Day 4: The Pivabiskau River to the Opasatika River (50 km)
There’s nothing quite like waking up on a gravel spit in the middle of nowhere to a breakfast of pancakes and coffee (courtesy of Brian). As we ate and packed up our gear we watched the mist lift off the river as the sun burned through. Beautiful.
Just before leaving for the day’s paddle, I cast a spinner toward the lee side of a rock in the middle of the Pivabiskau. A big bass hit it as soon as it touched the water. As I dragged it up onto the gravel I thought, “You’re lucky my belly is already full of pancakes!”
The landscape is completely northern now. We’ve left the Canadian Shield behind. The banks are low and sandy populated with black spruce, poplar & birch trees. Every time we round another corner the river spreads wider. This makes it a challenge to navigate in low water. You have to keep guessing which side of the river has the most water. A couple times today we paddled backwards on the river as gravel bars directed the flow around within the riverbed.
We learned to watch for bubbling water. Normally when you’re canoeing, bubbling water with spray indicates danger—a hidden rock or shallow swift. At this point on the Missinaibi, bubbling water meant there was probably enough to paddle through without having to get out and pull the canoe over!
The fishing was good today. One of my favourite moments of the trip came when Brian and Nate got stuck without enough water in a small rapid. Shane and I, seeing their predicament, changed our path and floated right by them. We had enough time to cast a bit while they got unstuck. At the base of this rapid, Shane and I both caught pickerel. Then, on my last cast, I thought I caught a snag. It turned out to be a decent sized pike! By the time I pulled it to the canoe we were drifting into some rocky swifts so I had to stick the fishing rod between my legs and paddle to the shore while the pike surfed with its head just out of the water.
We ate lunch on a bit of gravelly mud where the Soweska River flows into the Missinaibi. We dined on Mr. Noodles as the wind kept picking up. Seeing an opportunity to have some fun, Shane and I found some washed up tree trunks and created a T-shaped sail with our tarp. Brian and Nathan left ahead of us while we put the sail together with dreams of shouting, “So long, suckers!” as we blew by them.
It didn’t quite work as planned—probably due to our lack of any experience sailing a canoe. Shane hoisted the sail and held it in place between his legs while he tried to snatch the ropes that were tied to the bottom corners of the sail. For a brief moment we caught the wind and I was able to use my paddle for a rudder. Before we knew it we washed up on rocks (which were hidden under 1 inch of water in the middle of a 400m wide river)!
We tried a few more times but the sail was more problems that in was worth. Eventually we caught up to Brian and Nathan and joined them for a swim—a welcome relief from the oppressive sun!
Getting out of the water after swimming was a challenge. Just like back at Thunderhouse, we had to exit the water and pull tight tech clothes over our wet bodies while simultaneously dancing on a rocky shoreline and swatting Loonie-sized horseflies. Good times.
By the time we started looking for a campsite we were quite worn out. We had paddled 50 kilometers in the hot sun and were ready for a break. We eventually found a campsite on an island just after the Opasatika River.
The officially marked campsite was set into the woods and was reminiscent of a horror movie set. The flies in under the cedars were horrendous. We chose to set up camp on the sandy grassy end of the island instead.
After setting up the tents and the cooking stove, we picked our way into the current of the river to relax. After the heat of the day, letting your body float in the current while holding on to a boulder under the water felt like heaven.
Brian cooked one of our most successful meals this night. We used thick pita shells as a base and cut pepperoni and cheese on it to make pizzas with some diced tomatoes. I was a little surprised that the factory-sealed pepperoni survived the heat. In the end it smelled okay and we were hungry!
We finished the night with a roaring bonfire of deadwood we picked up along the side of the island.
Opasatika River Island Site:
N 50° 25.137′
W 082° 20.745′
Day 5: The Opasatika River to the Moose River (60 km)
The day began with a quick breakfast of oatmeal and bugs before launching out on a long day’s paddle. 60km sounds like a lot, but with rest stops every 10 km or so it’s manageable. On our first break we pulled out apples which were a welcome sight to all of us!
The wind picked up quite a bit during today, but fortunately, it was blowing mostly downstream. The combination of choppy water, bright sun and clouds were beautiful.
Just before lunch we spotted a post on the shore with a solar panel on it. Shane and I pulled over to have a look while Brian and Nathan kept paddling to our lunch spot.
After we climbed the bank we saw a bigger metal cabin hidden from sight. The door was open so we went inside. It had been insulated at one time, but all the insulation was pulled out. An old bed frame and rusted out stove were left along with a broom that read, “Property of Environment Canada.” Interesting.
A quick paddle brought us to the gravel bar where we ate lunch: fried chili-cheese burritos! Man, they were delicious!
Lunch by the Weather Station:
N 50° 35.091′
W 082° 05.035′
The highlight of today was “Deception Rapids” It was a 450m long CI-CII. The volume of water running through here was massive. We rode big waves all the way down until close to the end when you have to make a quick jump to the left to avoid hanging up on rocks. It was a great adrenaline-filled jaunt! We took a quick break below the rapids to stretch before the last 20km of the day.
The river is uneventful at this point. In Hap’s guide book there are three lengths of river beside each other on the same page because there’s nothing to write about. Even so, the beauty of this river is stunning. We watched many fish jump right out of the water today as we paddled along.
We set up camp on a flood-level ledge of sand and grass beside the river. The water was so low, there were paths of rocks all through the river to walk along.
At one point I went for a walk and the sun broke through the evening clouds setting up my favourite picture of the trip.
For supper we created an unexpected appetizer. We smeared the left-over pizza pitas in butter and chopped garlic and fried them for garlic bread. This little snack is a must-have on our next trip! We followed the garlic bread up with a meal of spaghetti and pesto before crawling into our sleeping bags. Tomorrow morning we would reach the Moose River.
This might be a good time to extol the virtues of a quality tent with noseeum-proof mesh. Brian and I slept like babies on top of our sleeping bags in the heat in his Eureka tent. Nathan and Shane alternated between swatting noseeum bites and sweating inside their sleeping bags to find protection from the demonic swarm. This is the last trip that Nathan’s $25 Walmart tent will be on!
Pre-Moose River Site:
N 50° 43.414′
W 081° 45.306′