Day 6: Missinaibi/Moose Junction to the Otakwahegan River (49 km)
We awoke excited. Today, after four years, we would paddle the last bit of the Missinaibi River. In a mere 20 km, the Missinaibi would join the Mattagami to form the Moose River which would take us the final 90 km to Moosonee.
The weather was overcast and a little cool but with no sign of rain. Brian cooked us up a breakfast of fried bacon and cheese burritos and we hit the water. Once again, the river was so low we had to pick our way through it like a maze.
After a few hours of paddling, we found Portage Island at the end of the Missinaibi River. We pumped some fresh water for our Nalgenes and toasted the end of the “Mighty Miss”.
Hap’s map said there were swifts to the West of Portage Island. In such low water levels, these swifts were dry land with little trickles of water cutting through them. We backtracked a bit and took the East side. To our surprise, there was a raging high-volume class II technical rapid awaiting us. There’s no sign of it on the map—I suppose it only exists in low water levels. The entrance to the rapid was a CI that took you into a pool on the East shore of the Mattagami/Moose. Once in the pool, the exit was the big CII tech. Plenty of volume along with a ferry to the left near the end to avoid the rocks made for an exciting ride. What a welcome to the Moose!
Later that morning I caught a large Pickerel while Shane and I were taking turns pumping water. I threw it back. A little while later, Brian caught a nice Pickerel that we used to supplement our Mr. Noodles lunch.
After lunch, the Moose River ran out of water. We ended up walking the canoe again. If the water had been another 6″ lower, we would be portaging down the dry riverbed!
After a gentle CI between Nicoll and Mike Islands, we saw the Moose River Crossing in the distance. It felt a little strange seeing a symbol of civilization on the sixth day of our journey. Workers were repairing the concrete piers that face upstream to take the brunt of logs which wash down the Moose during spring run off. The workers seemed quite excited to see us. One man waved his orange hat to indicate which channel under the railroad bridge had enough water to paddle through. We slid through some swifts under the bridge while the workers took pictures of us.
Just north of the bridge, the map showed “gypsum caves.” We had anticipating exploring them all afternoon.
Gypsum is a soft rock that erodes in an interesting pattern. One of the small caves was large enough for me to crawl through for a photo.
After paddling for what felt like ages, we stopped for a quick break on a mud flat in the middle of the river. The river is so wide and straight here, it felt like we’d never leave the train bridge behind!
We paddled a bit more and found a nice Island to sleep on.
At first we were unsure of finding flat tent pads. The entire shoreline was rocky and the raised centre was covered in thick bushes. We were fortunate to find a sandy spot on the Island to pitch our tents. It turned out the be the most comfortable sleeping spot of the whole trip.
For a while we thought we would finally receive some rain. Dark clouds rolled in as the sun was going down. In the end, we were spared the rain (which we clearly saw falling to the south of us) when the edge of the storm passed directly over us. We enjoyed our dehydrated meals (Pad Thai!) with the setting sun beating down on us.
There was a nice little fire pit set up with large rocks set up. We enjoyed a windy fire of driftwood before crashing in our tents for the night.
As we fell asleep, we all wondered if there would be enough water to paddle in when we woke up.
Site just past the Otakwahegan River:
N 50° 53.351′
W 081° 11.634′
Day 7: Otakwahegan River to Tidewater Provincial Park (62 km)
The day started promising. We were able to paddle out of the cove we landed in without water-walking. Our luck wasn’t to last, however!
The centre of the river was too dry to paddle so we veered to the East side. After a little big of paddling there we realized that we would have to switch to the left side, 1 km across. We walked beside the canoes for another 750 m or so.
During one of our morning breaks, in a redux of a scene from our 2004 Quetico trip, Brian rocked a Karate Kid-style crane kick pose on a boulder alongside Big Asp Island.
We ate lunch on a gravel spit by Nipiminanak Island. We had hoped to get a good view of the Allan Rapids as the Abitibi flowed into the Moose, but at over a kilometre across the river, we only saw some lines of white on the horizon Given the low water levels (and our corresponding low energy levels) by this point, we decided to keep paddling toward Moosonee rather than pull and walk across gravel bars to the Abitibi.
When we left our lunch spot, the water was too shallow to paddle through again. Since Nathan and I brought water sandals, we balanced Brian and Shane in the middle of the canoes and floated them to deeper water before hoping in.
The Kwetabohigan Rapids arrived quickly. Maybe it was Brian and my vocal rendition of “Grace Too” that helped the time pass so quickly! These rapids are listed as CII – CIII depending on the tide, and they continue for 2 km! What great fun!
The start of the rapids was a little drop into a calm(ish) area where you can hang out in an eddy. We followed Hap’s advice and stuck to the left side of the river and ran straight through them. The volume was huge and the waves were choppy. It felt like a roller coaster!
At on point, half way through the rapids, we saw two people in a fishing boat in a pool to the side. The lady in the front of the boat stretched out across the gunnels and pointed her big zoom lens towards us. Shane and I smiled and flashed our paddles before getting shocked back into reality by a big wave which jarred us from the right bow. We quickly got back to work and paddled out the bottom of the rapids as Nate and Brian followed. These are the sort of rapids you could portage back up and spend all day running. What a great set of rapids to end the trip on!
The next leg of the trip felt long. We were tired and started to look for campsites. We thought we found a good spot to camp on Bushy Island but upon closer inspection, the tide was overtaking the area. We took a break and ate some Crispers.
As we ate, we kept having to pull our canoes further inland as the tide came in. To leave, we got in the canoes and waited about 5 minutes for the tide to lift us off the mud.
The last 7 or 8 km of the trip to Charles Island was the hardest. Our energy was spent and we had already paddled over 50 km. We fought the incoming tide and wind on flat-water. Even the excitement of seeing Moosonee didn’t last long. You see the town a long time before you actually arrive!
Our exhaustion turned to sheer joy when we pulled up at the Tidewater Provincial Park dock. It turned out that we were the only people on the Island! We were quickly set up our site and found some wood for a fire.
One of the simple luxuries you miss on a trip like this are chairs and tables. I have never enjoyed sitting at a picnic table so much as that night.
After watching the sunset over Moosonee, we fell asleep quickly.
Tidewater Provincial Park Site:
N 51° 15.807′
W 080° 37.716′