francheville Canyon
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

August 8   Blackflies actually taste SWEET!  Who Knew?!

It stopped raining overnight. Laco noticed that the sky was clearing from the west. Sunlight finally hit our camp at 8:30am. Yahoo! We tried to spread our stuff around to dry. Laco went up the trail to take photos of the canyon. Our cream of wheat breakfast experiment was very soupy but tasty. We paddled into a breeze which stayed in our faces no matter which way the river turned. Cold wind and hot sun; still too cold for bugs to really get going. As we paddled on, the sky quickly filled with clouds, they turned grey, and a sudden heavy rainstorm hit hard, just as we were going over one of many R-1s. It soaked Lynette well - her rainjacket doesn't fit over her lifejacket with the survival kit attached (she has to first take off lifejacket, then put on her rainjacket, and then her lifejacket back on top of that). Wet again (and grouchy again too!) Next came the biggest rapid of the day. We snuck the top R1 on the right and took out above two ledges to scout and have another soggy peanut butter lunch in the rain.

Rapids on Du Sable
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

The du Sable here turns 180°, so we decided to hike across the peninsula to check the portage option and then walked back along the riverbank to scout it all. After this soggy, boggy hike we decided to drag over the top two ledges, line bit farther into a good sized eddy, then hop aboard for a front ferry out to the center and were able to run the rest of the R3 very nicely (mostly left). We did a last R2-3 and at 5:20pm we stopped to camp in another wet spot on river left just before a last long set of rapids before the confluence with Daumesnil River. Laco tried to catch dinner while Lynette set up camp on the flattest sleeping spot possible.

Campsite on Du Sable
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

Our fish escaped and we also lost one lure, so we had tofu with leeky cheesy noodles for dinner instead (sounds disgusting, but it's actually quite good, even with tofu instead of fish - we use the tofu chunks which retain some texture and character even while they absorb the flavour of the sauce). The weather cleared long enough to allow for some body hygiene and laundry work. The 'sacrement mouches noires tabernac' ( #=%+&^* black flies) were bad, and once they retired, the 'maudit moustiques' ( +#%=&^* mosquitoes) took control of the situation. Please excuse my french SVP. Really. Sincerely. Those bibbittes deserve a tongue-lashing every once in a while. On this trip we finally decided to actually chew before swallowing the little buggers and, to our delight, found that blackflies actually taste SWEET! Who knew?!! We camped at km 459.5 (21 km today).


August 9    First Fish - Yum!

We woke up to good weather, but as usual, it didn't last. The black flies were quite bothersome the whole day. We headed downriver & were able to quick scout & run down the R3, then an R2 just before Daumesnil River joins the Du Sable. A breeze is actually behind us now - from the South for the first time - maybe a change in the weather coming? One can only hope... We scooted down the lake to an R1, then another lake to an R3-4. We took lunch with us to scout the whole thing. The top was big with 2 holes to thread but then it was an easy left side run. Rain clouds moved in as we ate and rain started once we passed the rapid. Another lake followed, then an R2-3 that needed scouting - it was pretty steep, but OK. Another lake leading into a long gentle R2 that had lots of stopping places so we cautiously ran until it started to look big and then got out and scouted ahead. This rapid needed careful planning and we actually marked the shoreline to remind us where the chute through the ledge was.

Rapids on Du Sable
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

We had to line the next ledge and scout again to run the end. Right after we finished, the rain hit really hard and we were happy we were wearing our drysuits. We paddled the lake to the left shore rocks above the next rapid and snuck down to the top of a small falls/double ledge where we decided to camp, so we emptied the canoe and did a 30m portage. We camped right on the rocks and set up our cook shelter against a rock wall for extra interior bug-free living quarters.

Campsite on Du Sable
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

Laco caught us 2 small trout which we fast fried - our first fish - yum!! Good weather appeared to be moving in, so we waited to set up the tent until after dinner, but bad weather followed so fast we got a little wet anyway... like I said... every 15 minutes... We then decided to call Richard Hume to see if he could add a few AA batteries to our food drop. His wife answered and was very friendly and accommodating, saying no problem at all! For some reason, our GPS seemed to be eating batteries at a heck of a rate. We later discovered that it's battery compartment was getting very wet inside every day, so we had to get into the habit of taking it apart every night to dry it out. The satellite phone gave us a little scare too - after 2 min call it told us it's battery was low (we had charged both batteries fully just before we left). We're glad (and our family and friends are glad too, now that they can track us, watch our progress and know that we are safe) that we now have a SPOT as well. We camped at km 443 (16.5 km today).

August 10   The du Sable Grows

Nice small birds chirped at our campsite this morning. Cloudberries & red currants were all around, but the currants are too green so far. We woke up to the usual ever-changing weather: It was first grey, then it teased us as it brightened and the sun peeked out just before multiple cold (~10°C) wind-driven rain squalls made the rocks wet & slippery for our scouting tasks. After packing everything into the canoe, just before we got on the water, we could not find our GPS. It took us 10 minutes to dig it out from the small barrel where it was packed forgotten inside the tent's interior pocket. We scouted almost everything & ran almost everything, mostly by sneaking. The river is getting pretty big by now.

Rapids on Du Sable
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

We had a good run at big wavy rapid we named Robin's Rapid after Lynette's father. We ate lunch (dry!) after this rapid (it was only 1.5 km past our campsite) on the left shore (there's a potentially great campsite there) and scouted ahead from a big boulder using Robin's binoculars.

Robin Rapid
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

Lynette then tossed the dice and chose the wrong side of the river - right - and we ended up having to drag & line over a series of unrunnable ledges. Left side looked big & scary, too, but possibly runnable. Oh well.

Rapids on Du Sable
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

Lynette's getting fed up with everything being wet all the time :'-( We would be absolutely miserable without our tarp cook shelter. We quit the day early before getting into more rapids and camped on a sand beach river right. Retired into the tent early, writing these notes still in daylight.

Campsite on Du Sable
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

Noted high water marks today that would maybe drown a lot of these rapids but the flow would be totally awesome to see! We camped at km 438 (only 5 km today).

August 11   Innu Falls

Grey day, sunny periods and a few rain showers. Snuck river left eddy to eddy down the R4-5, lining the ledges. The sloping wet rock riverbank on the right would be very difficult to get out on.

Rapids on Du Sable
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

Stayed on the left through the following R3 then had to line again through a messy left side. Our painters are too short for real lining, so Lynette put her throw rope on the stern, so that she could let out more line & stay on dryer rocks. We should probably be using a bridle to do this properly also, but we keep thinking it's only a few metres...

Lining
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

We were able to paddle the last R3 on the left mostly again. The approach to Innu Falls was ledgy in center river, so we crossed to the right and scouted. The river splits here into two falls around a tall island but the right side had just a little water going over it, so it was possible to paddle across the top where the current split to a perfect little canoe-docking wedge in the rock on the upstream tip of the island. In higher water, this approach past the lip of the right side falls would most likely be not possible or too dangerous. The main falls dropped off to the left and was quite spectacular. A previous trip report described the portage down river left as being (understatedly) arduous. A right side portage appeared to be equally rough and steep, but maybe shorter due to the pool below?

Innu Falls, Du Sable River

The island was gorgeous and would be a spectacular campsite (except in a thunderstorm!) so we stopped to eat lunch, scout around, take plenty of photos & movies. The view downriver was scary - we had to get past a roaring R5 and the portaging down there looked like humungous rocks & thick alders. However, the portage to the pool below Innu Falls on the right side of the island was short & easy - 110 m with mother nature's step-like crooked staircase.

Innu Falls
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

We slid the canoe easily down the steeper section, loaded off a dock-like shelf and paddled into the calm pool. Then we rounded the corner, paddling uphill into a crazy huge eddy created by the falls on the left and pulled out to line the following scary R5 almost right away.

Rapids after Innu Falls
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

We should have portaged, but gigantic rocks & thick alders seemed too rough and thick to wrestle through, so we decided to line it and ended up flipping the boat but we hung on and were able to drag it out quickly. Laco turned it over (you know, once the situation is critical, you suddenly get that burst of power you were unaware of previously) so it didn't take on too much water. We pumped it out and assessed the damage:

Pumping out after our lining accident
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

The deck of the loaded canoe hit a rock when upside down, while dropping over the ledge, and broke the shaft of one of our carbon-fiber paddles attached on top of the spraydeck. These paddles were made by Peter Patasi in Smiths Falls & are the toughest FW bent shaft racing paddles ever. The shaft of my paddle was now too dangerous to handle - carbon fibre splinters immediately drilled into my gloves like porcupine quills, but the break looked 'local' and probably repairable. The canoe would not have flipped if we'd been using a bridle.  Live & learn... The lining then got easier and a couple of drops later Laco found his pee bottle floating in a tiny eddy behind a rock - hopefully the only other thing we had lost. The Map-case, Laco's camera, GPS, etc. all remained attached to the deck. We were ultra-cautious after this and ended up dragging the loaded boat through shallows, which is hard work! We finally were able to get into the canoe and sneak down the rest of the right side. It got easier and became a long shallow R1, where you are looking for the deepest channel, then finally, a small lake. Tired, we started to look for a campsite. We got to the next rapid which seemed easy, saw nice flat rocks at the end, so kept going through the R1-2 and camped at the bottom left. Laco caught 2 brook trout while Lynette set up camp. Late dinner and into tent to inspect and splint (?!) the broken paddle with duct tape and a tent peg. It didn't rain after Innu Falls for the whole afternoon. We camped at km 432 (6 km today, one more than yesterday!).

Lynette in the shelter
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

August 12   Naskapi Falls

We woke up late to a sunny morning! - it was hot in the tent! It was a very welcome change. We were able to spread our stuff out to dry on the rocks. The two waterproof stuff sacks in the day-pack had leaked a little in yesterday's pressure-washing. It was hot as we packed up, but the south-west breeze kept the bugs in check. Being in our drysuits again, we took advantage of the heat wave (24°) and did a hairwash (ice-cream head-ache) and headed out nice and clean and cool with wet scalps. Paddled 2 km of flats and then carefully into an R2 which became an R3, only crossing the river once, then mostly took the right side. Shallows & ledges forced us to scout and run further out, eddy to eddy, etc. An R4 with two ledges followed with drag-overs or lining between the pools. Then we got to an island where most of the water tumbled left - R5? So we took right side ledges and portaged 140 m past it all - an easy portage along the shoreline rocks. Next was an R4 section - ledges again - some drag-overs, some runnable. Then an R3 where the right side was messy so we had to go out & then headed back right through  an R1 towards the top of Naskapi Falls.

Naskapi Falls, Du Sable River

The right side approach to Naskapi Falls was easy. We portaged on the right side - 160 m - also easy over shoreline smooth rocks. Very pretty falls.

Nascapi Falls
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

Oh, we just pray for a day without rain!!  The sunny morning didn't last long - we haven't used sunscreen on this trip yet. It clouded over grey quickly, spotted a bit at lunch and didn't start raining until our last portage and time to set up camp, but not too heavily.

Nascapi Falls
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

We scouted ahead a bit and it looks complicated down river (more ledges on right), so we decided to quit early & camp here on the rocks beside the Falls. Laco caught two trout for dinner, while Lynette putzed about organizing camp. One trout(?) had pink meat, the other yellow and they even tasted a little different. Downriver, the river looks big for awhile. We will scout more tomorrow around the corner - a left side run seems possible, but getting over there is a little iffy. It's going to be another tough day. We camped at km 427 (only 5 km today).

August 13   Heaven's Gate

We woke up to spotty rain & grey sky. As we packed up, blue sky appeared overhead and then it was cloudy/sunny mix for the rest of the day. Ended up portaging another 20 m to avoid super-strong eddy current, then we snuck down river right, lifted over small ledges and snuck an R4 into a long R2 that we were able to run without scouting.

Rapids on Du Sable
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

We ended up crossing the river to run an R3 on the left (a series of left-side ledges), then followed the main current through easy R2 & R1's. Scouted the top of an R3 and ran it easily as the sun came out for the rest of the day. The west wind picked up & we had to paddle the wind as well as the current. The next R2 & R1 were easy; Long R2; Following R3 needed scouting at top, but we were able to run it. A rocky creek came in on the right at the top of an R4 where we scouted & decided to line past ledges before sneaking the right side. Finally, the river widened and poured over wide shallow gravel & stone beds where it would be easy to run aground if you weren't watching where the deepest water was. Then came 6 km of wide shallow swifts & strong west wind. The approach to the Heaven's Gate (waterfall & canyon) was messy on the left so we headed for smooth rocks on the right and pulled out well ahead to walk it all and see where to go/what to do.

Heaven's Gate, Du Sable River
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

There was R4 drop above the falls and then the river suddenly narrowed and dropped off a precipice into a spectacular falls plunging into the canyon.

Heaven's Gate, Du Sable River


The view down the canyon did not look good for a portage, but there was rocky side gully through the canyon wall down to the river. We decided to line-drag-sneak the top R4 and we able to paddle close to the falls. The portage then ended up being only about 300 m.

Heaven's Gate portage
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

The camping in the gully at the bottom wasn't pretty & was buggy (protected from the wind) so we camped at the brink of the falls on the huge flat (well, sort-of) rocks.

Heaven's Gate
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

We took off our drysuits & carried the canoe & extra stuff into the gully, then played tourist, taking photos & video on our way back up.

Heaven's Gate
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

We were blessed with bright sun, a clear sky and a fairly warm breeze to keep the bugs away, so we washed ourselves and our clothes in the small eddy at the brink of the waterfall. It was quite exciting - not a place for casual swim! We spread our laundry to dry on the rocks, and it didn't take long. Laco caught us a small appetizer above the falls. The bugs got annoying when the wind dropped, but we enjoyed a very pretty sunset before retreating to our sleeping quarters. We camped at km 412.5 (14.5 km today).

Heaven's Gate
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

August 14   Triple Hydraulics

We woke up to grey again but a positively sweet smelling tent (well, everything is relative, right?), however, the sun soon reappeared. A brisk, cold breeze kept the bugs off as we packed up dry!!. It really is Heaven's Gate! We took 2 light loads each down the portage, dawdling along & enjoying the scenery along the way as much as possible. Heavens' Gate is a very pretty place. The sun made everything bright as we paddled out of the canyon into a frustrating R3-4 - it took us a while to get down the left side. Then we were able to paddle a length of R2 before scouting, eddy hopping & finally lining the R4. Then we ran a shallow section where we stopped on a sloped rock to enjoy the sun and eat while the cool wind kept the bugs away. Air temperature 18°, water around 14° (?). Then several easy kilometers of R1, R2 and eventually R3 (all runnable). Then came a long steep R3-4 that we were able to eddy-hop downhill right. A shallow shoreline & big rocks forced us out and we ended up winging it a few times but all was OK. We crossed the river a few times to avoid messy inside corners. We finished in some nice V's down the right. An easy section ran into another R3 that we were able to run all down the left. Calm swifts, R1, then "The Narrows" canyon where the river is constricted between steep shoreline rocks.

Gopher
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

We stopped on the left well upriver, Laco eating some berries, which upset a gopher (marmota monax) who considered them his. We went for a hike to scout out the best way to get through. Got to a good camp-spot and decided the left side was runnable to a nice eddy there, and that's what we did (it is R2-3 on the left and R4 on the right). Just down from there, however, comes a sharp right turn with huge holes on the left - "Triple Hydraulics" (R5 named by Hubert Yockey and his party in 1979).

Triple Hydraulics
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

Theoretically, it may be runnable (if you could move fast from left to right) but it is not worth the risk. We will portage 240 m past it tomorrow morning & enjoy the scenery again. The river here is huge, very impressive. The high water scour marks indicate that this river is a whole different beast earlier in the season.

The Narrows, Du Sable River


Laco tried to fish at the bottom of the creek joining on the left at Triple Hydraulics, but with no success (no eddy there for the fish to hang out in). Our falafel experiment for dinner tasted good, but was very messy, used a lot of oil & will not be repeated. Sleeping exposed high on rocks beside a roaring rapid again brings a whole new meaning to the term 'white noise'. It didn't rain all day (first day with no rain!!) but Lynette says there were a few drizzles during the night. We camped at km 401.5 (11 challenging km today).

Campsite at The Narrows
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

August 15   Caniapiscau!

Tent full of falafel smell this morning. Where is it coming from?! The grey morning started to rain, but not for long - it stopped for breakfast and didn't rain for the rest of the day. Mostly sunny, lots of clouds, many mini-rain clouds/rainbows all around us, but not over us. We portaged 240m past Triple Hydraulics, then ran some exciting big V's between holes. The river calmed down a bit just before another R3 which was messy on the top left, but runnable on right and then back to the left again. We scouted and enjoyed running the following R3's. During scouting, Lynette absentmindedly put her paddle down at one of the lookouts above the river & then wondered where it was when she got back to the canoe (& had to jog back for it)! A last R4 appeared steep-walled on the right with sloped rocks on the left, but the right side ended up being sneakable with a bit of lining just to be safe. We stopped for lunch after lining and before running the last ledge.
Lunchbreak at the Narrows
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

We had tabouli & Csabai sausage, but forgot to put a spoon to our day-pack - duhh!  We had to manage with our hands and lifejacket safety knife. We checked the temperature - water 14°, air 7°, with cold wind. After The Narrows, the Du Sable widened and changed character - wide, shallow, fast moving current, big waves at places. We reached 3 islands and ended up going right all the way. At the first island, the left channel looked dry, so we scouted right and snuck the right side of the last R3 of the Du Sable. The river widened and wound between huge gravel bars. We saw the ledges described in Ed Gertler's trip report (Yockey's 1980 trip) as we passed the third island - they would have been an unwelcome surprise! The current followed the right shore for a while, but then spread and wound between gravel bars and it became a game of following the deepest channels or running aground. We saw the rocky river bed of the Caniapiscau from quite a distance - that used to be the beautiful and powerful Lower Gorge of the Caniapiscau. The little point on the right where the Du Sable joins the Caniapiscau extended into a river-wide rock/boulder shelf all the way across the bay and surprised us with a last steep shallow drop into the Caniapiscau.

Last ledge on Du Sable
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
 
CANIAPISCAU RIVER
We could not see any incoming water from the dry rocky Lower Gorge, but there must be some somewhere. We heard rapids, but could only see a huge dry riverbed. As we turned east, the west wind was with us. We saw cabins in the distance - Tuktu camp - and paddled to investigate.
Tuktu hunting camp
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
They appeared to be a long time unused, neglected & overgrown. The inaccessible shoreline was missing docks for either plane or motorboat (or even canoe - we had to wade & drag through the rocky 'tidal flats') - though the old dock piles would have been useless anyway due to the low water level. The shoreline gave the appearance of being at low tide, even though there are no tides here. We guess that's the effect of the diversion of the upper Caniapiscau. The cabins were in poor shape, the main one having been raided by a bear and then occupied by some very poopy residents.
 
LITTLE EATON CANYON
We paddled on to the mist rising from Little Eaton Falls and to a huge plain of flat rocks right of what used to be an island where we landed. The former island was like a black cone rising out of the grey rock plateau. An education in geology would have been useful on this trip! The water spreads in ribbons over the huge plain of flat scoured rock on the left side of the river and it all meets the main flow back at the brink of a huge fissure in the rock where it falls abruptly into a boiling pot and then thunders down into a long boiling canyon. We hiked along the falls, following the canyon rim, wary of humungous potholes with boulders inside, some high and dry, some still with water in them. Lynette said: If this is "only" Little Eaton, what is the "real" Eaton Canyon like? And what must this have been like when the full might of the Caniapiscau was flowing through here?

Little Eaton, Caniapiscau River


 We found a spot where it would be possible (though definitely not easy) to put-in inside the canyon, but it would have been difficult to load the canoe in the "boiling" water. However, after the bend in the canyon, we found that the river drops again in one huge rapid, impossible to paddle (without a death wish, anyway!). Below that rapid, Lynette discovered a huge pothole scoured into the edge of the canyon wall which we could use as a put-in pool. We used the GPS to get back to the canoe directly and on our way discovered the pond that Ed's party in 1980 had used to shorten their portage. We reached the canoe, moved to the end of the bay and set up our campsite on the former river bed.

Little Eaton campsite
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
Beautiful day and no bugs around whatsoever. Seems strange to be camping in the old riverbed - what if they ever opened that sluice we'd seen up at the Brisay dam at the Caniapiscau Reservoir at Lac Pau (see our Leaf River trip)?  We'd be annihilated like a couple of sand flies. Hydro Quebec actually did that once back in the 1980's and drowned about 10,000 caribou. Which reminds me, we haven't seen any caribou yet - too busy watching where we're going I guess... Beautiful sunset tonight & the cook shelter looks like it's smoking like crazy with the mist of the falls rising behind it. We camped at km 385.5 (16 km today).

August 16   Little (?!) Eaton Canyon  & on to EATON CANYON

Woke up to a drizzle, but not for long. The sky was grey with occasional blue pockets. Lynette's bathroom duties were accompanied by only one slow mosquito. This is not what we got used to over our years of tripping in the North, especially Ungava. The mist from Little Eaton Falls rising behind the cook shelter made Lynette think Laco had the fire going already. The shoreline here (at the end of the bay) looks like tidal flats with the tide out and the water dropped several cm more overnight. Plenty of berries around. We organized our portage into two carries and carried 390 m to the pond, then paddled 120 m of the pond and then portaged another 20 m down to a huge pothole carved into the side of the canyon wall.
Little Eaton portage
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

We loaded up in the pothole fighting the swells and paddled out of it to head downriver. We noticed red marker tape on river left so stopped to investigate and tie down the spray-deck properly. There was a big dark cave on the right shore protected by a sinister overhanging boulder.

Cave on the side of Caniapiscau
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

Was it the cave of Big Otter? Probably not, because it is not in Eaton Canyon (although close). We also played with a spongy foam-pile shaped like a hedgehog. On we paddled down to the next rapid where we hoped to be able to sneak right of the island, but the right channel was too dry so we had to backtrack through the shallows back into the main current left of the island. The left side of the main channel appeared to be blocked by huge flat shelves of rock. There was lots of water heading into the right side of the main channel but it goes directly into big holes, an R6 and then a waterfall - Tuktu Falls.

Tuktu Falls
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

It looked too steep for lining, so we hiked about looking for an alternative. This was a bit of a head-scratcher: The left side of the river might have been portageable, but we were too far down the right side to cross now. There was a narrow far right channel, which in higher water might have made a cute little 'creek-run' sneak route past all this, but it was definitely too shallow to be of any use to us now (a former trip report bypassed all this easily down the now dry right side). We ended up finding an OK lining route past the top R6, then paddled right to the waterfall where we lined and then dropped/slid the canoe over the smooth rocks right beside the waterfall. The cold wind made us look for a sheltered lunch spot tucked into the rock right where we dropped the canoe over. Then we paddled the falls washout into the exciting R3 just below. The map is confusing here, because the water is much lower than when the map was made, which changes the contours of the shoreline and the width of the river considerably. There are many shallow gravel bars and ponds. We followed the right shore to the point where the portage appears to be on the map - right after the short ledgy R3 which we snuck down the right to get to the bay. Camping was OK - we camped close to the shore below the usual waterline, so it was a bit muddy.

Campsite above Eaton Canyon
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
 
We hoped again that Hydro Quebec wouldn't open the floodgates to drown us like those caribou more than 20 years ago. Waterlines here appear like a low tide - like the river is a skeleton of its former self - but there was lots of evidence of it's former power and glorious high water in the many dry channels, water-worn rocks and high & dry potholes. We set up camp and headed out for a hike to see Eaton Canyon. You can imagine how excited we felt. This was the moment we'd been dreaming of for quite some years. An airplane flew over - could have been a white/yellow Cessna (Richard Hume with our food drop?) on floats heading upriver - 4:50 pm. We hiked along the river and it seems paddleable for quite a distance but then there is one last final eddy at the brink of no return - a last R6 which drops directly into a meat-grinder of a waterfall - the beginning of EATON CANYON.
Eaton Canyon, First waterfall
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
EATON CANYON
Huge plumes of spray pulsed up vertically and the second drop of the waterfall disappeared into a deep black canyon where we saw a dot of blue - a big bent blue barrel - high in the debris of the far canyon corner. The ground here shakes and rumbles and one can feel the raw growling energy of the place. Did Big Otter watch us from the other side? We don't know. But the powerful spirit of the place was definitely there.

Eaton Canyon, First waterfall


The white water below looked like foamy milk as it hit the canyon wall and was diverted around a 130° corner. The water turned less milky then black with a disappearing foam head as it headed down the long dark at least 100 m (?! total guess!) deep canyon. On our side, the cliffs overhung the water and on the other side they sloped slightly away. Getting close to that edge was scary because we could see many cracks where we stood where the rocks were slowly going to calve off and tumble in.

Eaton Canyon
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

In one place Lynette managed to crawl to the edge and drop a rock which hit a small ledge right next to the water. Lots of berries & lots of blackflies.

Eaton Canyon
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

We hiked along the rim and reached the second corner where the canyon & river turn again about 120° to the left. There, in front of us in the cliff face was another huge dark cave - the mythical home of Big Otter? He did not appear to be home at the time.

Big Otter's cave?
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

We tried to look for a trail, but didn't go far enough - it was getting late & buggy, so we followed the GPS and bushwhacked to an old river channel. There were occasional trails, but overall not a good route - sometimes wet and sometimes too overgrown with thick alders. Even the tiny bit of spruce forest we passed through was also too thick. Only open rocky fields (old river channels?) were more welcoming to weary travelers. Back in camp we put up the shelter and cooked and ate chicken curry. Fish jumped twice in front of us, but it was after dinner, so we didn't fish. Beautiful sickle moon. We camped at km 380 (5.5 km paddled today, never mind the portaging and hiking...).

August 17   EATON CANYON  Hike & Portage Scout

No paddling today - we're going to 'scope out' the best route past Eaton Canyon. We got the canoe all prepared for a long portage tomorrow: we taped the rods into it & rolled the spraydeck to attach to the frame with the two small barrels. Laco sewed Lynette's gloves. We got ready for a hiking day - we needed to scout out the portage to Portage Lake and then hike the second part of Eaton Canyon. We headed through the alders into the woods where we found a trail immediately but it needed clearing. There were many, many trails going everywhere so we followed the GPS from trail to trail then into the bog where any trail temporarily disappeared. We then followed trails with the GPS through fairly clear woods for about 1.5 km and came to a bluff overlooking what we first thought was Portage Lake, but it was just a dark widening of the creek leading to the lake. On the other side, across the creek valley, a creek tributary tumbled down in a steep waterfall. We had to climb over a bluff to the left and follow the gully down to Portage Lake. Paths were well trodden and the lake was inhabited by beaver.
Portage Lake
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

It seemed it would be quite a nice camping spot for us for the next day. From Portage Lake we climbed another bluff back towards the main river and followed the creek's mini-canyon towards the main Eaton. In doing so, we had to cross two small gorges draining upper ponds. The next portage over the Rockfall separating Portage Lake and Caniapiscau looks like it will be tough.

Rockfall from the cliff above
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

After the Rockfall, there is a creek we hope to be able to paddle back to the main river. The creek splits, giving a choice of a long run around an island or a short drag into the eddy below the second Eaton Canyon waterfall. We will decide once we get there. We climbed the bluff between the falls and the creek and were treated to a three point view - the falls, down the main river and the creek valley with the rockfall. We climbed down to the falls and across its long smooth scoured rock formations and started taking many pictures and videos.

Eaton Canyon, Second waterfall


We had lunch there and from there followed the shoreline rocks for a short distance upriver, until they got too steep.

Lunch at the second waterfall
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

The old shoreline was studded with huge potholes and overhangs (which would have been deadly undercuts in the former higher water levels). The shoreline began to steepen so we climbed back up to the top of the bluff again and started upriver along the canyon rim. Well-used paths made for very easy hiking and we stopped frequently to pig out on berries (actually 'bear out' would be more appropriate wording for this country - which reminds me - we haven't seen any of them yet either, but I'm not missing them!) The Canyon was totally spectacular all the way back to where we left off yesterday.

Eaton Canyon
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

The 100m+ canyon walls were so steep that they actually overhang the water and you can see cracks growing where parts of them will eventually fall into the river below. It was scary going to the edge to get pictures. Lots of berries and blackflies - both sweet. Found birchbark along the canyon rim. Across the canyon we saw beautiful hanging ponds with waterfalls between them - similar to what we saw on the George River in 2008.

Eaton Canyon
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

At the corner, we headed back on a GPS heading toward the portage path and marked and cleared the trail on the way back. The weather had been sunny while we were in the tent in the morning, but greyed over very quickly before we left for our hike. Lynette missed her footing once on the way back & fell on her hip - will be bruised - ouch! We saw a small plane twice today passing over us, fairly high up.  Rain held off until we were almost back and became quite steady in the evening. We hope it doesn't rain tomorrow while we're portaging. We hiked today about 8.5 km. The river's water level dropped about 10-15 cm during the day. It's nice to spend 2 nights on one spot!

Eaton Canyon
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

EATON CANYON FLYOVER by JCDostie on YouTube


August 18   EATON  Portage Stage 1 & Beaver Territory

A light rain overnight was going to make for a boggier bog and a soggy portage. We packed up wet while the drizzle slowly quit during breakfast. We headed out in rainpants and bug jackets and took our packs first. Lynette tried to mark the trail by breaking branches but it seems that once the trail disappears into the bog, we tend to go a slightly different way each time. Our first trip took a bit over an hour and we headed back without our raingear which ended up being a big mistake:  as we sat down for lunch before our second lap, the rain moved in to soak and chill us as lunch was curtailed to get moving again. We loaded Laco up with pack & canoe but when Lynette loaded up her harness, something was digging into her back. We both had to unload, readjust the harness and load up again. We got the canoe through the forest OK, but when we hit the bog we got a little off trail and Laco hit a hole which tried to eat his leg, foot & shoes. He had to dump the canoe to save his soul and his sole. It was tough going even though our load was relatively light (with our food drop due a couple of days later downriver). The forest was mostly fairly open, so it is not too hard to get the canoe through. Trails appear and disappear and there were a few good sections heading in the right direction. The terrain is rugged in spots: boggy gullies and rockfalls. We finished at Portage Lake at 2:05pm: the 2.4km portage took us (in two passes) 5.5 hours, including lunch and 3 breaks on the second pass. Too tired to contemplate tackling the rockfall portage out of here today with our soggy, sore feet and backs.
Our campsite at Portage Lake
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
Camping on the other side of the lake looks iffy, but it's OK here on the grassy banks. We set up camp right away because the sun came out briefly (the usual 15 minute teaser) to dry things out a bit. The lone beaver swam relentlessly back and forth listening to us as we puttered in the cook shelter. The portage had been very buggy - we had to wear full bug jackets plus lots of bug dope and Laco found it very hard to see his GPS display through his netting from under canoe in the dark, rainy weather. Portage Lake is much less buggy (with regard to blackflies & mosquitoes) but is infested with huge noisy blow flies. Due to the friendly beaver, we decided to filter and boil the water (until now, Laco drank directly from the river). There are little waterfalls off the cliff face (those two creeks/gullies we had to cross the day before during our hike) but we were too tired and lazy to paddle over and collect water there. Our beaver of the lake seems to be very curious.
Beaver on Portage Lake
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
The tamarack firewood here is quite bad - It makes lots of ashes, choking the zip stove. We managed to spill it twice while cooking, but fortunately, no bad consequences. Evening brought thick dark clouds and thunder in the distance. As soon as we entered the tent, it started to drizzle. The blowflies buzzing between the fly and the tent - many of them - were quite annoying and the dark did not seem to slow them down much. More thunderclaps. At 9pm, a big thunderstorm with very heavy drumming rain hit and lasted about 40 minutes. We were sorry for not putting the shelter down; even the canoe was not turned upside down. One lightning bolt hit pretty close, somewhere on top of the cliffs. Oh, were we glad to be down inside this "crater" of a lake, surrounded by cliffs & bluffs - our protectors. The tent seemed to be leaking on Lynette's side, so we had to close her vent window. Calculated by river length, we camped at km 477 (i.e. our portage taking about 4.5 km off the river's distance).

August 19    Stage 2:  ROCKFALL Portage & Bear Territory

One evil blowfly started to buzz at 4:15am. Maybe she had a bout of diarrhea. The side-cliff waterfalls were now swollen with water, much noisier than yesterday and we can see three of them falling down the cliff face (there were only two yesterday). The water level in the lake rose about 30 cm overnight. We can hear the dull roar of the second Eaton Canyon waterfall in the distance, too. It was another grey and buggy morning with rainshowers. We packed up wet and paddled around the corner to start the rockfall portage. According to Ed Gertler's trip report, there should be a tiny trail on the left side. And it was there!
Typically lovely weather. Start of rockfall portage
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
...but we lost it in the rocks and continued with our two lightest packs trying to find a way between the huge chunks of rockfall - boulders size of a house. Going up the right side would be under the overhanging cliff & there was fresh rockfall all along the right side. We got up to the top and were amazed at how big it all was, how difficult it was to move through it and how high we were. We paused to scout for routes through, under the constant rain and blackfly attack. Laco went ahead down the right side, through several big "steps", even through a tunnel under monster boulder and reached the other side, where the creek emerges from under the rockfall and continues to the main river. From down there, he was able to locate a tiny trail which, though steep and difficult, was at least through bush, moss and trees, where footing was much better (the rocks were wet and dangerously slippery). We managedto clamber through the rest of the rockfall, including under the mini-bus size chunk. There was a huge height difference in level between where the creek disappeared into the rocks and where it emerged. It was funny to see that the beaver has been trying to dam it up from the top. We finally made it through with the two little packs and took the trail back along the left side cliff. The trail took us 18 minutes for the return lap.
Rockfall portage
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
Going back with packs took us another 20 minutes. It pissed rain - we were soaked through between the rain & the sweat - and the bugs were trying any possible way to enjoy us as a delicious meal. Once we made it to the put-in, Laco tried his best going for the last pack (though the canoe was still left at the end of Portage Lake) - whole route back & forth took him 20 minutes. Woo-hoo; that training with Dave & Lise pays off!! Lynette organized the load and began to get chilled. After that we went back for one last time - for the canoe. The tiny trail in the side of the cliff was too mountain-goat-narrow to carry the canoe, plus there were fallen trees hanging from the cliff, across the trail. So... we had to drag it over and through the rockfall. It was especially hard on the way up. We lowered it few times with ropes on the way down. Pissing rain and slippery slimy rocks added to our enjoyment of the whole situation. Finally - 4 hours after we started(& a couple hundred? meters, not counting the vertical) - we re-rigged our boat for paddling and ate a couple of granola bars for lunch - it was too wet & cold to stop to eat properly. We headed down the shallow creek and took the steep sharp left turn down to the river where the creek divided into three channels. At this moment sun showed up a little bit - enough to emphasize the pretty colours of the wet boulders we had to drag over - but only temporarily, as usual. We dragged the loaded boat 50 m through the fast steep channel of rounded boulders, finally dropping back into the river and afloat again. What a relief to crawl back into our cockpits & pick up our paddles again! We paddled out to see the second waterfall from the bottom, then headed downriver into a shallow R1-2, then a bit of fast current before another R2.
Lynette paddling Caniapiscau
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
Around the corner a nice sandy beach beckoned us from river left, an unexpected surprise in the cliffy canyon. Lynette wanted to quit for the day, to set up camp, feed the bugs and dry out while it wasn't raining. We were looking forward to a well deserved a rest. We got camp set up and Lynette managed to change into dry cosy fleecies while Laco searched in vain for useable dry small firewood. Rain returned. Strange pink foam on the beach.
 
We were too tired to wrestle with wet wood so Lynette fired up the fuel stove for the first time. Hot soup was quickly bubbling and sending inviting aromas downwind towards Laco changing in the tent. Out of the corner of her eye, Lynette noticed that it seemed that Laco, still in his wet black long undies had emerged from the tent and was crouching oddly behind it. "What is he up to there?" she wondered.  A second glance revealed that Laco was still changing inside the tent, which made Lynette perk up to examine the big black blob behind the tent a little more closely... and deduce that the black blob was a bear approaching along the beach, now about 4 m behind the tent. Lynette let out a big yell, scaring both the bear behind and Laco inside the tent and dove for the daypack with the bear stuff in it. Laco jumped out of the tent, now in full yelling mode as well. The poor bear hung a fast right off the beach toward the rock slide/cliff. Now Laco and the bear were facing each other - Laco in front of the tent, surrounded by hungry blackflies, and the black bear on top of a boulder against the cliff with no easy escape route anywhere. Trying not to tip over the roaring stove inside the shelter, Lynette emerged with bear spray and bangers in hand. Laco picked up a rock and heaved it at the bear, just missing it, but the impact made it move to the side a bit, and it reluctantly turned and moved into the screen of the bushes behind the tent and beach, reappearing at the end of the beach where it had come from. It turned and paused there to try to get a better look at/smell of us.
The bear's butt after we chased him back down the beach.
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
We pursued it together, determined to protect our dinner, this time with both camera and bear-banger in hand. A final bear-banger explosion startled it into scrambling up the rocks and out of sight. Both of us kept our eyes peeled along the beach as we finished our soup without sharing it with the uninvited guest. We were too tired to cook dinner after the big pot of hot soup, so we washed dishes, packed up and hit the tent as more rain moved in. We soggily snuggled in the tent with bear spray between our heads. It took awhile to fall asleep, our ears tuned to any little sound indicating a return visit, but none came that we know of. We camped at km 374 (3 km today).

August 20   Hume Hunt Camp & Food Drop

Although we expected to spend a restless night with half an ear open for bear sounds, we were so tired we slept well anyway. We woke up to a grey morning, but this time at least the wind was with us. The paw prints on the beach remained the same; no new ones had been added overnight. We had for breakfast last night's dinner. We again used the fuel stove after Laco could not even get birch bark to burn in the zip stove. Laco had to go wet from the waist down under his drysuit - so thoroughly were we soaked the day before. There was a nice R2-3 around the corner - the last rapid of Eaton Canyon.  The Goodwood River joined in over another river-wide shelf of rocks - similar to the one we came through at the Du Sable - Caniapiscau confluence. After that there were swifts with gravelbars. The river widened and riverbanks were eroded gravel, later sand as the river wound between gravel bars. The main current stayed mostly right, though we ended up doing some S-bends, too. Plenty of waterfalls splashed down both sides as creeks joined the river.
Caniapiscau tributary waterfall
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
It didn't rain until 11:30 despite the heavy grey sky and even then, the rain was small and of short duration. At about km 363, our tail wind changed to a head wind, but with the good current we were going quite fast anyway. We had lunch on river right where looong (kilometers!) sand beaches started.
Caniapiscau sandy shores
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
At km 351.5 on river right, we found an old cabin destroyed by bears. We went to investigate even though we saw another cabin in the distance - just to make sure we didn't pass by the Hume cabin by accident and leave our food-drop behind. We found a few seriously huge bear poops as we climbed the shores up to the cabin. It was completely demolished by bears and neglected by people. As we continued paddling towards the Jack Hume cabin, heavy misty rain came in and with it, pretty bad visibility. Suddenly we could not see any cabin at all and had a hard time to locate it. When we eventually did, our shoreline casting for a pathway led us to a picturesque tangle of caribou antlers above the beach and an overgrown path leading up to the cabins. From the cabins, we discovered the more direct pathway back to the rock landing. Richard had left us a hammer in front of the cabin so we could easily remove the board and open the door. Inside we found our two barrels with food and also found that a squirrel had been very busy shredding the foam mattresses into a snowstorm of foam pellets drifting across the painted plywood floor. Lynette swept up the drifts, peppered with dead black flies, and rearranged the furniture so we could move in for the night.
 
Even though we had approached Richard Hume (of Jack Hume Adventures) before our trip to ask permission to use his cabin as a drop off site for our food drop, it is a kind of unwritten understanding in the 'deep bush', especially in the far north, that strangers are welcome to use any shelter they need, with the understanding that they leave it in as good or better condition than they found it & better stocked than they found it, if they can. It is also essential that the shelter be properly secured against bears and other critters if at all possible.  We did not leave any food or food smells, as we did not want to contribute to any bear problems. Once Richard understood what we needed, he jumped in wholeheartedly and offered to do the food drop for us for free in exchange for his logo on this website - how lucky are we?!  He was enthusiastic and totally supportive of our endeavors and in return we have sent him all of our river information, photos and videos. He is a family man with young children and he and his wife are currently looking at the possibility of supporting other eco-adventurers in the Eaton Canyon / Granite Falls, Caniapiscau area. We take this opportunity to thank him for his cooperative generosity!
Jack Hume Adventures camp
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
While still in our drysuits, we washed our hair in the river and did laundry. At the river, the wind kept the bugs at bay, but it was pretty bad at the cabins. We filled half of a 30 l barrel with water and brought it up for both hygiene and cooking. We saw ourselves in the mirror - after quite some time - well... interesting view for sure... We made a nice fire in the stove and heated water for washing.
My temporary tent peg and duct tape splint on my paddle had finally stretched and loosened to the point that I was getting a lot of 'flex' and maybe doing more damage to my paddle, so I determined that it was time to do a proper job of fixing it so that it would hold up to a good pry if necessary.  I tried to dismantle the duct tape but ended up leaving on a layer just to seal in the carbon fibre quills, then re-applied the (angle-iron-type) tent pegs, three of them this time, placed such that they would configure to how I would be holding & putting pressure on the paddle. I then took a fair supply of our spare tent-line cord and "Whipped" the peg-splints firmly into place. The shaft was wide in my hand, but the whipped-over pegs made a comfortable platform, the flex was gone and the repair held solid for the rest of the trip. Good knots & rope work ( ie whipping) are handy to know - I highly recommend an excellent website called "Animated Knots.com"
Bugs were bad in the cabin, too, esp. after sunset. We slept inside in the tent (just the inner shell) inside the cabin so we'd be sure to not have mosquitoes buzzing our ears. These cabins are set up for the fall hunting season, when most bugs have gone into hibernation. We "camped" (very comfortably, thanks to Richard!) at km 347.5 (25.5 km today).

August 21   Granite Falls

Another dull grey morning, but not a breath of wind. The bugs loved it. Our laundry didn't dry overnight so we fired up the stove again and started to get organized - slowly and leisurely, hoping our laundry would dry before packing up. We finished transferring all the food to our traveling barrels and left the olive barrels in the cabin - Richard had said that would be ok. It was not raining and glass calm, so we were anxious to start paddling the 12 km to Granite Falls. We were finally ready to leave at 11am, after making sure the stove was out, sweeping, reboarding, nailing up the cabin shutters, door and leaving a thank-you note in the cabin and the hammer in the washroom.  We headed downriver and reached Granite Falls before 1pm. We passed Portage Bay on the left and pulled out early on the big rocks on river left before the current really started (so that we could still cross to river right if we wanted to).
Granite Falls
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
We scouted along the shoreline first and decided it would not be difficult to paddle almost to the brink of the spectacular drop and portage the granite rocks all the way to the bottom almost beside the main chute where there was a surging eddy we could put into.

Granite Falls, Caniapiscau River

We were very happy that we would not have to go back up to the bay to bushwhack the portage over the hill as previous trippers had had to do before us. We checked out the other option that Ed Gertler had had to do - we guess because the water level was probably much higher then - and found the trail higher along the left side and found where they would have had to lower their gear & boats by rope about 15 m down the steepest drop (i.e. the cliff face) to the pebble beach in the bay below the falls on river left. That beach was peppered with old fuel barrels.
Granite Falls
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
Our portage was 340 m over easy clean rough granite (dry!!) and went very quickly even with our new load of food. We paused at the bottom to eat lunch, catch a fish for dinner and reassemble our canoe completely upon the sloped rock so we could slide it in fully loaded and load ourselves one at a time in between eddy surges. That was fun - timing the height of the surge with your leap into the cockpit... hanging on with rope, timing, leaping & feeling the sudden drop as weight was added to the canoe in time with the drop of the eddy surge, paddling quickly downstream away from the back-suck of the eddy towards the mainstream...
Granite Falls
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
We paddled out below the falls - the water was rising & falling in big swells and boils. There was a beautiful sand beach to camp at on the right side below the falls, so, because there were rapids downriver, we decided to quit early, eat well (the fish had worms - I did not expect to see those so far north - but they were delicious, too) and pray for good paddling conditions tomorrow. We used a giant rock to tie the shelter to and carved out comfortable sand benches against it. Lots of bear sign here, too. Spectacular Spiky black caterpillars with red spots were crawling all over the beach & pupating as we watched. As we fell asleep the rain finally started to fall. It rains here a lot - go figure. We camped at km 334.5 (13 km today).
Our campsite
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

August 22

Grey again, but not raining until (of course) we went to pack up the tent. The creek that disappears into the sand is little closer to us in the morning. Hardly any bugs way out here on this huge sandbar. We headed out a little earlier into a good current which became a long series of swifts and R1s but then the rain really hit and made us miserable even though the paddling was fun. The Caniapiscau is absolutely beautiful here, almost like a canyon with steep big hills surrounding it. The wind was from behind but soon switched into our faces and became an ugly headwind. We came to an R3 which was marked on the map, so we scouted to figure out where to run it. Our spraydeck kept the biggest waves out. The next rapid was not marked at all. We just ran it blind like all the other easy stuff but were surprised this time by a big hole across the main current and just barely managed to skirt it. Unprepared, we shipped some water into Lynette's open cockpit, so we stopped to pump and eat lunch.
Lunch
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
Our leisurely lunch intentions were curtailed by another rainstorm whipping through. This rotten weather just won't give up on us - it's doing its best to make sure we don't want to ever come back here! The wind really picked up now, blowing us all over the place in the last few easy rapids. Then the rain stopped. Then the sun dried us. Well, sort of(!). Then the rain continued. The wind was extremely gusty and confused - one minute we would have an eddy on the right side of the canoe (from being blown by the wind); the next we would have a pressure wave on the same side. The bowman had to keep helping with keeping us pointed downriver. An otter jumped along the shoreline and into water, surfacing very close and panic-diving. Obviously not the Monster Otter. We reached Serigny River where Richard Clark and his daughter Leisha portaged into the Caniapiscau in 2006. The view upriver looked spectacular - a canyon waterfall & violent rapids.
Serigny River joining Caniapiscau
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
The headwind became really vicious and Lynette would not normally paddle into that, but thanks to the current, we were actually still making good progress. Camping possibilities seemed really sparse. As the river widened, we spotted a wolf on the right shore and we stopped paddling to watch him trot along the shoreline. He sped up when he saw us, but paused several times to stare back at us too.
1st Wolf - a young, leggy, grey fellow, as curious as we were.
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
We paddled out between the gravel bars with the ugly wind blowing us all over. As we approached Cambrian Lake we turned sharp right across the shallow end into the shallow channel. We were met on the lake by huge rollers and whitecaps. The current was gone and our progress just about stopped. We wind-ferried right towards a beautiful rainbow (looking for gold) on the shoreline. The shoreline was too rocky and unprotected to land on in the surf so we power-inched our way around a corner and into a small bay where there was a small beach. We surfed the canoe straight up onto the beach and, with running leaps, pulled it up fast out of the surf. The spraydeck kept the waves out again. The beach had a large clump of willow where we were able to pull everything out of the worst of the wind and set up camp. Of course:  absolutely no bugs! It didn't rain while we set up and the sun even came out to dry a few things - though they had to be well weighted with rocks ( a cheap commodity in this part of the world).
Cambrian Lake
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
The water was very silty because of the wave action. Wind waxed and waned intermittently - by 8 pm it looked almost paddleable but by 9pm it sounded even meaner again. We had to anchor our cook shelter to  the loaded canoe, drop one side with huge rocks and use only 2 paddles as poles. We camped at km 294 (40.5 km today). Imagine how far we could have paddled without that wind!

August 23   Cambrian Lake

We woke up to a howling wind and the sound of waves bashing the beach, so we rolled over & went back to sleep. When Lynette finally went out for a pee, it actually looked paddleable, so we got up. But as we ate breakfast, the wind came back with sharp gusts, and the whole lake became quickly spotted with whitecaps. It was going to be a rest day. It was also drizzling on and off, with nice but windy sunny breaks. No bugs anywhere to be found - they were hugging the ground and taking a rest day too. The wind gusts were really unpleasant. We were hoping we could start very early the next morning. This was not a good spot for any nice hikes with views, so we slept a lot and Lynette rested her sacro-iliac joint & left shoulder. The sunny periods got longer in the afternoon and the wind slowly calmed. By dinner time a few blackflies and mosquitoes appeared in time to catch a snack too. We watched a beautiful sunset with ominously black clouds on the horizon. We dismantled the cook shelter in anticipation of a very, very early start. Cambrian Lake is a long open stretch with not much current to help, so the calm conditions of early morning might help us make progress.
Sunset on Cambrian Lake
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

August 24

Lynette was out for a pee around midnight to a sparking clear, cold, starry sky with the Big Dipper & the North Star on the horizon. We were up at 4am and on the water by 5:15 with granola bars to chew on. Temperature 4°. Little wind and almost clear skies, but it greyed over fast as the sun rose just before 6am. We rounded a corner only to discover a hunt camp only about 3 km north of where we had been windbound. It was quite picturesque with a misting falls and rapids on Sapachun Creek right beside the green & white cabins, looking well maintained from a distance.
Hunting camp at Sapachun Creek
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
There were big rivers coming in from both sides. The Grey closed in and we could see rain storms just east of us as we crossed the lake to the lee  (west) side as a breezy headwind started to develop. The paddling was easy until 8am, when the headwind suddenly became serious as we were half way across a bay, making it difficult to make headway. We had to wind-ferry into the lee of the west shore again into big waves that developed really fast. We took a break to watch an osprey fish. Camping opportunities look poor here. We decided to continue tight along the shoreline. A bald eagle preceded us for a long time, flying from perch to perch, always spreading its wings to swoop ahead just as we were about ready to take its portrait. As we rounded the corner into more wind, we were still able to make headway but ferried into swells along the shoreline. Paddling so close to the shore was very interesting - the geological features of the rocks were very pretty - flat layers of shale all broken up into tinkling black shale beaches (they sounded like glasses not properly stacked in the dishwasher!) and various spectacularly coloured layers - red, green, gray, black, sandstone, purple & mustard...
Shores of Cambrian Lake
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
Rocks of folded layers and occlusions kept catching our eyes as we paddled hard to get past them. Our eyes feasted on the wonderful colour variations in the shale. This river should be used as an experiential geology lesson! Lynette tried to keep close to shore, but the waves were big and the wind really ugly. Landing there was impossible, as the waves were breaking on the bouldery shores. Once we reached the corner of Death River, we also got wind and waves from the west so, at 11am, we chose the first/closest possible campsite - a nice sandy beach overgrown with willows which we could shelter behind. We set up camp in between the rainshowers with rainbows (otherwise, this was mostly a sunny, windy day).
Campsite at Death River
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
Laco discovered an intriguing piece of metal with two handles - as if it used to be a huge pot or a wash tub or a gold pan. We tried to take advantage of our free time by fishing, but without success (no good fishing spots here). Laco built a small Inukshuk with the black slates and re-settled a beautiful mushroom capped rock beside it that mother nature had endowed with a rich amber sandstone stem and a cap of spectacular green.
Inukshuk & Mushroom rock at Death River
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
During the afternoon, the weather deteriorated to strong winds preceding regular rainshowers. We retired to the tent to write notes & nap. An almost flourescent yellow caterpillar with a black stripe took shelter with us in the tent's vestibule. Wind and waves enjoyed themselves outside. It's hot inside the tent when the sun hits it. We decided to use the same strategy the next day - a very early morning start. We camped at km 268 (28 hard-won km today).

August 25

Geese were honking on the lake when we were getting up at 4am. 4° again, with a very cloudy sky. We were on the water at 5:15am again and chewed on granola bars as we paddled. From the start there was a bit of a breeze behind us, then beside, then all confused. We paddled through the narrows and passed another set of cabins on the left - white & green again. As we turned up into the wider lake, the breeze suddenly picked up and we side-surfed the building waves across to the west side again where the wind became, briefly, a tailwind. It was 7am. We tried to stay in the lee and shallows. We scattered quite a few Merganser families, one with a baby which couldn't keep up. The wind stayed offshore and rainshowers and rainbows circled us teasingly, but we didn't get rained on until past 9am. We were looking for the cabins described in Richard Clark's notes, but could not find them. Because the wind had calmed during the rain, we decided to risk a 4 km crossing to the right for a shorter route.
Mountains around Cambrian Lake
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
While the sun was out, we paused for lunch... the bugs emerged to enjoy the calm (and us) at the same time. Another flash rainshower cut lunch short and we continued up the lake while it was calm. Lots of rainshowers. We finally reached the end of Lake Cambrian and found there a painted rock with "BM216" so Laco got out and the found metal marker with "Quebec 216" on it. We were looking for a campsite along the giant sand dunes & decided on one big enough for a big army. Two float planes flew over together, climbing - they must have taken off just a bit down river so we won't be surprised to find a hunt camp with people in it maybe. The weather got more sunny & calm so we constructed our camp with everthing lashed down and tied together because there was no protection on that huge sandbar. Then we went for a walk over the sand dunes and took a Lot of pictures of this huge open landscape.
Campsite at the end of Cambrian Lake
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
It's very pretty and open here. A longer looking sunny patch opened up in the sky and the water in the shallows felt relatively warm, so we decided it was a good time to get all spruced up. Just as we got naked, another flash raincloud showered us with icy cold rain again. The sun came back quickly to laugh at our goose-pimply white bodies and the shelter stayed surprisingly warm with the sun on it and kept the sunshowery rain off as we dried and dressed. Nice to have clean hair again!
Campsite on the sandscape at the end of Cambrian Lake
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
Small but beautiful northern lights flickered at 11:30pm and and ugly wind from the North started to blow during the night. We camped at km 231.5 (37.5 km today).

August 26

We woke to the usual grey and a stiff north wind blowing up whitecaps in our faces but Laco thought we could paddle on anyway. We had to re-rig the canoe and shelter (to redirect its back to the wind) before we could make breakfast out on that windy unprotected sandbar. We had to leave the tent pegged while dismantling it. Laco wore his rainpants for the first time for protection from the cold wind. We headed into the wind just before 10am and wind-ferried across the river hoping to find a bit of a lee... But the left shore was too shallow to get close to so we headed out into deeper water hoping to get into some current where the biggest waves were, but the whitecaps were too big. So... we just paddled very slowly up the left shore until Lynette got fed up (it's that banging your head against the wall kind of feeling) just before noon & wind-ferried us into the scant protection of a tiny point and laid down her paddle. We had lunch in the wind because the bugs were too bad in the lee of the forest. We did some repair work, set out aquasealed repairs to cure, set up the cook shelter and tent and went in for a nap.
Campsite on Caniapiscau River
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
Sporadic fits of rain. Laco picked lingonberries. Lynette rolled over.
Lingonberries
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
The bugs here are worse than at any of the last few campsites. Over the bank there is nice open forest with moss laced with game trails decorated with bear poop and scattered caribou bones. We found pieces of plastic crating band near our tent - human garbage. With binoculars, we can see a big yellow sign  across the river on the sand cliff - most likely a fishing/hunting sign. We drank bit of trnkovica and went to bed early. We camped at km 226 (5.5 km today).

August 27   Shale Falls

We got up at 4am trying to beat the wind again. The tarp and tent were heavily soggy from the overnight rain. The mosquitoes were very annoying while we packed - a bat flew around us a few times, harvesting the bounty of insect life. We had no breakfast again, just granola bars (though they're home-made ones with pretty heavy duty calorie content & lots of nuts, fruit & chocolate chips). We were on the water at 5:15am as the wind started to pick up. It was 5°C - one degree warmer than during our two previous early morning ventures. After paddling upwind around the corner about 250m we spied a huge very well maintained hunt camp on river left. It was possible that people were sleeping inside (no windows were boarded up). Fuel barrels were lined up on the beach. We could have spent a night or two there, if we'd known (arghh!!), so we paddled grumpily on into the cold grey morning. This must have been the spot the two float planes had been departing from. At Châteaguay River we started to see the spray from Shale Falls, 13 km away. It was darn cold paddling, but no rain - we had to paddle hard to keep warm in that icy wind. We approached the falls from the right, as far as we could. There were no open rocks to portage over this time and it was a very narrow shoreline, with a strong current leading directly to the falls and doom. Higher water would limit safe landing options.
Shale Falls
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
Electric cable and strange aluminum pieces decorated the shoreline. The shoreline dropped off abruptly - it actually undercut the forest - at the brink of the falls so we decided to scout out a portage up through the forest. After a steep ascent up through a brief barrier of alder, the ensuing spruce and moss forest nicely opened up with lots of animal paths criss-crossing it. High green fences erected by Hydro Quebec/Quebec Government to prevent caribou from drowning in the falls (these were erected AFTER they released water from the Caniapiscau reservoir and drowned 10,000 caribou) prevented a direct portage. We had to go around, like the caribou. The well trodden paths were easy to follow, but after a steep descent the trails were swallowed up by dense alders (really, really thick), then willows (a bit less tangled, but still dense) and the lower end of the portage was a "lean-your weight-against-the-bush-and-whack", then drag your bruised shins up & over the tangle. The 400-430m portage ended in a shallow muddy pool/bay/giant eddy where a thick cloud of pesky bugs greeted us as we emerged all hot & sweaty from our alder altercations.
Shale Falls
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
The second pass with the canoe on Laco's shoulders was very difficult. Actually, for most folks it would have been a swear-fest, but Laco is so even-tempered and bull-headed that he just literally tired to bulldoze the jungle with the canoe, but finally had to admit temporary defeat, drop it, mark its location and continue with just his pack. We both returned to push and pull our boat through together. Thank Garmin for the GPS; without it we would have needed a day to find it again!  We got to within 10 feet of it and still didn't see it even though the GPS was telling us it was right there! Squirrels chattered annoyedly at us in the forest and the mud beach showed us large wolf tracks. Our investigation and portage took us from 9am until 11:50. We were starving, but it was so buggy at the put-in, we were forced to embark and paddle across the bay to the open sandcliff to eat in a more breezy (but also frigid) location.
Shale Falls
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
We climbed the sandcliff for the fantastic view. Over the rim of the giant sand bar, a huge expanse of sand and boulder desert dropped back into the boreal forest. Lynette, needing to replace her memory card in her camera, found that she brought with us a memory card full of George River 2008 pictures. We ate lunch huddled between the boulders.
Shale Falls
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
 
As we started downriver again, a steady current seemed strong enough to counteract the stiff headwind so it didn't slow us too much. Big waves would result where the current and the headwind tangled forces. Lots of nice sandy and rocky points beckoned good camping. Rainshowers peppered us through the afternoon, but as we approached the Swampy Bay River, the sky cleared somewhat and the sun shone on our progress. Our last kilometer of the day was made tedious by the stiff wind which died soon upon our arrival at 5pm. The bugs went into a frenzy. Laco tried his luck at fishing - no success, just one lost lure. An (ice?) ravaged tree trunk stuck straight up from mid-river at the confluence of the Swampy Bay - an odd and ghostly signpost. About 10Km upriver on the Swampy Bay is where an old trading post Fort MacKenzie used to operate, situated along the traditional native travel route between Schefferville and Kuujjuaq. We'd heard that one of the cabins there is still maintained, but I was not willing to paddle upriver to investigate.  We were both pretty tired.
Campsite at Swampy Bay River
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
As the sun (and temperature) dropped, the bugs slowed and allowed us a bit of respite. We camped at km 192 (34 km today).

August 28    Swampy Bay River

We woke up to a mostly open sky, though a few dark clouds on the horizon kept us wary. The sun actually felt hot - Lynette took off a layer of clothing. As the breeze picked up however, she quickly put it back on. Fresh tart lingonberries added pizazz to our granola breakfast. We were on the water by 9:15 am, headed into a light north wind with the sun warming our backs. Two hills stood out from the landscape so we named them "Rusty Gnome" and "Rusty Knoll". A fair current pulled us along a good part of the way, though the wind picked up and slowed us to various degrees. It stayed mostly sunny until lunchtime when we stopped on an otter-track-peppered white sandbar opposite steep cliffs scored by a creeky waterfall. As we paddled farther, we saw mist rising from Stollman Falls on the Chabanel River, a tributary coming in on the left.
Stollman Falls on Chabanel River
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
The Caniapiscau here became a series of giant S-turns past a multitude of sandbars. We spotted a white dot moving in the distance along river right and as we slowly approached, it became a big white wolf trotting the shoreline upstream as we came down.
Wolf
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
With the wind in our favour, we got quite close, capturing some nice pictures and video footage before he noticed us and melted into the bush. We paddled around the corner to a sand-dune-bar campsite with lots of old wolf scat full of caribou hair and bone chips. This site was quite open to the elements, so we set up with everything tied together again. It was surprisingly buggy for a wind swept sand dune but the georgeous vistas up and down the river, the tasty red currants kept us puttering about as a bright white half moon rose at about 8pm. It didn't rain on us today, although the afternoon clouded up & there were rainstorms visible in other places. Our second rainless day on the whole trip!!  We camped at km 156 (36 km today).
Windswept Dune/Bar Campsite on the Caniapiscau
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

August 29   Interactive Wolf Territory

A little drizzle woke us to grey skies so we slept bit more.
Lynette noticed wolf tracks about 5m behind our tent that hadn't been there yesterday so she followed them and they crossed over our own tracks in several places. There was another set of tracks that Lynette at first thought was a puppy wolf (too late in the season for such a small size?), but could not find any toe nail prints, so she followed until they disappeared into the water - had the trotting wolf been following a running otter?? After fertilizing a clump of dune grass Lynette went to wash her hands in the river and as she crouched at the water, a wolf howled at her from the beach across the river about 400-500 m away. She spotted his (her?) white form sitting on the beach and decided to return the greeting, so tried a tentative (& rather pathetic) "howl" in return, at which he indignantly danced about, howling and barking reprovingly back at her. The first howl brought Laco flying out of the cook shelter armed with two cameras and binoculars. We conned the poor wolf into howling back and forth with us while we shot pictures and video of him. One of our videos caught some great sound as well! We engaged in quite a conversation before he finally shook his head at us and disgustedly trotted off down the river along the shoreline. He was mostly white with a dark grey "saddle".

Wolf Howling


We really enjoyed the encounter and ended up spotting him again about 6 km downriver two hours later at which time he didn't deign to respond to our sickly howls.
We packed up dry after all and started paddling 9-ish in grey, but thinning sky with hopeful signs of possible sun and varying breezes from various directions and sometimes glassy-smooth conditions. We came to a canyony section with a few swifts. The wind came and went, changing direction from north to west and on a couple legs seemed to come from behind. A few drops of rain scared us into donning raingear and our lunch stop was a combination of hot sun and circling, threatening rain.
Lunch
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
It got warm enough in the sun to take off a couple of layers of clothing, but not for long!! The afternoon clouded over and threatened rainstorms with rainbows all around us. Laco kept donning and doffing his rainjacket as we counted down the kilometers to Pyrite Falls. We could see mist over the falls from about 4 km away. We stopped to check on a hydrometric station on river left just upstream (bears are working hard to get into this one!) and then cautiously approached the falls tight along the left bank.
Pyrite Falls
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
We expected nice rocky shores (easy to portage over) but were disappointed. We found a beautiful display of water-worn iron-rusty and iridescent pyrite shelves and folded formations. We were able to get up into the forest high on the river bank, but it was fairly thickly overgrown. Still, we managed to claim a small camp spot inside a tamarack copse. We pulled everything up, pitched the tent between tamarack trees and the cook shelter in front of it, tied to the canoe.
Lynette resting in the shelter
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
We left scouting the portage for tomorrow. A pretty moon rose in the crystal clear cold sky over the falls. We camped at km 118.5 (37.5 km today).
Moonrise over Pyrite Falls
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August 30   Pyrite Falls and Limestone Falls

It dawned clear & cold - no clouds at all. Too cold for the bibittes - yay! We didn't put on rainwear this morning. We got ready to portage, took the first packs and headed high up into the clear forest. We found many paths and one main one which had several rusted old tin cans along it. It was sad to see the garbage left most likely by wilderness paddlers like us, not caring what they leave behind at all. If nature-lovers don't care, should we be surprised by industries polluting air & water without any considerations?
Pyrite Falls portage
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
We followed the path as it descended into alders, became completely overgrown and changed into another alder-whack. Finally we got through and appeared on rusty rocks near a good put-in spot. Going back for second our load, we decided to head straight up the rocks to the high ground, in order to bypass the alders. We found lots of trails to follow back, so our second pass was about 600m and fairly good walking.
End of Pyrite Falls portage
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
It was hot and sunny at the put-in so we decided on a quick wash-up which extended into laundry and lunch. Another clean hair day - sweet! Then we loaded up and paddled into a gentle breeze heading for Limestone Falls. We saw dorsal fins of fish feeding at the surface. The approach to Limestone Falls along river right had no current and ended up being blocked, so we paddled back and were able to take a narrow channel just right of the big island. We approached cautiously along the right shore, but decided that landing looks better on the island (the left shore of the right channel we were in). We crossed the channel and pulled up close to the falls to scout the island for possible portage routes.
Limestone Falls from the mid-river island
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This waterfall consists of a HUGE chute leading to a sheer drop off over huge limestone cliffs. Totally spectacular - and this side is only half of the river!
Limestone Falls
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The island was split by another torrent, making no easy put-in spot at the downriver end of the island, so we ended up paddling back upriver to ferry back over to the far right shore and taking out in an eddy right at the brink of the chute. The current leading to the drop-off is deceptively calm looking - it's VERY powerful & requires a good paddle upstream to get across, even on an upstream ferry, then a very close sneak down the right shoreline to guarantee not missing that "last chance at this life" eddy! I believe that this is the falls where the 10,000 caribou were swept to their deaths in the 1984 Hydro Quebec Caniapiscau dam release disaster

Limestone Falls, Caniapiscau River

Because the alders and cliffs looked difficult, we decided to scout with a light load first and were surprised to find we were able to portage entirely over the rocks - even being able to descend the cliffs by negotiating them in "switchback" fashion, the limestone shelves offering a series of "stairs" when needed.
Limestone Falls Portage
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
The boulder beach below the falls was OK, too - mostly large stable and spectacular boulders - a geologist's fantasyland of colours & textures. It ended up being 470 m of fairly clear walking/climbing which we did in 3 passes. Lynette was little nerve-wracked watching Laco negotiate the cliff with the canoe, but the weather was so perfect - any wind could have made carrying a canoe down that cliff quite a dangerous operation. Now of course, I wish I'd had a camera, but then I needed my hands free for the descent. The limestone was very rough with sharp raised veins and would not have been nice to the canoe if one tried to lower it with ropes. We finished fairly quickly, so Lynette decided to go take more photos of the falls and the myriad of boulders and when she got back, Laco had 3 fish for dinner, the last one quite large, so Lynette decided to fillet them right there.
Limestone Falls - the center island 'torrent'
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
It was bit difficult to load the canoe on the boulder shoreline because of the big eddy surge waves but we got off with only one wet foot each and paddled around the corner to a pebble beach graced by a caribou skeleton and big antlers. We set up camp not knowing which way to face the shelter - there was no wind - so we set it up facing the falls! The full moon rose over falls as we fried up fish and feasted on chili. We camped at km 110.5 (8 km today, including 1 km portaging past two spectcular falls).
Moon over Limestone Falls
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

August 31   Manitou Gorge

We woke up to a beautiful morning as the clouds disappeared in the south and the north sky cleared.
Campsite at Limestone Falls
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
We headed for the top of Manitou Gorge. Soon after Situraviup River some easy rapids started and we did 8 km in less than an hour. We pulled out in "Portage Bay" and packed a daypack for a hike down the river to scout out the rapids in the Gorge and the portage.
Start of Manitou Gorge
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
We followed the shore downriver not very far before we had to scale to the top of the cliffs. The first section is bumpy water but, when we were there, it was quite sneakable down the right. After hiking up, then down again, (all the way in yucky rain again), the next section looks do-able down the center (there are ledges & holes on the right).
Manitou Gorge
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
Then we had to go up and down again to get to the Narrows, which from upriver look scary, but once we got there, they seemed doable on the left. No big holes, just huge diagonal waves, turbulence, whirlpools & mushrooms.
Manitou Gorge
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
The rain stopped and that allowed us to have lunch at the Narrows where we found another hydrometric station.  For some reason, bears seem to see human construction as a challenge:  A bear had ripped off one of its solar panels so Laco flipped it over to face the sun. One anchor beam was also ripped off, but the bears hadn't managed to gain entrance (yet). Downriver from there seemed just strong current for as far as we could see. From the station, we headed uphill to where we found quite a few chain-sawed trees and more Quebec location markers. We continued back to our campsite through the open forest, easily finding well trodden trails to follow in the direction we wanted.
Manitou Gorge portage trail
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
There were lots of berries everywhere - the lingonberries are quite ripe by now. Caribou antlers marked the trail through nice dry terrain with lots of caribou moss. We followed these trails all the way back to where the one we were on disappeared into the alder swamp only about 150 m from our canoe. Later, we found the portage trail from the corner of the bay heading up into the bush - it was very clear and well trodden with not too much in the way of alders and willows trying to hide it. We found a rusted metal box that might have been a stove at one time. In total, we hiked about 7 km and paddled 8. We did some fishing but it turned out to be catch and release (we lost two).  A porcupine absentmindedly wandered into our camp but hightailed it (literally) once we gave chase for photo ops.
Manitou Gorge campsite
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
Before we retired to the tent, we discovered a tear in Laco's drysuit neck gasket and Lynette repaired it with aquaseal. We camped at km 102.5 (8 km today).

September 1   Koksoak River

We woke up to misty morning, making it hard to see to any distance, but once Lynette finally got out of the tent, the sky was nice, clear and sunny.
Misty morning at Manitou Gorge campsite
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
Bugs were biting and rapids were calling. We got on the water before 10am with our small video camera attached to Lynette's helmet for the run down the top section of Manitou Gorge. We had 12 minutes of time left on the memory card. The rapids are big and scary, but runnable. We headed up the eddy where we had camped so that we could get far enough upriver to ferry out to the center river so that we miss first ledge on the right. 
After skirting the ledge, we headed right for the tight run down the right shore, to avoid all the big turbulent mess at the top. Then we moved toward centre for the smoothest run through the second big set to miss the ledges on both sides. As we headed for "the Narrows" we moved left for the driest possible run through the left side of the main chute: the waves here were huge and mostly diagonal. The closest we came to being unstable was after we relaxed and slowed down after the big stuff in The Narrows. The current hits the bottom of the river here and huge whirlpools and rising "mushrooms" alternately sucked us down and knocked us sideways. After the curve to the right, the water calmed down but kept moving and we zipped past the steep limestone shorelines at quite a speed.
Manitou Gorge
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
The calm section was about 2 km long and it would be possible to self-rescue here, but those limestone rocks are very sharp and abrasive and the current is very strong and fast. We approached cautiously the last set - a final outflow over and through a reef of limestone. We needed to pull out and scout ahead so we stopped on the right shore to have a look. It was easy to walk the limestone shoreline, but it wasn't easy to scout. The main flow was too much to the left and the shoreline there was steep (cliff rock), bushy and not easy to climb over. Binoculars told us there may be a runnable chute between its ledges but the diagonal waves bouncing off the cliffs looked like great canoe-flippers.
Manitou Gorge
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
It would require for us to get over to the left side, climb the steep slopes and scout - and that would require a considerable time. The right side was sneakable and its last drop was easily lineable. The center option was impossible to scout. So we went right and it was quick & easy. We found something had made a meal of a juvenile seagull there. Beyond the R1 runout was a strong current from then on. The nice weather held and we got wind from South so we traveled really fast. We stopped for lunch on the right, but we would have made another 7-8 km if we just ate and drifted. As we approached the confluence of River Melezes (Larch River), we saw a motorboat coming down the Melezes, headed down the Koksoak River (this is where the river changes names). As we got closer, we heard another motorboat and this second one noticed us and turn to come to talk to us.
Motorboat at Confluence Kanniq - 1st people in 29 days!
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
Kevin and Jason were the first two people we'd seen since Henri our pilot dropped us on Lac Bazil 29 days ago. They were very friendly, didn't mind our smelly state and gave us Gatorade. They had been looking for caribou without success and told us they had met a solo canoeist (Sylvain Tremblay) in a pakcanoe last year in this very same spot who had come from Swampy Bay. Jason offered us his hunting cabin for the night and showed us where it was on our map. With the strong current and tailwind, we made it there by around 3pm.
Jason's cabin on Koksoak River
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
We lifted the bear-boards as instructed and found a well used wonderful shelter with an awesome view up and down the river. It was so incredibly decadent to sit on a soft couch, out of the wind & out of the bugs, and read the Montreal Gazette from August 29 - our first world news in a loooong time (the terrorists still have not given up). We had time to do some personal hygiene, too! What a treat to be under a dry roof!
Lynette enjoying newspaper
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
Blowflies buzzing from every crack. As night fell, we discovered a solar-recharged blinking light on the roof. A thunderstorm rumbled in the distance and lots of rain splattered on the roof overnight. So nice to be indoors. We finished at km 67.5 (35 km today).

September 2   Jason's Cabin

We woke to frigid and windy weather from the South-West. It was blowing up sandstorms off the sandbars in the middle of the river. We decided to take advantage of the comfortable accommodations, take a rest day and stay in Jason's cabin for another night. In the morning we hiked up the mountain behind the cabin, about 1.5 km up. It was either buggy or very windy. We paused when it was windy enough to eat lots of blueberries and lingonberries. When we finally reached the open, exposed top, where we could hike easily with panoramic views, the wind was so strong that we had to lean into it.
Hike above Koksoak River
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
So instead of wandering about up there in the cold, wind and rain, we descended quickly back down into the forest, picking a few boletes for dinner on the way. Then we snuggled in and read the newspaper cover to cover, solved crosswords & sudoku and played cards. Rainshowers and wind buffeted the cabin for most of the day with one pleasant sunny period warming the back of Lynette's neck through the front window. It was lazy day and we hoped for better weather for paddling tomorrow.

September 3

It rained heavily all night. Both of us thought that we would end up staying in Jason's cabin for yet another night, but as morning came, the rain reduced to a drizzle and the wind calmed down. A little spot of blue encouraged us to pack and get paddling. Laco found strange ghostly white leaches high up on the rock. A large float plane flew upriver, followed by a small one. Jetstreams have been overhead for the whole trip, making Lynette think how different our lives are from the people being pampered in those Europe-bound planes. We had fairly good current and side-wind most of the way and were alternately rained on and even sunned on.
Paddling Koksoak River
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
We stopped for a quick lunch between rainshowers but got sprinkled on and cold anyway. Shortly before the end of the Koksoak, our tailwind changed to headwind again. We had to wind-ferry to keep to left side before the Sarvakuluk Rapid - the last rapid of our trip. Cabins were now all along the river. Sarvakuluk was a bit of anti-climax, compared to how it presents itself on the topo map. It was a simple R1-2 & we then went to cross the river back to the Kuujjuaq side and were surprised to see more noisy rapids ahead of us on river right. We had to work hard to get past them on the left side. The current here was strong - maybe because of the gradient on the tide on its way out? The left side of the river was one long waste-land of gravel and rock bars, all too low to camp on (considering tides now), so when we spied another blue cabin on the river right, we crossed the river again to check it out. It was a steep climb and the Goudbois cabin was a bit musty, but OK and bug free inside so we settled in for dinner and the night.
Goudbois cabin
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
Laco enjoyed grazing on lots of nicely ripe lingonberries all around. The full moon rose and shone through the window. No blowflies buzzed in this cabin. It is protected by heavy-duty fencing wrapped around the cabin, but bears have been working hard to get in. Frost grew on the railings in the evening. We finished at km 30.5 (37 km today).

September 4   Kuujjuaq

A beautiful red sunrise flooded our cabin through the small windows.
Sunrise at Goudbois cabin
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
Then again fog came; 6° in the cabin; 4° outside. We had breakfast as it started to rain outside. Because of the cold and the fact that we didn't want to get to Kuujjuaq too early, we decided to unpack our sleeping backs and went back horizontal. When we eventually got up, it was not breezy and the bugs went crazy as we were loading the canoe. Otherwise, the day was similar to the previous one - mostly quite dark with rainshowers. But there was a good current and a light breeze at our backs. Lynette tried to postpone lunch to avoid getting too cold. When we finally stopped below one of the cabins on river left, the sun suddenly broke out of prison. From that moment on, it was slightly better, but the rain & bugs reappeared from time to time. We saw two motorboats and many big airplanes flying in and out of the Kuujjuaq airport. A beautiful waterfall appeared at Highfall Creek on river right.
Highfall Creek joining Koksoak
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About 7 km before Kuujjuaq, the wind changed direction and started to blow against us, but close to shore it was not much of an issue.
Kuujjuaq
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We landed at the big boat harbour (another port is about 4-5 km North of Kuujjuaq) beside a big barge. We were welcomed by two locals who helped us to carry our canoe up and one of them offered to call Alain from his car phone.
Kuujjuaq harbour
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
Alain came and we were back in civilization. He took us in two trips to his house. After 32 days in the wilderness we had a hot shower(Hheeaavveenn!), did a laundry, went with Alain to do grocery shopping and watched tennis on a mesmerizing big screen TV. When we talked about being in Kangiqsualujjuaq last year, Alain told us he had been in Kangiqsualujjuaq's gym on New Year's Eve 2000 when the avalanche hit and his baby daughter died there.
We finished at km 0 (30.5 km today).

September 5

We went to the airport to drop our canoe for storage for next year's trip. We had a lazy day - watched a lot of TV. We went for a little drive with Alain to the upriver marina and talked to people there who (barely) manged to launch a loaded canoe at a low tide.
Kuujjuaq
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia

September 6

We went for long walk-about in the cold windy rainy weather. By now, we should have been quite used to it.
Hike to Kuujjuaq cross
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
We met other hikers on our way up to the cross on the hill. These people had just came back from Pingualuit Crater (we hope to be there in 2010). It was too cold, wet & windy to stay at the cross, so we walked back into town, wet, cold and miserable.
Hike to Kuujjuaq cross
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
We went to the grocery store where we dried and warmed up, to the Kuujjuaq Inn where we ate Indian carrot soup and poutine. We checked out the art shop and visited Louisa. We went for a drive with Natalie to the end of the road downriver where a big ship was anchored. Back at Louisa's place we met her husband Jobie, had a nice chat and saw photos and videos of their beluga hunt and polar bear chase. Louisa won a musk-ox lottery last year and shot one - her first and she does not want another one - she says there's a reason they are called "Musk"Ox! Once back at Alain's place we were treated to raw frozen caribou dipped in an Inuit specialty called "misiraq" (fermented seal fat) and then caribou steaks after that.

September 7

Rotten weather again - sleets of wet snow. Meanwhile, CBC Ottawa is talking about 25° and drought. Most of the day we just watched movies, including a horror called 'Quarantine' which horrified Lynette. We visited artist Charlie Shipaluk at house 419, and Lynette was offered a deal she could not refuse. We went with Alain to Kuujjuaq Inn for a goodbye dinner (pizza).

September 8   Home again... & already planning the next Adventure!

We cleaned Alain's place before he came home to drive us to the airport. We checked our luggage and then walked back into the town to talk to some contacts before we left:
Kuujjuaq airport
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia
First we went to see Mathieu Meunier regarding our canoe. We then went to the Parks Quebec office and spoke to Pierre Laporte. He told us about another group paddling this year down the Delay/Gue/Melezes/Koksoak and one solo canoeist Sébastien Théberge who was still out there paddling also from Schefferville down the Goodwood/Caniapiscau/and Koksoak. We flew to Montreal. While waiting for our luggage, we chatted with some American hunters. Jamie picked us up at the airport and drove us back home to Ottawa.
 

 

Supplementary Caniapiscau Trip Notes (July 2011)
contributed by Paul Jacobs
 
L&L Thank Paul for his notes & hope they will also help future paddlers of this route.
 

Hi, Lynette and Laco –

I know you are back and hope you had another great trip.

I owe you a hearty “thank you” for all your help and advice and at least some kind of report. A short summary follows (and a few photos attached), but if you are interested in more I will give you as much detail and as many photos as you like. With respect to the latter, I will send you a link with a password as soon as I get them on the web (the camp’s policy prohibits us from public posting of images).

The trip was amazing; I have you to thank for helping me to select what is undoubtedly the best route I have ever done (and I have done many), and also for providing so many details and helpful advice that made the trip more successful. We really didn’t have any major problems at all; believe it or not, our biggest difficulty was having a little more time than we needed (largely due to good circumstances, more on this later). This is not to say it wasn’t challenging: the du Sable has more challenging whitewater than any trip we’ve run so far, the route was fairly untouched by human beings (that is, in recent years) so the portages were bushwhacks, and finding a campsite on the Koksoak is not easy. But, all in all, it was perfect for this group of boys.

The journey up the Howell Lake river from Menihek to the Du Sable took us about a week; it was very steep and had about 7 portages as well as poling and dragging, but it was pretty good overall. I have to say, just between us, that your web site must be in error because we descended from Lake Clugny to Lac Bazil and so the former must actually be the source of the Du Sable. The Du Sable itself was very difficult; after spending nearly a full day solving Robin Rapid, we portaged nearly 1500 meters around a long set above Innu Falls (where you noted the sloping right bank); the water must have been considerably higher than when you were there because when we reached Innu Falls there was no possibility of landing on the island; the falls on the right were quite large (not a “trickle” as in your trip) and we portaged about 600M through the woods, which also of course avoided the big second rapid – I had your sketch with me and it was just not the same; of course we could also tell from the photographs. At that point we were worried we would have to portage many more rapids but in fact we were able to run or skirt most of them, and it was excellent.

The features of the Caniapiscau were all incredible; after Heaven’s Gate we were amazed that Little Eaton was so much more impressive, and then of course the real Eaton is in another class entirely. Eaton Canyon was really the only place we found your traces; we came across your marking ribbon*** on the portage route you took, but we ended up for various reasons making an entirely new portage; we tend to camp in the woods and we stayed the first night up by a little pond, then carried over the high ground to another campsite above “Portage Lake” the second night. We spent some time that evening scouting the rockfall; I should note that we had just resupplied and were carrying 18 days worth of food and supplies. We could have tried it, but we did not want to take that route with the boys and the full gear. So we went up on the plateau that leads to the second waterfall and we ended up making a 1000-meter portage from our campsite to the second waterfall (making the total for our Eaton Canyon carry about 3500m), which took (for two trips over the plateau) a little over an hour, plus about two hours to mark it in the evening. We felt pretty good about avoiding the rockfall, especially since the put-in below the second waterfall is one of the most beautiful spots in the canyon. Now, if you remember the spot, and I assume you will, you might wonder what the canoe is doing in the attached photo. The boys actually snuck up through a little eddy and portaged it up over the rocks a bit so we would have it for the photo; our actual put-in was a few hundred meters below the falls.

You will also note in the photos that some of the boys wear short sleeves. We did the whole route a month earlier than you did, and the weather wasn’t too bad. The bugs were bad, but they covered up in the campsite. Aside from the Cambrian Lake area, where we got started at 5am, we weren’t hindered by wind, either. So you will note the photos of the mist rising on the Caniapiscau, and glass-clear water on the Koksoak; it was probably quite a bit different from when you were there.

This is probably more than you have time to read. Let me just say, again, thank you, I hope your travels continue to go well for you. Also, I will have a similar, strong, experienced group to lead next year and I would rather not run the same route twice in a row now that we have explored it. If you have other suggestions, given what you know about us now, I welcome them. We would like to stay in the taiga (i.e., where we can find big trees for firewood) and in the relative north (i.e. 52 – 58 degrees north).

All the best, Paul Jacobs

***Lynette's note: This marking tape was left by others: L&L do not use marking tape when travelling alone. Lynette sometimes breaks branch tips & points them down, if needed. Laco depends on his GPS. We only use tape when afraid of losing less experienced portagers following us.





 

Du Sable – Caniapiscau – Koksoak Technical Notes – 2011

Paul Jacobs


 

Route and General Notes:

Our route took us from the train drop-off at Menihek “Station” (on the train route to Schefferville) to the port/airport of Kuujjuaq in Nunavik. We started paddling on June 30 and reached Kuujjuaq on August 7. From Lac Bazil to Kuujjuaq we followed the route taken by Lester “Laco” Kovac and Lynette Chubb in 2009 and made heavy use of their maps and notes. Most of the notes here are changes or additions to their comments (e.g., new or different portages or places where we found the rapids substantively different).

In addition to having four canoes with a group of teenage boys and no spray covers, we did the route a month earlier in the season than Laco and Lynette, which may have accounted for differences in water levels. Although we had little rain, the water was clearly higher in many places than during their run (see esp. the Innu Falls portage). Our portaging style may have been somewhat different, also, with more of our portage paths using the higher ground away from the river. A number of other reasons may account for differences in the path taken, as well as of course for differences that may affect future travelers.

We are very thankful to Laco and Lynette for their advice regarding the route and the detailed resources they provided.

Aside from these notes, resources used and available are 1:50K annotated maps from Laco and Lynette, Laco’s and Lynette’s daily log, 1:50K strip maps (11K x 18K) with further annotations of our campsites, portages, and other details, and 1:250K topo maps with similar markings.

We do not use a GPS, so we do not make use of GPS marks per se, nor do we provide accurate GPS coordinates (coordinates are from maps only).

Regarding campsites, our daily campsites are marked on our maps but we do not generally note other areas for camping. The Keewaydin style of camping often puts us in the woods, on bluffs, and on portage trails, whereas we find most other groups use beaches, rock slabs, and other areas closer to the river. This is very much a matter of preference, style, and group size and needs.

Menihek to Lac Bazil:

The Howell Lake route is steep but scenic, with good camping, nice hills all around, and basically untraveled. We did the trip expecting high water, starting June 30, but water levels appeared to be normal.

From Lake Menihek to Howell Lake it is mostly rapids, some of which can be poled; many had to be lined or dragged. We made one good portage, river left, at the island where the steepest drop is (about 58 29 05 N, 66 49 54 W). The portage goes across a dry river bed, up onto a ridge, and then follows a caribou path until you reach a steep drop down to the water, right before an incoming stream.

After this, the grade moderates, although it is still difficult, to Howell Lake. The lake is pretty, with decent camping on the south. They say the fishing for speckled trout and land-locked salmon is good in the vicinity.

Above Howell Lake, the grade continues. The first portage, in an obvious spot about 2K above the lake, is short; you can almost see water on both sides from the top (about 150M). What looks like a long lake on the map is mostly rapids; we had to lug in one or two places but were able mostly to line up to the next pond, about 6K up from Howell Lake. 3K past this pond (about 9K from Howell) the river goes through a series of unnavigable curves (about 54 31 N, 67 03 W). At the island, the better portage is on river right, about 200M. Very soon after this, you can see a beautiful falls upstream. Finding a good takeout spot here is difficult; the portage is on river left and we unloaded below the shallows and skirted the shore to avoid crossing a dry river bed. This portage goes about 600M, mostly along caribou tread, to a small pond, across the pond, then an easy 200M through squishy ground to flat water. At the next narrows, where the river bends to the north, you avoid the falls by portaging 700M, again river left, to the first pond of the north-south leg. There is camping near the end of this portage but it was very buggy in ’11.

After this the upstream work is less taxing, with flat paddling broken up by lining stretches. There is a short portage river right around a falls about 6K up from the north junction.

The height of land into Quebec (about 54 35 N, 67 13 W) comprises 3 portages. The first is nearly a straight line west by northwest from the last navigable point, river left. It crosses a small stream after about 150M, skirts a dry river bed, and ends in a grassy bog where the map shows a small, narrow pond. If you could, you would paddle this pond to the end, but even after several days of rain we could not. So we paddled across and had to skirt the shore about 200M to the start of the next portage.

From the grassy pond/bog it is about 200M straight over the Quebec border into the next pond. At the end of this one is a trickier portage, river left (now also really left, going downstream), about 650M. The trail goes up a short slope, skirts a grassy bog, and then goes about 250M over rocky caribou tread before descending steeply to the long arm of what could be called Lac Clugny.

Laco and Lynette believed Lac Bazil to be the source of the du Sable, based on the research of previous groups. However, Lac Clugny flows into Lac Bazil at a long, narrow rapid (about 400M), so it appears to us that Lac Clugny is a higher source.

We ran the top half of the rapid, then lined the left up to the steep drop, where we had to portage, about 50M. We think it is best to portage the whole set, probably on the right, away from the river. The river’s edge is choked with alders and blowdown.

Du Sable River (additions to Laco’s and Lynette’s notes)

Henry Rapid” – was not runnable; we portaged < 100M on the right over good rock, starting and the top of the drop, and ran the bottom.

Hairpin Rapids” – after the du Sable crosses 68° W, it makes a turn to the south and then reverses itself. This section is all rapids (some R5’s). We made a 500M portage due west from the start of the rapids; then put in is a runnable R3.

Last rapid before Daumesnil River – the bottom was not runnable; we snuck left, then right, then left; then portaged about 200M on bluff and came down just before the end of the rapid. The next rapid labeled R3-R4 was runnable on the left.

Robin Rapid” – this is the longest and most difficult runnable rapid to this point, with several Class 5 and Class 4 drops and fast water most of the way. We portaged about 20M over rock at the top, and about 100M through bushes and over rock just before the sharp right hand turn. The rest we ran/scooted or lined, entirely on the left, which seemed to have more eddies and better visibility.

The next long set after Robin (and before Innu Falls) is in the narrow stretch with steep banks and a sloping rock on the right. We elected to portage this rather than get stuck, mostly on caribou trail over the hill on the left (about 1500M). The portage ends in a runnable R3.

Innu Falls – The island portage described by Laco and Lynette was not useful to us due to higher water. With huge amounts of water going over both sides of the falls, there is no safe landing. We cut a 500M portage on the left, mostly caribou trail and then river-side rock, from above the falls to below the next R5. We then lined one drop and ran most of the rest. The unloading area for the portage is poor – a tiny eddy – and it is possible that better loading may be found further upriver. Safety is a big concern here. Because we were fairly close to the falls to scout, we were not able easily to get back up to find a better landing. It was a difficult ferry across. As the portage is much better on the river left (although the view of the falls is better on the right), it is advisable to stop well above the falls and walk down to scout.

Naskapi Falls – There are several unrunnable ledges below Naskapi Falls, as well as one big one above. Most of the rest of this stretch is runnable. We portaged the first ledge, as Laco and Lynette did, about 100M over rock. At the falls itself, we didn’t like the looks of the rapids below or the rocks, so we made a 700M portage up from the rock to the right of the falls, along the bluff (nice steady downhill incline) and back to the rapids at a pool where the rest is nicely runnable. It is a good idea to take the whole run above Naskapi on the right.

Heaven’s Gate – we were surprised to find most of the rapids above and below Heaven’s Gate to be runnable or sneakable, making this a quick section in our water. The actual Heaven’s Gate is a spectacular feature worth allocating time to enjoy. We portaged about 400M mostly along the shore/canyon; Laco & Lynette shortened the portage by lining/dragging/scooting the top R5 and we deemed this not to be worth it.

The Narrows” and “Triple Hydraulics” – this is the last of the major features on the Du Sable. The river narrows and twists; at the first R5 we portaged about 200M over rocks. It may be better to make a slightly longer carry inland if smooth walking is available. We intended to ferry across to run right, but the last rapid of this large set looked too big to run or line so we took a second left portage (about 100M) after sneaking very carefully into an eddy; after this we ran left until we could cross above the islands.

Caniapiscau River

Little Eaton – About 750M on the right, following the forest line over rock for about 200M, then into the woods to a narrow pond, along the pond bank, finally over a hill into rocks on a small bay.

Tuktu Falls – Like Laco & Lynette, we eddy-hopped the top rapid, then lined/lifted over a rock beside the falls, so did not portage. There is a tricky rapid just below (we ran the rocky right side, but it depends on water levels).

Eaton Canyon – We made a completely new route here. We eventually found ribbon in the area apparently used by Laco & Lynette, but we opted for a higher contour (a) in order to camp next to a small pond for our first night and (b) for dryer walking. Our trail also takes in a spectacular view of the first falls from a distance. We head mostly toward “Portage Lake” but we eventually rejected the “rockfall portage” from Portage Lake toward the river as too dangerous for our group with full loads; instead we made our way up over the plateau to a rock put-in below the second waterfall (for us this involved some backtracking as we were camped close to Portage Lake on our second night). There are more spectacular views from the plateau portage toward the second waterfall. The total length of our portage is about 3500M from start to finish (i.e. from above the first rapid to below the second waterfall); this could be shorter were it not for campsite detours. There are some dead-end stubs in our trail due to the detour to Portage Lake.

Granite Falls – we did the portage as described by Laco & Lynette; paddle into the rocky eddy just before the falls; wind your way over the huge rock, and put in on the slanted rock just to the left of the bottom of the falls. The “old” route clearly goes out of the bay above, but we did not explore this because it looked shallow and it appeared we would have to drag.

Shale Falls – the put-in area below the falls is blocked by a wide layer of thick alders. To minimize the work in clearing, we brought the trail east along the opening, away from the falls, then down through the alders. As these grow back quickly, future trips would have to re-clear. Our route starts about 100M above the falls, cuts through the woods directly to the caribou fence, then contours to the drop through to the alders (near the original point above the former bay). About 650M total.

Pyrite Falls – River left, along rocks for about 50M, then up through alders (difficult to find a good spot to get to the forest), a series of caribou paths to the obvious put-in. About 650M.

Limestone Falls – This is indeed just barely doable over the rocks with a canoe, in dry conditions. It is about 500M, with some very difficult sidestepping descents. Routefinding is necessary. Entirely on rock beside the falls.

Manitou Gorge – The upper rapids are really a series of R3-R4 drops with short calmer sections in between. The options are generally better on the right. We ran or lined (very short lining or lift-over sections) all but the last rapid before the actual gorge, where we portaged about 25M over rocks on the right with a dicey put-in and short line. Although this huge rapid looked basically runnnable in our water (on the left side of the center channel as described by Laco & Lynette), it was very dangerous, with even the bottom of the wave train filling with swirling eddies. It must be approached very carefully.

We ran the drop after the gorge quite easily in one of the right-side channels.

Koksoak River

As noted by Laco and Lynette, the camping options become more limited on the Koksoak (on the Caniapiscau there are ample options for camping in the woods as well as beaches). The shore of the Koksoak is quite rocky, and the forest is generally far from the river. Our strategy for the last few nights was to make a trail through the alders up onto the bluffs for camping. This is sweaty work and other groups may choose differently (as noted by Laco and Lynette, there are numerous hunting camps and cabins along the way, all of which were unoccupied during our trip).


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