Harricana River from north of Joutel to Hanna Bay

CanadaQuebec08 Lower James Bay
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Additional Route Information
170 km
8 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
0 m
Longest Portage: 
0 m
Difficulty Ratings
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Lake Travel: 
Not applicable
Background Trip Info
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Route Description
Technical Guide: 

Drive to Joutel
Continue North towards Selbaie
Start at the bridge crossing Harricana river
River ends at Hanna Bay Goose Camp
Cross Hanna Bay to Moose River
Moose River to Moosonee
Little Bear Express from Moosonee to Cochrane

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

The trip:

We left Saturday morning at 4:45 AM, with all the gear and two canoes miraculously loaded in/on Travis’ 1980 Plymouth Volare. It was 8:30 PM Saturday when we came to the river crossing on the logging roads north of Joutel. We were immediately surprised by the size and power of this river. Already near 500 M wide in Joutel, the river flowed strong. Finally, a late August river trip with plenty of water!

Day1: Sunday August 18th.
Weather: Overcast with intermittent drizzle. Moderate headwind.
Distance: About 20 km.

The river at this point was wide, slow, and deep. Several camps lined the shore for the first several kilometers, however we saw nobody. Towards the end of the day we encountered our first whitewater obstacle. A CIII ledge blocked our path. There were two possible openings. Both emptied against a granite wall as the river took a sharp bend after the drop. We inspected with great length and ran it loaded on the right opening without incident. From here swifts continued as we entered a small canyon. At this time of the day, the rain had stopped but the winds had increased. Even in the swifts we could not make forward progress without strong paddling. The river narrowed. Ahead of us was a CII through the canyon. We ran it loaded through the center and had a considerable amount of bailing afterwards. We made camp here on a rocky point. Great campsite. The rapid would have made a great play spot in better weather. The Northern lights made an appearance.

Day 2: Monday August 19th.
Weather: Overcast morning, sunny afternoon, no wind.
Total distance: 27 km.

The river today was numerous CI/CII, some technical. Everything was run loaded. We passed the confluence of the Turgeon. While the Turgeon was less murky, it was still dark and tea colored, doing nothing to improve the water quality of the Harricana. By the end of the day we had reached One Mile Island. Either side is passable. The accounts in our trip reports had been of the right side. We decided to go left. There was a small fall at the beginning; we ran our canoes loaded through a small chute on the right side. From here the river continued as a CI technical. Half way through the island the river bends. Around the bend is a second waterfall, which is marked on the map. We were able to back ferry and land safely at a rock outcrop in the center of the river, where we could portage the canoes and gear as far as possible. We ran the bottom of the falls. Colin and I got hung up bad here. We camped at the bottom of 2nd falls near the end of One Mile Island. It was a pocket of sand big enough for two tents. The bugs were mildly annoying until the temperature dropped & northern lights graces us with their presence.

Day 3: Tuesday August 20th.
Weather: Perfect
Total distance: 30 km.

Early in the day a hanger snapped on the front seat of the Dumoine. We fixed it with rope from the float bag lashings and were on our way again. The river began to take on a new persona. It was another great day of continuous CI /CII/CIII and one CIV. However today most ended in steep drops, with heavy sets at the bottom. We bailed after most sets. We camped on a smooth bedrock shore about 7 km from the entrance to Seven Mile Island. Here we found a weathered aluminum paddle. Again the bugs surprised us for late August. Northern lights gave us our best show of the trip… very nice view.

Day 4: Wednesday August 21st.
Weather: Gorgeous
Total distance: 8 km.

Starting 5 km above 7 Mile Island, to the bay 2 km below 7 Mile Island, the river would prove it’s most challenging as it falls over 300 feet in 18 km.

Our day began with a short CIV run. Only Colin and I decided to run after portaging our gear. The other canoe lined. Soon after we started down a long CII run. Our two boats began the run far apart, both playing near the shoreline. Further down the rapid the river narrowed. As we approached the last drop, I missed our opportunity to eddy out. By this time the distance between our canoes had closed. The second canoe, now following my line, also failed to eddy out. Haystacks were 2 M high in the center channel. Our canoe, in front, flipped in the whitewater. I fell out and swam helplessly in the aerated water. Colin managed to stay in by executing a flawless canoe roll, entirely by luck. At the same time, Travis’ boat came over a wave and directly down onto a submerged rock. The bow was completely smashed. The canoe instantly filled with water and was unmanuverable. Once we washed out into the pool below the rapid we were able to swim safely to the shore, still 100 M away. Not much further downstream was a large cascading waterfall…

We lost two good paddles (including my $100 Hammerhead!), and thankfully nothing else.

Damage to the Dumoine was extensive. A fist-sized piece from the bow was missing. The rest was pushed in, the skid plate cracked in half. The entire afternoon was spent rebuilding the bow with Marine fiberglass and duct tape. We seriously doubted this canoe’s ability to finish the trip.

With our pride injured and the Dumoine “repaired” we paddled within 1 km of Seven Mile Island. Here the river is wide and many rapids are not runnable. Much less so with our injured pride, patched canoe, and our new found respect for the river. Rock islands the size of football fields’ cover the river. It is very scenic. We camped beside a gorge.

We lost about 5 hours of paddling today. It would not affect our ability to finish the trip on time. However, our injured canoe caused us to be more conservative in choosing which rapids to run/line/portage for the rest of the trip.

Day 5: Thursday August 22nd.
Weather: Fabulous
Distance: 7 km

Pinpointing your location at the entrance to Seven Mile Island is difficult. So is finding the best pass through it. Like the majority of people, we chose the right channel. There are several entrances to the right channel. We took one in the middle where we found the skeleton of a blue fiberglass canoe. Today we had four portages. They were all difficult and dangerous, as we carried canoes overhead atop the edge of gorges. Besides the portages, we lined 3 times and had several combinations of run/line/portage. The scenery is fabulous. The falls and chutes easily compare to Thunderhouse on the Missinaibie. We found a campsite on an island midway across. This was a hard day. I think we moved more on foot then in the canoe. We only had three heavy sets to deal with from here before meeting up with the left channel of Seven Mile Island.

Day 6: Friday August 23rd.
Weather: Terrific
Distance: 23 km

By lunch we had finished Seven Mile Island and the last three sets with one portage, one lining, and one run. Where the right and left channels meet there is a spectacular limestone cliff. Below the island we ran the remaining CI and swifts before things leveled out. Be careful of these ledges, some proved difficult. Here the river opens up. We found the remnants of a red Old Town beneath a mudslide. There is some current at this point but not as much as we would have liked. We camped on a limestone shelf, very sun burnt. From here, the river was 1 km in width for the rest of the way.

Day 7: Saturday August 24th.
Weather: Awful (rain, wind, cold)
Total distance: 29 km.

A few hours of paddling brought us to Limestone Rapids. For the first time we encountered low water conditions. We hunted channels through the rocks and islands. Limestone consists of continuous swifts and CI’s with ledges for several km. The wind increased all day. By mid afternoon we were so cold we pulled onto shore and huddled under a tarp with a burning stove for two hours. Swifts continue from below Limestone rapids to Low shoal island. By the time we approached low shoal, wind was so intense that forward progress was impossible. We decided at that time to take the left channel around Low Shoal, only because it offered more protection from the wind. We camped on a sandy beach on low shoal. We found a fair amount of bear tracks near our site. It always makes you glad you’ve been keeping the food away from the tents at night. Numerous mudslides scare the shorelines along at the beginning of the left cannel.

Warning!! Never build fires pits on wet limestone! Someone in or group, who’ll remain nameless, made this mistake.

Day 8: Sunday August 25th.
Weather: Not so good
Total distance: 25 km

We started extra late today. The winds were still strong but had shifted in our favor. We encountered two black bears across the river from our campsite. It was the only large wildlife of the entire trip. There was one CI at the start of Low Shoal, and several swifts throughout the island, however the real white water was behind us. Low shoal Island disappeared behind us and we started the final leg of the trip through the tide-influenced river. Low tide was very apparent as we passed the island. We found the deepest water on river right and set up sail. Even with the strong tail winds the incoming tide made progress slow. We sailed from low shoal right to the Goose camp, about 4 km from James Bay. We arrived at the Hanna Bay Goose camp at 2PM. It was abandoned. The mosquitoes were horrendous! Unlike anything we had experienced before. The locals later told us these were ‘bay mosquitoes’ that blew down from the north. The mosquitoes were large in size and numbers and abnormally vicious. Thankfully the lodge was open and we took shelter from the bugs.

Day 9: Monday August 26th.
Weather: Stormy
Distance: 0
The thermometer read 10 degrees today. Winds were so strong it formed whitecaps on the river. Obviously, no freighter canoes would be crossing Hanna Bay today to pick us up. We played cards all day in the partially completed lodge. We explored some abandoned trails and camps. Not much to do here. To add to the experience, we ran out of food and cigarettes. By staying here an extra day here we would miss our train. The Little Bear only runs Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday and leaves at 9 AM.

Day 10: Tuesday August 27th.
Weather: Nice
Distance: 75 km (by motorboat)

Our charter arrived shortly before lunch. However, we had to wait for the tide and didn’t leave camp until 4:30 PM. The boat ride across Hanna Bay was about 2.5 hours, and even though the weather was good, the ride was very, very rough.

We stayed in Moosonee Tuesday and Wednesday night. We didn’t have reservations and had difficulty finding accommodations. Tuesday we got the last rooms at the Otter Inn, and Wednesday stayed at the Polar Bear Lodge.

Final thoughts:

Although we spent 8 days on the water, this trip can easily be done in 7 days. Even though the shuttle was expensive, we were all glad we didn’t have to paddle the bay. We’ll save that for another time.

Overall the trip was amazing! Even though we severely crippled one of our Canoes and were stranded at an abandoned hunt camp for 48 hours, the trip was definitely a success.

The one commodity that is hard to acquire (for us), that is a necessity is the time off work. If you can get the time off, do it, and you’ll be rewarding yourself with the feeling that you accomplished something not too many can say they have.

Being alone in the wilderness several days away from any civilization is not something to be taken lightly so plan well and don’t leave anything you think you might need behind. Our repair kit is a perfect example; we didn’t bring it with us the previous trip however this year it proved invaluable. Without it we would probably have ditched half of our gear and somehow tried to make it out with 4 men in one canoe!

It never hurts to be comfortable, some things we didn’t bring but sure wished we had were bug nets, bug spray, and perhaps some booze for the 2 day layover at the goose camp (no drinking and paddling).

I cannot stress enough how bad the bugs were in Hanna Bay… comparable to a humid day in early June.

If anyone finds a Grey Owl 62” Hammerhead Whitewater wooden Paddle on the Harricana, please let me know. I would also consider selling the topo maps at a discounted price to anyone planning this trip.

Doug Bauman


Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
32 E/15 Collines Gaudet 32 L/2 Riviere Rouget 32 L/7 Riviere des Aulnes 32 L/6 Lac Gette 32 L/11 Riviere Malouin 32 L/14 Lac Salomon 32 L/13 Atik River 32 M/4 Francis Island
Other Maps: 
Map available from Quebec canoe association
Special Comments: 

The plan:

Four of us completed the Harricana August 2002. Colin, Doug #1, Travis and myself Doug #2. Our two canoes were a Mad River Revelation (Royalex) and a tortured Swift Dumoine (Royalite).

The Harricana runs for a total length of 415 km through northwestern Quebec into Hanna Bay. We completed the final section from the last road crossing north of Joutel, to Hanna Bay, a total distance of about 170 km. The last road crossing is a Tembek logging road that goes to the mining operation of Selbaie. Other starting points for the Harricana include Joutel (225 km river) and Amos (370 km river)

Our start point of the trip was north of Joutel, and the finishing point of the trip was Cochrane. Joutel is 500 km east of Cochrane. To avoid a costly vehicle shuttle we used two vehicles. We packed one vehicle full of gear and drove both cars to Cochrane. In Cochrane, we left one vehicle at the train station and continued with everyone and everything in the second car to the river in Joutel. From the last road crossing to Hanna Bay, is approx 170 km by river. Hanna Bay is approx. 70 km east of Moosonee. Crossing James Bay to Moosonee by canoe is dangerous and difficult. Tidal flats go out until the shoreline is barely visible. There are few options for camping along the way. I know one group who made the crossing. From their experiences, and our timeline we decided to charter a ride back to Moosonee. We arranged a charter boat pick up with the Cree Nation. Bushland Air (ex Moosonee) will fly you, but not your canoes. Canoes require boat pick up regardless. The shuttle is expensive. (I believe there is another company out of Amos that can fly you from the river mouth back to Amos direct). If you do paddle the bay, add at least two days to your itinerary. Once back in Moosonee we would take the Little Bear Express back to Cochrane. Upon finishing the trip we would take the car in Cochrane back to Joutel, get the second car, and continue home from there. Side note: 2 canoes, gear and 4 grown men makes for a tight ride in a small sedan. Another note: be sure to have a set of jumper cables with you when you arrive at the initial start point, we made good use of ours! Not to mention our car had become home to a family of mice.

We planned to spend 8 days on the river. We would cross the bay by prearranged charter boat pick up on the 9th day, returning to Cochrane via the Little Bear Express on the 10th day.

Notes about the river:

Finding information on this trip was difficult. I bought topographic maps and a $15 trip report from a Cochrane outfitter. That trip report was useless. I found 3 other trip reports on the web. I also had one first hand account of the river from a family friend who ran the river twice and was stranded on it back in the early 80’s.

This section of river is covered by eight 1:50,000 topographic maps. The maps are not 100% accurate. Some marked rapids are docile swifts. Some marked rapids are actually chutes and falls. Some marked chutes and falls are actually runnable rapids. Some of the white water isn’t marked at all. Be prepared. Scout whenever possible, and be prepared to back ferry and eddy out when required.

There are no marked or established portages. Yet, many rapids on this river must be bypassed. Portaging is difficult. Be ready to carry on the boulder shore, along side the edge of a canyon, and possibly through the brush. Lining is often an option. Bring enough rope for lining. We had at least 25’ on the bow and stern. In some cases it was barely sufficient.

Scouting can often be difficult. The length of sets and topography of the shore makes it difficult to walk before paddling. In places, the river is wide to the point where it is impossible to pick the ‘best’ line from shore. We often scouted from the water. Paddling the shore cautiously, we would eddy out and scout when necessary.

The water quality is poor. It’s brown and murky. Visibility is less than a foot in good light. This makes reading the water more difficult. It is impossible to judge depth and locate submerged rocks. Swimming is also less enjoyable when you can’t see anything. I read that the murky water is a result of paper mills in the Amos area. I don’t know if this is true. I do know the water looks and tastes like shit.

The Harricana is wide and deep. We traveled in late August and had no problem with water levels. Only when we approached Low Shoal Island did we have to start looking for deep channels. The river reaches widths of over a kilometer in places. Even at the start the river is over 400 M wide. In rapids, the river can narrow to less than 200 M. Sets are long and usually end in a steep pitch creating large haystacks. What starts as a CI can end as a CIII.


Post date: Tue, 09/22/2009 - 12:54


Sounds like a great trip. Im very interested in paddling the river in the early summer of 2010. I have heard most of the trip reports go river right. Is it possible to go river left?...and has anyone done this?

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


I did a trip with a group of people in August 2003, 26 days and 308km in total, from ghost town Joutel (the town with streets and sidewalks, but NO houses). After reaching Hanna Bay Goose Camp, we crossed James Bay, which was very tricky. We had maps of the shoals, but weren't sure what time of day they would appear, so upon crossing the Bay, at about mid-afternoon, the tide lowers, and we run into a 2km-long shoal running out into James Bay from the shore, the shoal itself being about 600m wide. So at this point it was either a very difficult 600m, slippery-rock portage changing constantly from the tide, or a 4km paddle to the tip of the shoal and back to shore again. We opted for the paddle, and made it to "shore," just as the tide was rising again. However, we then faced about 500-800m portage from the tide ground to dry land, with rising tide. One person was the canoe herder, while the rest portaged gear in-shore. The whole day was spent fighting 2-3ft crests and strong winds. We stayed the night at nipissing(I think) point on the Bay. The next day we camped at Ship Sands Island (aka BUG Island. I have never experienced such a large mosquito population in my life. Don't ever camp on Ship Sands Island). We camped there, it was hell. From there we paddled to the Park opposite Moosonee, where we stayed the night, with almost NO mosquitoes! A girl on our trip was pleased to tell us that her Grandfather owned the only Hotel in moosonee, so we ate a deluxe caribou-burger on the house, as well as much needed showers for everyone! We then portaged our gear into the town, which consists of a liquor store, a welfare office, a shopping centre, and many bars. Took the little bear express to cochrane.

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