Esnagami River

CanadaOntarioHudson Bay, James Bay north
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Marilyn Sprissler (admin)
Trip Date : 
July 2002
Route Author: 
Perry Jameson
Additional Route Information
120 km
5 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
1000 m
Longest Portage: 
200 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 


Technical Guide: 

travel by car north from the town of Nakina to either Stinger Creek or public access "road" -arrange shuttle to return vehicles to Cordingley Lake. 5 to 7 day river trip with numerous rapids and falls - spectacular scenery and fishing -

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

Esnagami Canoe Trip (log) July 2002

Introduction (Why the Esnagami?)
We recalled our last visit to the “gami” in 96. It was one of the most beautiful and wild rivers that we had ever canoed over our long history of wilderness tripping. Beyond Merkley Lake there is no access (or exit) except by canoe or helicopter. Recent logging inroads lead us to believe that the Esnagami would likely lose its’ “wild’ status in the near future.

Trout fishing on the Esnagami was spectacular and that’s saying something given the experience of some of our members. Speckled trout in the one to two pound range would actually gather in the shade of a stationary canoe. You had only to dip your line and pull them out. That quality of fishing was present through miles 39 to 52 of the 1996 trip.

In spite of near perfect weather and a lack of bugs on our first trip, there were some drawbacks. We worked long and hard each day, to the point where we had little time for fishing and usually ate in the dark. This also lead to a nagging doubt as to whether or not we would reach the fly out point in time. We were a large group of ten in five Grummans and that made campsite selection difficult. We also damaged two of our canoes and rolled another in a rapid on the first trip. As memories faded this came to be known as the poorly scouted “killer falls”. We thought that with better canoes, additional experience (we attended MKC for a week in 98), and a couple of extra days added to the trip, we could camp early, fish more, and run the “killer falls” without incident.

There would be only five of us this time and we would travel in three boats, a 16.5 ft Swift Dumoine, a 17 ft. We-no-nah Spirit II and a 13 ft Sun Velocity hybrid kayak. We debated the rental of a satellite phone and in the end decided against it. We did however, include three walkie talkies for scouting rapids and a dictaphone to record the log. We were able to carry eight primary packs in the two canoes (one kitchen barrel, three waterproof personal packs, one Styrofoam food cooler, and three Duluth food packs with the standard olive barrel configuration). We took two tents, a Eureka six man and a Kelty four man.

The crew
Perry Jameson, age 51, stern man in the Dumoine and author of this log.
Duane Inkpen, age 40, bow man in the Dumoine and the brute strength of our group. P. Allan Suzuki (Zuks/Zuki), age inscrutable, stern man in the Spirit II and chief chef.
John Aikin, age 59, bow man in the Spirit II and wilderness survival expert.
Ed Allen, age 51, kayaker and Great Northern Guide.

The Trip Log
All river descriptions reference mile numbers. We used 1:50000 top maps marked off in miles with mile 0 at the creek access at the northern part of Stinger lake north of Nakina. This was the put in for our first trip in 96. The confluence of the Esnagami and the Little Current is at mile 62.5. Our trip continues on down the Little Current to a take out point at mile 84. Named landmarks in the log will help confirm if your map is similarly marked.

The Drive, 020710
We are on the road in Sarnia at 0600 in two vehicles, Ed’s 96 Volkswagen Jetta and Duane’s newly purchased and very shiny 97 GMC pick up truck. Our first glitch happens early when Duane realizes that one of his tires has picked up a screw and we must seek out a local service centre to get it fixed. That done, we are on the road out of Port Huron, MI at 0740. We cross the Mackinac Bridge in Northern MI at 1230. The weather is spectacular, clear blue, calm winds, high of 25. We clear customs at 1350 and into Sault Ste Marie, ON. Do some shopping (beer) and on the road out of the Sault at 1450. Reach Wawa at 1720, stop for a half hour break at the trading post aka “Young’s General Store” and on our way again at 1750. Stop on a remote part of Hornepayne highway at 2100 to enjoy the evening air and relieve ourselves, beautiful evening with minimal black flies. Sun sets at 2200 with full dark about an hour later. Reach Geraldton at 2250. We note that the trip took only about 15 hours with stops and you could easily make the entire trip in the daylight hours if you were away from Sarnia by 0500. After a brief snack stop we continue on to Nakina. The road is dark and winding. We see three moose en route, but fortunately hit none. Reach the Shores Motel at 2400.

Day one, 020711 (ON THE RIVER) (Mile 11 – 17)
I’m up at 0600. Duane tells me that I’m up an hour early, but he relents and gets up anyway. We share some quiet reflection while looking out the window at a perfectly blue Nakina sky. All enjoy a hearty breakfast at 0700 in Lisa’s restaurant and then depart for Leuenbergers air service at 0830. Once there we confirm our fly out arrangements and arrange for a driver/guide to the river and we check to see that the kayak will fit inside the Otter for the return trip. We chat with Ernie Leuenberger to confirm fly out time and we are introduced to our “guide” Johnny . Johnny is a man of few words, but does manage a nod when asked if he knows his way to the river. There is also some confusion as to how he is to be paid, as Leuenbergers do not initially charge us for his service. This issue is cleared up later when we find out that he is not a Leuenberger employee and his major source of income is derived from environmental recycling. We will supplement that income with a $35 tip.

On this trip we will try to access the river, by logging road, at mile 11 and so bypass Stinger and Esnagami lakes. Ed has confirmed previously with the local authorities that there is indeed “public access” to this part of the river. This will cut a full day’s lake paddle from our trip and eliminate any chance of becoming wind bound on Esnagami Lake as happened in 96.

It becomes apparent after an hour’s travel that our guide has no clue where he is. His first words, when asked directions at a fork in the road, are “don’t know, never bin here before” At that point we realize we are on our own and pull out the top maps. “Public Access” must mean ATV’s only because the road deteriorates steadily to a two rut path with numerous sweepers and deadfalls and one very dicey washout that would be impassable in higher water. Nevertheless we persevere after agreeing to pay for a new buff job on Duane’s truck. We reach the end of the trail at 1100 and confirm that the river is indeed there at the end of a 350m portage.

At this point we invest 30 minutes in prepacking the boats to see if we can in fact take all of our gear with us. We do not pack light. Our many essentials include eight cases of beer and lawn chairs. This is after all a vacation, not an endurance test. The prepack is a success in spite of Johnny’s declaration that the truckload of gear will not possibly fit into our three boats. At 1130 we celebrate with a beer and send Johnny on his way with Duane’s truck and a prayer.

At 1300 we have completed the portage and are afloat. The river is quite wide at mile 11 with the appearance of a small lake. We paddle on down to mile 14 where we encounter our first rapid. The time is 1400. There is a good portage on the left side, about 75m in length. We decide to use it after scouting. In higher water this rapid is runnable down the left chute, but there is a sweeper overhanging this chute that we would have to cut. Also a large dead fall lies across the entire width of the lower part of the rapid. We ran this rapid in higher water on our previous trip. The portage is easy and we are back on the river at 1500. At mile 15.5 we encounter our next rapid just prior to Trident Lake. The rapid is unrunnable, a class four, large drop, lots of rocks. The time is 1540. There is a well marked 100m portage on the left and we use it. We are back in the water at 1620 so only 40 minutes. That’s the difference between deciding to portage immediately rather than scout. At this point we take 15 minutes to fish before moving on. There are hundreds of suckers visible. Duane catches a couple of baby walleye; John catches a good sized pike. We keep no fish at this time, as dinner tonight is chicken.

Ed announces “This is home” at 1700. Our campsite is a rocky point on the right about midway down Trident Lake at mile 17. By 1900 camp is set, everybody has bathed, the tarp is up (for no reason), and all are feeling relaxed and refreshed. Zuks is starting dinner preparations. Firewood is readily available from a large beaver dam just down river from our campsite around the corner. The weather is perfect, sunny, breezy, and not too hot. Dinner of boneless chicken breasts, scalloped potatoes, and veggies is served at 2030. Final fish count for the day, Duane 3 walleye, John 2 pike and one walleye. Duane also comments that he witnessed a large speck jump only feet from the boat. I was also in that boat, but did not see this display so alcohol may have been involved.

John gathers natural materials for the manufacture of some unknown object. Duane gives us a reading from the canoe magazine and at 2300 we make ready for bed. The mossies are starting to get a little thick although there were minimal bugs during the day. I think it will be a warm evening, about 15C. Duane expresses concern about those opting to sleep nude on top of their sleeping bag, but such homophobic behaviour is not uncommon among Newfies and he gets over it. So ends a perfect day.

Day two, 020712 (RUNNING THE RIFFLES) (Mile 17 – 27)
Everybody is up by 0730. The day is semi gray, warm, light breeze. We all feel good and are looking forward to some challenges today. We have a breakfast of peameal bacon and eggs and depart the campsite at 1030.

The day has started to turn hot and humid. We drift, paddle, and fish our way down to a small rapid at mile 18.5 by 1120. We have named this rapid “tool box rapid” from our previous trip. It comes up shortly after passing a small creek on our right to Samuelson Lake. Duane has already caught a 19” walleye and a small pike. The rapid consists of several class one rapids that we run easily. We are into the river proper by 1200 and are en route to Merkley Lake. We notice by now that the levels are much lower than our previous trip by as much as a foot. Still plenty of water, but this will definitely change the character of our trip.

We reach mile 20 at the start of Merkley Lake by 1220. The day has grown hot (about 28C) and there is considerable cloud cover. We reach the narrows at mile 21 by 1300 and, as expected, it is full of walleye. After catching and releasing too many walleye to count, we decide to leave this narrows with Perry holding the record at 17.5”. That was with my only cast, but the record will not stand. We have lunch at 1425 while drifting on Merkley Lake in sight of our old island campsite.

We reach the start of some rapids at mile 25. The time is 1515 and the day has grown hotter, 30C and hazy sunshine. We proceed to run six to eight beautiful class one and two rapids. Some are a little technical and may be even trickier in higher water, but we run all without incident with Ed leading the way in the kayak and reporting back by walkie talkie. We have a great time and complete the run by 1635 at about mile 26. At 1700 we hit the first rapid that we just can’t run at the start of a map pencil line at mile 27. It is only about 100 meters long, but it’s full of dead falls and we elect to line/walk down the right side and canoe/bump our way down the last 20 meters. We ran this rapid in 96 in higher water and it provided our first big ride at the time with some good haystacks at the bottom.

At 1740 Ed selects a campsite on the left at the base of a small riffle. We’re not exactly sure where we are, but we guess somewhere at the end of a map pencil line around mile 27. The site is small and doesn’t look like much, but an hour’s work turns it into a satisfactory home with a fire pit at the water’s edge. This site would only be suitable in low water. Ed does what he always does, turns a potential disaster into a beautiful campsite. The bugs are rich here. Zuks requests that we catch some walleye and specs for dinner so we start fishing. By 1915 Duane and I have each caught only one walleye so we are short for dinner. Zuky must supplement our two fish with sausage and rice to make a meal, a touch embarrassing considering that we probably threw back close to fifty fish today. Dinner is served at 2040.

As John and I wax philosophical looking out at the river I agree to name the rapid “Aikin Rapids” as my gift to John. We agree that future royalties from hotels and restaurants at this Aikin’s rapids, will go to John. John, in return, presents me with a beautiful cylindrical creation that he has crafted from birch bark and spruce roots. I will treasure it always. I provide tonight’s reading and at 2240 it is bed time, another perfect day. The weather held and we had no portages.

Day three, 020713 (PORTAGING IN THE RAIN) (Mile 27 – 34)
Duane and I are first up at 0600. There was a serious methane build up in the tent last night, but Duane disavows any knowledge. Weather looks a little dodgy, gray and humid and the bugs are rich. Gutbuster breakfast at 0800 consists of cheese omelets and sausage. We are afloat at 0945. Temperature about 30C and cloudy. We hope the clouds stay.

At 1030 we come to our first challenge which shows up as a long pencil line on the map just short of mile 28. The river splits around a small island and both chutes are unrunnable. We walk both sides and identify a large shelf two thirds of the way down followed by another shelf. No way it can be lined or run, but there is a 75 meter portage on the left side with a nice campsite at the end of it. Had we known we could have taken the extra half hour and made for this site. The portage is short, but there are many deadfalls that the canoes must be dragged over and under. A light drizzle begins, it is hot and humid, and the bugs are very rich. This is definitely what we come here for.

We are back in the water at 1200. For the next 45 minutes we have a great time shooting lots of class two white water to reach the end of the mile 28 pencil line. We are thankful the levels are low or these may have been too challenging. The weather has again turned hot and sunny. Ed notices some aluminum on a rock on the right shore so there may be some sort of road access at this point. At 1330 Duane and I paddle up a creek on the right and confirm that we are at Blaze Creek, mile 29.

The river gets wide and flat, easy going up to mile 32 which we reach at 1445. The “fun” begins now. The hatch mark at this point consists of three rapids. The first two have an island in the centre. The first could potentially be run on the right, but you have to tuck in close to a cedar sweeper on the right side of the island and so we elect to line along the left shore although Ed runs this left chute in his kayak. The next island rapid is impassable on the left, but we are able to line down the right side. I manage to lose my sunglasses in the process. Then we cross a hundred meters of flat water to the third rapid, which is again unrunnable. It forms a “C” first turning left and then right around a hilly little peninsula in front of us. We pull up to the right shore and wrestle the canoes up a steep bank to start a short, but difficult 75 meter portage. It starts to rain hard and the black flies get so thick that breathing through your mouth becomes a challenge. We are back in the water at 1600 and can truly say that we are having fun now. We then come to two nice chutes back to back which Ed scouts and we run easily. The time is 1630. At 1700 we reach the hatch marks at mile 33.5. Pretty much a rock garden and we line first one rapid and then another.

At 1745 Ed selects a campsite in the middle of the mile 34 rapids. Definitely a make doer, but with a beautiful sand bottom 2’ deep bathing area tucked behind a rock point where we also park the boats. By 1910 we have converted what appeared to be nothing, into a beautiful campsite on this small rocky point. Once again Ed has turned certain disaster into a chance for survival. The bugs continue to be rich. By 2000 Zuki has an awesome roast beef dinner cooking, everybody has bathed, drinks are being served, the sky has cleared, and spirits are high. Life is good. It just doesn’t get any better than this. By 2240 we are tired and hit the deck. Another great day.

Day four, 020714 (KILLER FALLS & RUNNING THE BIG ONE) (Mile 34 – 42)
I am the first up at 0600 to greet a beautiful sunny day. We have breakfast and are in the water at 1000. We start by continuing to line down these rapids on the right side, at least until we can see what’s around the bend to the right. We line most of the remainder of mile 34 except for the last 100 meters. The time is 1100.

Weather is hot and sunny, light breeze. We get out the speck lures and start to fish, but so far no trout. We suspect this is because the river is quite a bit lower than before. We make mile 39 by 1245 and stop at our old rock campsite on the left for a lunch of pitas and tuna (no lunch yesterday). We remember this as the “noodle” campsite where we caught our first speck on the last trip. No doubt the river is at least a foot lower as much more of the rocky shelf is exposed. Back where we had once pitched tents, there are now a million deadfalls. A severe ice storm has taken the tops off many of the trees and made the always plentiful deadfalls even more ubiquitous. Fortunately another group preceded us down the river this spring and they had a chainsaw with them. We depart the campsite after Ed constructs a poor imitation of an inukshuk. We are reminded that the next six miles took us a full day into the late hours back in 96 and that somewhere between here and mile 45, lies the KILLER FALLS.

At 1410 we complete lining the first two hatch marks at mile 39. It is a difficult line, but only about 150 meters long and finishes with a chute that we line on the right. I am convinced that this is the KILLER FALLS and this final chute is where Louis and I bottomed out in 96. It doesn’t look like much in low water, basically a two foot high shelf spanning the entire river and a couple of large rocks in the centre below the shelf. This time all that it costs me is my bug repellent, which floats up and out of a lower leg pocket. I must now rely on my partner for survival and try to recall if I might have offended him earlier.

Ten minutes later we reach the second set of three hatch marks at mile 39.5 which must be lined down the right side. Ed boldly kayaks around the corner, but radios back that he probably should not have and he advises that we start lining. Once around the first point there is a narrow secondary chute along the right shore that allows easy lining for about 30 meters. Back in 96 we had to chop out a log to access this chute, but this time it is clear. We line for a short distance more and then ride out the rest. We are through by 1530, not bad.

By 1645 we reach the first set of hatch marks at mile 42. This is a class three rapid with a beautiful campsite on the right overlooking the rapid. The chute is short, about 50 meters with a few rocks at the top and then a straight shot down the middle. Keep a little left if possible as the water will push you right at the bottom. Ed runs this after scouting only from his kayak and then radios back that if we want to run it, expect to get wet. I tell Duane this is what we came for. He asks for suggestions and I say just keep your paddle in the water. Up to this point I have taken a gentle ribbing about the Dumoine being a “wet canoe” as described by someone on a canoeing web site. I guess now we will find out. As we reach the bottom we drop into a hole with a three foot haystack at the end of it. I shout, “pull hard” and Duane, with all his power, does exactly that. We bury the canoe and all eight hundred pounds of riders and gear, but she handles nicely and surfaces with only about three inches of water in the bottom. She’s wet, but afloat, and we do a sluggish eddy out to the left. What a ride. We are ecstatic.

Next up are P. Allan Suzuki and John Akin in the We-no-nah. They do not fare as well and both actually bail out to the right as the canoe climbs up out of the hole. The canoe itself stays upright and grounds up in the shallows a little further down. Nothing damaged except pride. Losses are restricted to Zuki’s map case, compass, sponge, and John’s prescription glasses.

Ed notices some specks in the rock crevices below this rapid although the water over the rocks is only about six inches deep. Duane dangles a line over the cracks and manages to land two trout, but gives one back to the river in a crazed display of splashing and flailing.

Campsite is cut out by 1900. Tent sites are a little rough, but this is more than made up for by the gorgeous view of this chute. We take time to do a little fishing (no luck), wash up, and cool down with a few drinks. The weather is spectacular and is actually cooling down a little. By 2100 Zuki has dinner on the go, some sort of goulash to replace the fish we didn’t catch. At 2245 time for bed. It is much cooler and dryer so sleeping should be good tonight. Another great day on the “Gami”.

Day five, 020715 (WATER FALLS) (Mile 42 – 52)
At 0345 Duane, Ed, and I are up for a unison piss. In the dark we do not realize that we are urinating on two of our black waterproof packs. At 0645 we are up to greet a classic day. Temperature is likely in the single digits, mist on the water, no bugs, absolutely beautiful. We are expecting the second set of hatch marks around the corner at mile 42.5 to be a small falls if memory serves. We hope to make mile 52 today to camp at a beautiful falls that we bypassed on our last trip. After a gut buster breakfast of pancakes and bacon we are ready to go at 1015.

The first couple of hundred meters looks like a bit of a bump and grind through the shallows and the sun’s reflection makes for poor visibility. We round the corner at 1030 and encounter a small falls that we recall as a previous lunch spot. The portage on the right is an easy one, about 50 meters along a wide rock shelf and down to a large pool at the bottom of the falls. Also a nice campsite on the right side, about the same quality as the one we just stayed at, but the fishing possibilities would likely be better in this large pool.

We are back in the canoes at 1100, but take a 20 minute break to fish and down a couple of beer. The river leaves the pool in a sweep to the right around a large rocky point that would also make a good campsite. Eddie scouts around the corner and we run the next rapid without difficulty. By 11:30 we have cleared the last hatch mark at mile 42. The boys are eager to catch some specks, but so far only pickerel. That is of concern since only specks were caught in this stretch on our last trip.

Just after a little S bend in this beautiful stretch of river, we come across a huge pink boulder protruding from the right shore, a nice place to stop for lunch, but I don’t see a campsite. The time is 1225 and I think we are at about mile 43-44. We stop here and fish some more while Eddy tells us how he dropped his walkie talkie in the river a short distance back. He recovered it but it seems “BobCold”. We have a pleasant hour’s paddle through riffles and fast water and arrive at another beautiful waterfall where we camped once before on the left shore. I believe this is mile 45. The campsite is a large sloping rock down to a lovely pool. The area in the trees where we had once put tents is now littered with deadfalls from that ice storm and would require considerable clearing to use. There is also potential for a campsite on the right side of the falls. We stop for a lunch of Bridgford salami and pitas. After lunch and some fishing we depart these falls at 1430.

At 1510 we arrive at the mile 47 hatch mark. The rapid starts with a small runnable “V” between two rock faces and this is followed by a waterfall within 50 meters. In higher water we were unsure about running the V and actually lined up to the falls, a two hour chore with our 5 canoes. Now however, we run the V and take out on the right just at the top of the falls. There is a 50 meter carry over down a nice path. The falls are quite pretty consisting of three wide rock shelves. We are back in the water below the falls at 1545.

We paddle on and at 1700 reach the hatch mark at about mile 50.5. We ran this in high water, but now we portage the first half along a high rock face on the right. Eddie is able to run the entire rapid in the Kayak. There is a nice campsite along this portage. Back in the boats at 1730 and we attempt to run the lower part of this somewhat technical chute. Zuki and John look like heroes and never touch a rock. Duane and I however, run up on a large rock near the bottom. We do a proper downstream lean, are able to avoid a dump, and manage to make it the rest of the way down.

At 1750 we reach the second hatch at mile 51 which turns out to be a wide 100 meter shelf with a gradual drop of six to eight feet, not that intimidating with our water levels, but still not runnable. We are tired and hungry. It’s been tough going to cover these last nine miles. I appreciate the boys’ perseverance, as it is primarily me that insists on trying to make that campsite at mile 52. I swore back in 96 that if ever I passed this way again I would camp there. I reminisce that back in 96 we covered twice this distance each day and laughed while doing it. Ahh the joys of getting older. We portage 50 meters on the right and then line from there. By 1830 we are through this rapid.

At mile 51.5 there is a tricky little chute through a rock shelf. It can be run in high water, but we do an easy 10 meter line on the right side to get through it. As we continue on through a small unmarked rock garden Eddie grounds up and dumps his kayak in what would appear to be a very easy class one rapid. You just never know. The canoes run it easily down the left side. Eddie laughs it off and we continue.

At 2000 we reach the campsite. We line the last 100 meters up to the trail on the left side just to be safe. This rapid is not runnable. I think this is the most spectacular campsite on the river. Good tent sites on a high vantagepoint and a huge area of gently sloping rock for the kitchen, sun bathing, volleyball, whatever. The falls themselves are about 100 meters long and start with a large upper chute, then a long stretch of rapidly dropping water and at the end just one huge haystack.

By 2100 camp is set up. We all want to bathe, but the horse flies are so bad that we have difficulty. I have never seen anything like it and we suspect that it must be the high humidity that has brought them out. They number in the hundreds and bite immediately on any exposed flesh.

Dinner is to be fish, rice, and beans so we dip the lines and have little difficulty in pulling out a number of pickerel. The campsite is a little garbaged up, but our previous tenants have left us chain sawed and split firewood.

At 2130 John and I wash up in spite of the horseflies. What an experience. It was fast and unpleasant as we were literally covered by these oversized bloodsuckers. The black flies are also bad and I cannot recall seeing them as rich. Fortunately we all speak Simulian and John has taught us the trick of sticking cedar twigs under our hat brims to hang out over our faces to keep the black flies at bay. Otherwise even breathing is difficult.

At 2310 dinner is over and we are ready for bed. John has retired an hour ago and the bugs are very rich. Although it is my job, I do not feel up to doing dishes tonight. Ed and Duane however feel we should not leave them out for the animals and so they do them in spite of my protestations. I say goodnight. It is going to be a warm one.

Day six, 020716 (KILLER PORTAGE) (Mile 52 – 57)
Eddie, Duane, and I are up at 0700, it is already hot and humid and the bugs are thick. We are moving a lot slower today and we have a simple porridge breakfast and get away around 1100. We do a little fishing and then scout the riffle just below our campsite as we exit the pool. The water is too low to run this time so we must line the first part.

We are clear by 1130 and have a pleasant 30 minute float to mile 54, which we had nicknamed the “killer portage” in 96. This year, however it is not such a killer. Eddie does a preliminary scout and we decide to line the first 150 meters around the corner to the brink of a falls. We notice that a large sweeper has been chain sawed by the group that went down in May. There is a reasonably good portage trail on the right at this point. The falls are small, pretty, and violent with all the water funneling down one small 10 meter wide chute and dropping about 3 meters in a big white rush to ram up against a huge pink boulder in the center channel just below the falls. We travel the 100 meter portage, which has been nicely chain sawed for us, and we are through at 1305.

We stop to fish and there are an unlimited number of Walleye and Pike, but no trout. We set off again and run a small rapid just below the falls. The time is 1335 and our goal today is to make the “slippery rock” campsite at mile 57. There are a couple of small rapids around mile 56 that we run easily. At mile 56.5 we come to a shelf which is unrunnable in low water. There is a 10 meter portage on the right, which goes up at 45 degrees and then right back down. We are able to drag partially loaded canoes up and slide them down. The sky is clouding up and we hear thunder so we are eager to get to the campsite.

We arrive at the campsite at mile 57 at 1500 just as it starts to rain so the site will be true to its’ name. I am eager to wash up, but the horse flies are as bad as ever so I dream up something that Duane later calls the Dumoine Diversion. I place two long logs over a fast moving side chute and then overturn a canoe on the logs, about a foot above the water. It works like a charm. The horse flies don’t like the cover and we are able to bathe in peace under the canoe. The canoe seats even make nice drink holders. The only draw back is the strong current, which makes a nice Jacuzzi, but also risks washing you right out into the river. Although the boys were skeptical at first, we all take advantage of the “diversion”.

It rains pretty hard until 1830 and then lets up. We catch several pickerel for dinner and sous chef Duane prepares a great meal of fish and macaroni. It clears up by 1930, the humidity drops, and miraculously, the bugs almost disappear and we are able to remove our hats and cedar bows to enjoy the weather. At 2220 it is time for bed.

Day seven, 020717 (LOUELLA FALLS) (Mile 57 – 63)
We are up at 0700 to greet a clear blue day, much drier than yesterday. It will be hot, but much more pleasant, and the horse flies have departed. We know that the Esnagami from here to the Little Current is a fast easy ride with no portages and we plan to float the last six miles of the Esnagami and then go upstream on the Little Current about one mile to camp at Louella Falls.

Breakfast this morning is “cheese cakes”, the result of an error by Zuki when he mixed the bag of Parmesan cheese with the pancake mix. The mixture turns out to be quite tasty, although we now have no Parmesan for tonight’s’ planned spaghetti dinner.

What a difference a day makes. At 0930 we have a cool breeze from the northwest and not one bug in the air. This will be a good gami day, a very very good gami day, possibly the goodest gami day we have had yet.

At 1040 Zuki takes a hard fall at slippery rock campsite and bangs the back of his head. We are concerned, but his head proves to be harder than the rock and he recovers nicely. Today we are away late at 1130, everyone just enjoying the cool breeze and absence of bugs. 1200 finds Duane and I contemplating life somewhere down river while beached on a rock in the shallows. We share a beer and agree that it just doesn’t get any better than this. At 1320 we reach the confluence of the Little Current after a wonderful float through riffles and gravel bars. The water level was low, but presented no problems.

Once in the Little Current, we hang to the left shore and by 1400 we manage to paddle and walk upstream to the first set of rapids where we stop. At first it doesn’t look like it’s possible to get up to Louella Falls. We take a vote and, except for Ed, agree that it will be too hard to make it up to the falls. Ed is persistent and suggests that we take a walk up the shore to the first bend to see how tough it really is. Four go for a walk and I remain behind. At 1500 the boys return. Ed is in favor of making the effort, the others, less so, and I, no. Emotions start to run high when Duane asks Ed point blank if he really wants to do this. A firm yes from Ed makes the group decision easier and we all agree to go for it.

Turns out it is not nearly as tough as we thought. We are able to line up with no portages and make the large pool below the falls by 1530. The falls are spectacular and would be even more so in high water. We are in a huge pool looking up at a six meter high rock shelf probably 300 meters across with falls spilling over at various points. We are all thankful that Ed persisted to get us here; it would be a shame to have missed it. There is a nice precut campsite on river right just above the main chute on the portage trail. We are at the campsite at 1545 and overlooking the most spectacular falls I have ever seen on a canoe trip. It is huge, the noise level is high, and some spray reaches our campsite. You can also walk up the portage trail to another smaller falls up river. By 1700 the weather has turned cool and pleasant, camp is set and drinks are served.

Fishing proves difficult at first until Ed realizes that the pickerel are hanging tight to the rock faces below the water and cannot be caught by casting. Instead we just dangle the lines straight down and pull them out. We also see a meter long river Sturgeon in the shallows below the falls, but he is not interested in anything Duane has to show him. Dinner tonight is served at 1930 and consists of fried Walleye, battered and deep fried Walleye, and stroganoff noodles. We turn in at 2215.

Day eight, 020718 (FLOATING ON THE LITTLE CURRENT) (Mile 63 – 84)
0700 and the morning is beautiful, clear blue, mist rising off the water, sun shining through the spray. Breakfast at 0900 of bacon, bagels, and gami muffins. We are reluctant to leave, but we are back in the water by 1015 and below the rapids by 1030.

We will have only one portage today and then plan to drift and party for the next 20 miles to our fly out point at mile 84. At 1115 we arrive at the chutes at mile 64. This is a class 4 rapid, runnable by an experienced kayaker, but definitely not in a loaded canoe. The portage on the left is only about 150 meters and puts you back in just below the chute. If this put in is too intimidating, the trail carries on for another 100 meters to a less turbulent pool.

At 1220 we clear this portage and start our drift. The bar is open. We can’t become too complacent in the early going because the shallow water has created long stretches of class one rapids that can cause problems if you’re not alert, but still the going is easy. What little breeze there is, is at our backs. We put our feet up, deplete the bar stock, and watch the panorama go by under a perfectly clear blue unpolluted sky. This really is a vacation. Seven hours later (1930) we arrive at our campsite on river left at mile 84. We basically cover the last 20 miles without raising a paddle. We confirm this is the right spot by locating the remains of an old trapper’s cabin just back in the bush up the high banks. There are also cleared flat areas for the tents.

Camp is set up by 2030. The tents are up on top of the high grassy bank, but our kitchen is on the six foot of beach area afforded by the lower water levels this trip. We have a spaghetti dinner and are finally driven in to the tents by 2230. The mossies are rich, very very rich, possibly the richest we have ever seen.

The return, 020719 - 020720
We are up at 0630 to prepare for the planned 0700 plane arrival. It rained through half the night, but has let up now. The big Eureka tent leaked at the seams and I am thankful that this is the only evening of rain on the trip. The weather is warm, overcast, and without a breath of wind. By 0915 we are wondering whether they will fly at all today because of the weather and we open some packs and have a breakfast of coffee and bagels. Hallelujah, the Otter arrives at 1045. After a 40 minute flight we arrive back at Cordingly Lake at 1150. The day has now turned warm and sunny. Our flight cost including all taxes was $1,040. Our pilot was a very pleasant and knowledgeable fellow named Dave Strangway.. At 1250 we depart Leuenbergers for Nakina. We stop for a beer and pizza in Geraldton at the Blue Lagoon and depart again at 1500. At 2020 we arrive at the Sportsmen Motel in Wawa to spend the night. The next morning we have breakfast at the Viking restaurant and depart Wawa at 0900. We make the Sault Ontario at 1125 and are in Michigan at 1230 and an hour later on the Mackinac Bridge. We make it back to Ed’s in Brights Grove at 1900, end of log, end of a great trip.

What a difference a little more experience, fewer canoes, lower water levels, and a kayak make. That and the fact that we covered only 52 miles of Esnagami in seven days versus 63 miles in five days in 96 (The Little Current is just a float). This trip was a true vacation with good fishing (except for the trout) and white water and just enough hard work to make it interesting. While the bugs were bad, we all have enough bush ape in us to cope. In general the weather was great.

There was some debate about whether the kayak was an asset or a liability. It was hard to portage, difficult to pack, and held little gear. It also added 15 minutes to each portage by the time you attached the custom made yoke and then repacked at the end. In spite of these drawbacks I felt it was a godsend. Certainly when combined with a fearless pilot, it saved endless hours of difficult scouting and possibly, portaging. I was so taken with it that I would almost insist that it accompany our next trip, although Ed might have some reservations.

We took the usual complement of things we didn’t need, an oversized tarp, candle lanterns, extra paddles, extra rods, and six beer. Other than that we pretty much used what we took. One thing we might consider for future trips is a small chain saw, a couple of liters of fuel, and an Ostrom chain saw pack. It would be a terrific asset for campsite clearing and sweeper removal.

The End

Perry Jameson, aka Bob Riley

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
42L/7 42L/8 42L/9 42K/12 42K/13
Topo Maps (1:250,000): 
42L 42K
Suggested Resource Material: 


Special Comments: 

late spring to mid summer trip only - water levels on the Little Current prevent fly-out in late summer - only for experienced trippers with whitewater experience - fly out from Little Current River - some established campsites - see log for detailed route description


Post date: Sat, 01/01/2000 - 07:00


This is a very difficult trip but adventurous. It is not for the novice. We encountered 3 days of solid rapids and deadfalls. Definitely bring a patch kit. All portages are through the bush (no trails) and we had to hack out a number of campsites in the bush. Water levels were okay (late June). I do not recommend going to Louella Falls, they were not spectacular and it requires a 1.2 km hike up rapids. Fishing is amazing. For the flight out I would use Greg at Nakina Air. He was very accomodating and even gave us some tips on good fishing spots.

Post date: Sat, 01/01/2000 - 07:00


I was a participant on both trips mentioned in the log. Some portaging is definitely necessary. The number of portages will vary greatly with equipment and experience. So rather than list any portages, we suggest you scout every rapids carefully, remembering that unrunnable rapids and falls do exist. The portages when necessary are not long.