Little Abitibi Canoe Route

CanadaOntarioJames Bay south
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Neil Miller
Trip Date : 
Thu, Sep 06, 2007
Additional Route Information
Distance: 
144 km
Duration: 
5 days
Loop Trip: 
No
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
7
Total Portage Distance: 
2630 m
Longest Portage: 
650 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Advanced
Lake Travel: 
Not applicable
Portaging: 
Difficult
Remoteness: 
Advanced
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Low
Route Description
Technical Guide: 

From Cochrane we were shuttled over progressively deteriorating roads to the access landing at the Southeast end of Pierre Lake. Paddled through Pierre, Montreuil, and Harris Lakes. Paddled the Little Abitibi River to the diversion dam and channel. Paddled Newpost Creek to the Main Branch Abitibi River. Paddled upstream to the Abitibi Canyon Dam. Caught the ONR Polar Bear Express at Fraserdale back to Cochrane.

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

Thursday, September 6, 2007 (Drive from Dexter, MI to Pierre Lake put-in)
• We departed Brian’s house in Dexter, Michigan at 9:00 p.m. and drove through the night arriving at Cochrane, Ontario at about 1:00 p.m..
• I had forgotten a couple of key pieces of equipment (my paddles!) and Brian had loaned me one of his spares but we went on a paddle hunt in both Timmins and Cochrane for a back-up paddle and ended up purchasing a cheap one that I only hoped I wouldn’t have to actually use. (We thought we might burn it ceremoniously at the end of our trip but Brian took it home to cut it down and re-make it for his 4 year-old).
• We found that our cell phones did not operate in this area because the company we work for had blocked them that way. We both attempted to call home from the pay phone at the train station and found that it cost $3.50 per minute so we walked over to a variety store and bought calling cards. A $5.00 calling card gave us 78 long-distance minutes.
• We contacted our shuttle driver, Oscar Morel and set up a 3:00 p.m. pick-up at the train station; then, we purchased our return train tickets for ourselves and the supplement tickets for our canoes. This cost about $100 apiece because we purchased our tickets for a pick-up at Moose River Crossing. We were still thinking we might be able to go from Otter Rapids to the Onakawana River then over to the Mattagami and finish at MRC. This was an aggressive plan that we didn’t even come close to realizing. (The ticket cost from Fraserdale was half the cost than from MRC but the canoe cost of $54.00/canoe was unchanged)
• We picked up sandwiches and chili at Tim Horton’s to carry out to the put-in so we would have dinner that night and not have to break out the stove. Then we went back to the Cochrane train station to await Oscar.
• At 3:30, having missed our scheduled hook-up by a half hour, I called Oscar on his cell phone and he said he was back in town and on his way. At 4:00 p.m. he showed up and by now it was raining steadily. As it turned out, Oscar had blown the transmission in his truck and was trying to get that little problem handled and he had to borrow a friends vehicle to drive to the train station; hence, the delay.
• We drove out to the Pierre Lake access point in the steadily increasing rain and arrived at 5:30 p.m. In my notes, I showed this to be a 96 Km drive but Oscar said it was 120 Km. I’m not sure which was correct but since the lumber company wasn’t cutting timber back in there anymore the road was deteriorating. In fact we had to detour to avoid one washed out bridge.
• As soon as we got our boats and gear off the vehicle, Oscar took off back to Cochrane hoping to return before dark. There was no one else at the put-in so Brian and I just sort of stared at each other through the now heavily falling rain.
• The only place that afforded some protection was the timber bridge over the creek that flowed into Pierre Lake. This bridge was seriously crumbling with many of the telephone pole supports completely shattered. The MNR had placed a sign in the bridge deck warning that it was unsafe but we ate our dinner underneath it anyway because even though water poured through it everywhere, it was still a little more protective than just standing out in the rain.
• Once we ate our chili we realized that we now had these disposable bowls with no place to dispose them. We ended up carrying them in a refuse bag the entire trip and finally threw them away at the Cochrane train station when we returned. Poor planning on our part.
• After dinner, we set up the tent with the rain still falling heavily. There was no way to avoid getting water in the tent before we could get the protective rainfly over it. Once it was fully set up, Brian went in with paper towel and dried off the floor and this was also thrown into the refuse bag.
• By 7:30 p.m. with no place else to go and with the rain still falling, we retired to the tent. At 1:00
a.m. the rain stopped but was replaced by gusting winds. This was the first use of Brian’s new three-man Big Agnes tent and it was dry and comfortable inside.

Saturday, September 8, 2007 (Kilometers covered: approx. 25)
• When we rolled out of the tent at about 7:00 a.m., the weather was windy, cloudy with light drizzle, and the temperature was in the 6º C.
• We broke camp and were in the midst of setting up the boats with lines and tie downs when three fishermen from Cochrane pulled up to put in their fishing boat. We talked to them while we were working and this delayed our launch by perhaps a half hour. They said there was a real bear problem within the city limits of Cochrane (Oscar had said the same thing) and that there were bears walking around town and in peoples’ yards everyday. We never witnessed that but that’s what they said. Just like everyone we encountered on this trip, they were amazed that we weren’t carrying a rifle. We really weren’t all that worried about bears and all a rifle meant to us was about 3 more Kg of weight and no good place to carry it.
• At 10:00 a.m. we pushed off into the creek that runs a final 400 meters into the entrance to Pierre Lake. The first thing we saw when Pierre Lake came into our view were whitecaps . . . never a welcome sight when not powered by an internal combustion engine.
• As though this wasn’t bad enough, the wind was just about 5° to the left of being dead on our nose. It was blowing about 19 to 24 kph with gusts pushing to 28 kph out of the northwest. The breaking waves were slightly above our gunnels and we took a little slop over the side continuously.
• With some difficulty we cleared the first point and then made for the right shore which was a long, deep sand beach inside a large bay. The time was 10:50 a.m. when we grounded out on the shore and we really believed we were going to be windbound.
• All things considered it was a pretty nice beach and we decided to eat lunch and wait out the wind, however long that took.
• We did a little beach-combing and followed a fresh set of wolf tracks down the length of the beach until they petered out at some broken rock. Brian had a tracking kit and the paws measured 14 cm front to rear making this a large full-grown adult and most likely a male.
• In fact the wind diminished by half and at 12:20 p.m. we set out into the lake once again. We exited Pierre Lake at 2:00 p.m. and entered Motreuil Lake at 3:30 p.m. and all the while the wind was diminishing and at 5:20 p.m. we reached a narrow clay and gravel beach on the north shore of Harris Lake across from the eastern-most of two islands that sat in the entrance to the Little Abitibi River.
• The wind had died; the rain had stopped; we were basically back on schedule and things were generally looking up for us as we prepared dinner.
• I was using my relatively new MSR Superfly canister stove when I over-cranked it during assembly and the fuel started escaping through the ruined flange with a loud hissing sound. I had only brought along two new canisters and a semi-used partial which had already run out of fuel during breakfast earlier that day. At the end of our first full day I was down to one canister of fuel. Fortunately, we had discussed this and Brian had brought along his Jetboil canister stove with one full canister and one partial. Neither of us really knew how much time we could get out of these canisters so we were slightly anxious and considering that all we had for our dinner was FD meals, we really needed to be able to boil water. I told Brian I was willing to sacrifice my pan and set it right into hot coals if we had to. As cantankerous as my MSR Whisperlite was, I’ve decided I tend to prefer liquid fuel over canister gas. You always knew how much effective fuel you had with a white gas stove but the canister stoves stopped putting out substantial BTU’s even before they were empty.
• We retired to the tent at about 8:00 p.m. and the weather was completely overcast but dry.
• At 1:30 a.m., it began to rain fairly hard.

Sunday, September 9, 2007 (Kilometers covered: approx. 23)
• It was still raining hard when we woke up that morning so we laid around inside the tent trying to figure out what we would do. We finally decided that we couldn’t afford to take a day off this early in the trip, so we made coffee and ate a partial breakfast, then packed everything away (wet) and by 10:30 a.m. we put in to the headwaters of the Little Abitibi River.
• We covered the kilometer to the first set of rapids in several minutes. This rapids were about 400 meters in length and were lined by us in 2001 but it was a C2 then with rocks in all the wrong places. The rocks were still in all the wrong places but now it was closer to a C3 and instead of Royalex boats we had Kevlar, so lining was out of the question. (UTM 510300 E; 5493900 N)
• We were going to portage down the rugged rocky shore when we noticed some surveyor tape hanging from a tree branch near where we stood (on river right). Upon investigation we discovered a portage trail through the woods that (we assumed) the Cochrane Explorer group had cut in since our last visit. The trail was in very good condition and it cut across the peninsula of land coming back to the river below all the rapids. This was a great time-saver as well as sparing our boats from a serious battering.
• We immediately realized that the water levels in the river and the volume of flow were both higher from when we made this trip in 2001. We had been anticipating just the opposite and were now a little concerned about making this run in Kevlar boats. Not that there was anything we could do about it . . . we were now committed and the only way out was to follow the route to its end. The Swift Osprey is a tripping canoe and it has enough rocker for fast white water maneuvering but it has marginal tumblehome for the “haystacks” and we were to do a fair amount of bailing and sponging after many of the C2’s we ran, over the course of the next several days. The C3 standing waves were not runnable in these boats and would be a guaranteed swamping without a cover over at least the front half.
• The stretch of river between Harris Lake and where we stopped for the night had multiple swifts, C1’s and C2’s and about halfway through this section we stopped on some rocks and ate our lunch of foil packaged tuna with spices on flat bread. These packaged foods tasted good but they were very dry and difficult to swallow. We will quite possibly stop packing these sea foods because of their dryness. It’s getting harder and harder to choke them down.
• Several kilometers downstream from our lunch stop we startled a moose cow with her young calf. They both trotted down the river at the edge of the shore for about 100 meters before disappearing into the forest. This was to be our one and only moose sighting for this trip.
• Late in the afternoon we heard the distant sound of Canadian Geese and looking to the sky saw the largest chevron of Canadian’s we had ever seen. There had to be at least 300 of them flying south at an altitude of about 150 meters.
• It was close to 5:00 p.m. when we reached the set of rapids that were shown on the topo map with a waterfall symbol. They were in fact a series of three low staircase falls and in these water conditions, they were a genuine C4. (UTM 501800 E; 5505750 N)
• The only place to pull out were some broken rocks on river left. This was the same take-out as 6 years before and in fact the only portage route was also the same. The route went up a rocky creek channel; up a steep, narrow, overgrown ridge; back down onto broken uneven rock; back up into the trees and finally down a steep bank to the broken rocks along the river’s shore. There was no actual trail, just a route through the obstacles.
• As I approached the rocky creek channel carrying my pack (which now weighed close to 30 kilometers with all the packed-away wet gear), I stepped on a very sharp rock and it caused me great pain and gave me a serious limp. It either bruised a tendon or broke my middle toe and I wasn’t sure which but I was in pain and limped from that point through the rest of the trip. (A week later the swelling went down enough that I could feel a distinct bump on the tendon under the muscle but my foot did not return to normal until 2 weeks after our return to the Detroit area.)
• The only possible put-in was at the end of the jagged broken rocks and it was right into the stream on top of more rocks. It was a typical put-in on this river route. Either you were stuck on the rocks or grabbed by the current.
• As I brought my canoe down to this tricky put-in, I lost my footing because of a combination of slippery wet rocks and my painful foot issue and fell, boat and all.
• I was coming to the realization that there were going to be a lot of new scratches on my shiny forest green Kevlar Osprey.
• We launched successfully into some Class 1 water and rode the final rapids down past a long narrow gravel bar at the outflow of the staircase falls. The time was a little past 6:40 p.m. and we paddled down to the next set of rapids hoping to see a more suitable camping spot but did not, so we returned to the gravel bar to set up camp. We had to police the area where we were going to place our tent because of goose droppings and then when we pounded in the tent stakes water bubbled up out of them because the water table was only about 7 cm below the surface. Still, it wasn’t a bad site and there was even a fair amount of wood that had washed up onto it so we built a small fire as well.
• By the time dinner was done and everything was put away it was about 9:00 p.m. and very dark and the temperature was falling rapidly but it wasn’t raining.

Monday, September 10, 2007 (Kilometers covered: approx. 57)
• We had decided we would get up early and depart as quickly as we could because it was going to be a long paddle through more rapids to the impoundment at the Newpost Creek diversion dam and we needed to make it there in order to maintain our schedule. We also remembered, from 2001, that there were no decent camping spots until the diversion dam.
• We rolled out of the tent at 6:30 a.m. and it was still dark and very foggy. The temperature was about 1.6° C and I had to, more or less, put on all the clothes I had with me including gloves to stay warm while I made the coffee. This convection-type fog was created by the colder air against the warmer water.
• We quickly moved through breakfast while breaking camp and packing up and we started a morning pattern of boiling water for our French Press coffee-maker, only, but not for the oatmeal (to save time). As a result, I ended up carrying all this uneaten oatmeal until I took it out at home and stored it away for another trip. This was weight which I had thought would diminish as the days went by but it was not to be. Breakfast ended up being coffee, cold pop tarts and a Clif Bar.
• Once again we packed the tent away wet (it was drenched in morning dew) and by 8:00 a.m., we were on the river again. (Note: We had brought along two heavy gage plastic contractors’ bags to put the tent and rainfly into. Then, we strapped them both shut and Brian carried half and I carried the other half). The fog had lifted enough that we were able to see the rocks and rapids enough in advance that we could perform the necessary maneuvers.
• Within a kilometer, we ran the next rapid which was a C1/C2 and we both took a little water over the gunnels but not too much.
• Another kilometer-and-a-half and we were at the sweeping right bend with two C2 ledges where we had camped 6 years before. The same youth Explorer group had opened up the campsite behind the large rock outcropping on the right shore. Between Harris Lake and the Newpost Creek diversion dam, this is the only actual manmade campsite. It was roughly a third the way down the Little Abitibi River and made for a long day and a second longer day between the entrance to the river and the exit at Newpost Creek. (UTM 500250 E; 5506400 N)
• We carefully scouted the two ledges that made up this rapids and it was obvious that the “haystacks” were C2 bordering on C3. The only path through was to hit the first at mid-channel, then pull hard right to hit the second at river right.
• Brian went first and caught the edge of the first set of standing waves shipping enough water into his boat that he lost a fair amount of steerage but somehow made it through the second set without dumping. He immediately had to pull up on some rocks to empty the water out of his canoe.
• I had the benefit of observing all this and I chose my path through a canoe-wide gap between a large rock and those same haystacks. I was a little nervous about coming that close to the rock but it had enough water flowing over it that it created a pillow which I “boofed”, then pulled hard right and made a clean run down the rest. I ended up shipping no water . . . at least not on this one.
• The next 12.5 km were swifts, C1’s and C2’s. None of these were shown on the topo map but I took enough water over the gunnels in haystacks on two occasions that I had to pull over and bail it out and on one set of wide left/right/left rapids, I took the wrong line and got stuck up on a row of low rocks forcing me to disembark and walk the boat into moving water. Brian, was coming along behind me and seeing my predicament, he went 6 meters to my right, clearing everything and gaining some payback from his near swamping at the C2 haystacks.
• On the subject of bailing, I had made a bailer out of a flat dishwashing liquid container by cutting off the bottom; securing the top with epoxy and attaching a lanyard to the handle. On all my lake trips I carried this stuffed up in the bow but never used it. I nearly left it home on this trip since Brian and I were trying to cut down the amount of stuff we were carrying. I used this bailer (and the bilge sponge) at least a dozen times on this trip.
• Approximately 22 km from where we had camped, we encountered a large set of rapids which, 6 years before, we had run with one canoe taking the far right side and one taking the far left. At that time we had both grounded out on rocks and had to step into the river and drag the boats through. At this current river level, we just couldn’t see any possible way to run these rapids. (UTM 491225 E; 5513550 N)
• We scouted the left shore but the only possible put-in had C3’s and rocks beyond it so we paddled over to the right shore and the only possible way to carry the boats was to hop stone to stone in the slack water of the river, then carry through a jagged broken boulder field; then “hopscotch” again over rocks in the edge of the channel and finally put in at a small narrow eddy and make the following C2’s to escape.
• The problem (one of the many) was that there were just vertical rocks and water at the put-in so we had to devise a system where I balanced my boat up on some rocks then I held Brian’s boat in the water while he loaded it and got into it and then he paddled to the back of the narrow eddy and climbed out tying his boat to some tree branches. Then he had to scamper back along a narrow cliff so that he could hold my boat while the process was repeated. This was the only way we could put-in, load up and depart this place. We both took a lot of scratches on our hulls here.
• By the time we were underway again, 2 hours had elapsed.
• Within 400 meters we encountered the next set of rapids which were C2 and we had to scout first, then run and then 500 meters past that we repeated this process with another set of C2’s
• The final set of rapids was another 500 meters past the last and this was a very impressive set that ran for about 500 meters in length. Much of the rapids were C3 and where there were C2’s, we couldn’t get through them for all the rocks. Surprisingly, 6 years before, we had done a short lift-over of a mid-channel rock, then a short paddle; another lift-over of a gravel bar and then we could sort of paddle and bump our way out. This year, I stood on that same mid-stream rock and all I saw were C3’s and lots of rocks. (UTM 489900 E; 5514750 N)
• While I scouted from mid-river, Brian scouted from the right shore and when we converged I noticed a piece of surveyor tape hanging from a branch. Brian climbed out and reported back immediately that it was a portage trail (which those same Cochrane Explorers had put in). This suddenly removed the problems from what was looking like a very difficult situation.
• We made the portage and were underway for the final push to the Newpost Creek Diversion Dam.
• There were still swifts and some C1’s but the really rough stuff (at least on the Little Abitibi) was now behind us.
• About 6 km downstream from the last marked rapid, in a swift on a right turning horseshoe bend; we came upon a mother bear and her cub. They were on a narrow gravel beach on the inside of the bend and she quickly sent the little one into the bush and then followed us on foot as we passed. We were within 15 meters of her and I took four pictures of which only one turned out marginally O.K. I had to shoot with one hand while trying to steer through the swifts with the other and I didn’t want lose control so that I ended up sharing her beach. These were the only bear we saw on this trip.
• After this, the river got straighter and wider and now we were racing the clock. We agreed that if we saw a suitable place to camp we would stop.
• There was some promise for tomorrow because when the sun set, the edges of all the clouds glowed a beautiful pink (“Red sky at night . . . Sailors delight”).
• We never saw anyplace to camp (just like 6 years before) and at 8:30 p.m., about an hour after sunset and a half hour after dark, we grounded out on the clay and gravel beach at the head of the man-made diversion channel that led into Newpost Creek. (UTM 477300 E; 5536900 N)
• We had our headlamps on so we set up the tent and broke out Brian’s Jetboil stove to cook dinner. As though we weren’t beat up enough, the beach was wet from all the rain and globs of clay stuck to the bottom of our Neos Trekker overboots. This was a slight discomfort that we really didn’t need at so late an hour, especially after we had put in a tough 12½ hour day.
• We had seen a very large bear on this beach in 2001 and since there were no tall trees to hang food we set our packs away from the tent and criss-crossed our paddles over them to serve as a (sort-of) alarm in case something tried to disturb them. In the morning, they were still undisturbed.
• It was 11:00 p.m. before we climbed into our sleeping bags. It had been a very long day.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007 (Kilometers covered: approx. 27)
• We slept in until 7:30 a.m. and when we emerged from the tent it was mostly clear with only a few clouds and the temperature was already about 7º C.
• After breakfast and packing up, we got a late start, pushing off into the swift moving diversion channel at 10:00 a.m.. This channel was flowing at nearly 8 kph and we covered the 1.6 km distance quickly.
• At the end of the channel there was a C2 rapid where you make a hard left turn into what was once Worobec Lake and was the original source of Newpost Creek. Though you can still see the shoreline of this lake it is now a braided channel of swifts and C1’s and then it makes a hard right turn into a C2 rapid that leads into the second man-made diversion channel that cuts off the Worobec Creek channel and enters Newpost Creek proper.
• Back in the day of the fur trades, the traders portaged from the Little Abitibi into Worobec Lake and then made their way down the creek (which must have been just a narrow creek) to the Hudson Bay Company’s New Post at the confluence with the main branch Abitibi River. When Ontario Hydro opened up the diversion this little creek became a fast little river with lots of swifts and rapids.
• Newpost Creek is definitely a paddler’s delight as long as the paddler has some white water skill. The actual purpose of turning Newpost Creek into a connector between the Little Abitibi and the main branch Abitibi was not for recreation, however. They were building the Otter Rapids Dam 23 miles downriver from the Abitibi Canyon Dam and they needed additional water volume to sustain it; therefore, they now have the entire Little Abitibi drainage basin diverted to help feed the Otter Rapids turbines.
• We encountered swifts, C1’s and C2’s repeatedly to the point where I actually lost track of where we were on this river. This was unlike me because I kept my map case right in front of me and paid close attention to every bend in the river but, with all the rapids, I had lost track of our position. I had to rely on Brian and his GPS to show me what our position actually was.
• This was not the place to lose track of where we were. Within a couple hours we would be approaching the first of the two most dangerous spots on this entire route and it was imperative that we know where to go ashore so that we didn’t get caught in the current that would take us right into a C5 sousehole.
• Six years before there were a series of swifts that started at a left-right-left bend sequence in the river and then a final blind right turn and you were at this deadly ledge. This year, this series of swifts were C1’s that were gaining speed to the point of becoming C2’s and as we made the second (right) turn Brian yelled to me that we had to get over to the far right side NOW! One more left turn; then the blind right turn and then certain serious injury or even death.
• We were really picking up speed both in the current and because we were now paddling hard to get to safety when we both simultaneously stuck high braces and more or less swept the boats around crashing into the rocks on the right shore. It wasn’t very pretty but we had landed safely just before the blind right turn. There was one piece of iridescent green surveyor tape hanging from a tree branch over our heads. We really hadn’t seen it until we had landed. (UTM 468700 E; 5534700 N > Note: These UTM coordinates are at the take-out just in front of the blind right bend)
• We exited our boats and after our anal contractions subsided, we talked about the danger of this place in the river. Because of the rocks on the right shore and because of the left turning bend before the final right-turning blind bend, you never see this obstacle and you only start to hear it before the final bend. By that time you better be pulling for the right shore because if you round the blind bend, the current has you and there is no way out. Perhaps a true expert could perform a hard back-ferry into the eddy on river-right after the blind bend but only if they were already favoring the right side of the river.
• This is the second time we have been through this place and I am always a little surprised that we don’t see yakkers with their little rodeo boats playing in this giant hole and the rapids beyond. There is a bridge that crosses here (the service road that runs from the Abitibi Canyon Dam to the Otter Rapids Dam) and it provides a great vantage point for scouting. There is also a small meadow near the bridge that would make for decent camping.
• Make no mistake, however. Once you rounded the blind bend you were in C3’s that led immediately over this C5+ ledge and this was followed by about 400 meters of C3’s before it calmed down to C2.
• We made the difficult carry over broken rock to a steep embankment that took us up and across the bridge; then down another steep embankment; through a small meadow and onto the broken rock on the left shore below the bridge. We carried our gear as far down this broken rock as we could go and set it down at a large, almost whirlpool-like, eddy and this was as far as we could go on foot.
• There was one place on this portage (still upstream of the bridge) where we had to circumvent a small eddy by picking our way around a cliff face with narrow foot and hand-holds. I went through there with my heavy pack and had to use both hands to complete it so I suggested to Brian that we line our canoes across this small eddy. Brian thought he could carry his canoe and, in fact, did just that with success but I just didn’t think I could manage it, safely. I still wanted to line mine across but Brian set his boat down, came back and carried mine around. I just wasn’t sure-footed enough to maintain my balance along that cliff face with a boat over my head.
• We ate a quick lunch while discussing the issue at hand: How to launch into this strong eddy and punch through the powerful eddy line with enough forward speed so that when the current grabbed us we wouldn’t be swept into the jagged rocks below the eddy. We stared at this for a few minutes and then we put in.
• Both of us made it into the current and barely cleared the rocks and were swept around the bend into another 400 meters of C2 water decreasing to C1, which we successfully completed.
• About 3 kilometers before the Newpost Falls take-out, we had to pull over to river-right to scout a C3 chute. This was marked as a rapid on the map and by now we knew what we could and could not safely run in our open Ospreys . (UTM 464220 E; 5535430 N)
• In 2001, the only portages we had to make on Newpost Creek were at the bridge and the falls and although the chute was clean and without obstacles, the haystacks would surely swamp us. We were forced to make a slightly messy but short liftover on the rocks on river-right along with another dicey put-in with the front half of the canoe in swift current and the back half stuck on sharp rocks.
• I entered the stream first and just clipped one of the haystacks on my beam which slopped enough gallons of water into the canoe that I immediately lost about 25% of my boat control. Brian made a cleaner run of it and didn’t take on any water. I was forced to beach on the outflow gravel bar below the chute to bail out my boat.
• The rest of Newpost Creek was unremarkable with mostly C1 rapids and swifts up to the final approach to the second serious danger on this route: Newpost Falls.
• We had agreed that if we saw anyplace to camp within a couple kilometers of the falls we would take it. In 2001, there were several sand bars and we ended up camping about 800 meters from the top of the falls on one of them. This was a classic illustration of the ever-changing personality of a river because this year there were no sand or gravel bars.
• We paddled up to within two narrow eddy’s that were just in front of the first cataract leading to the main falls. Newpost Falls is a series of 4 cataracts, each bigger than the one before it, followed by a 30 meter vertical waterfall into a dark and narrow rock canyon. The waterfall itself has an ethereal “Lord of the Rings” sort of appearance and is truly an amazing thing to see. (UTM 462270 E; 5537420 N)
• We got out and bushwhacked our way up the shore and found the portage trail that the ever-industrious Cochrane Explorer group had put in. The problem was that the take-out was right at the first cataract and to paddle to it you had to go out toward mid-channel, over a small C1 ledge then pull hard left to get out before being swept over the first of these four cataracts.
• We stared at this for a while and held discussion deciding that we would paddle into the second to last eddy, then do a lift-over on some rocks and into this final eddy where the take-out was. I’m certain we could have paddled it but if, for any reason, we got caught in the current, certain death would be the outcome.
• We also were forced to make the portage to the bottom (at least with gear) to find a place to camp and since it was already 6:30 p.m. and the sun would be completely set within an hour, we were very thankful for the Explorer group that marked this trail. It was unmarked 6 years before and took us a long time to complete.
• The trail had not been as much cut in as it had been marked with surveyor tape around all the natural obstacles. This was a very dense, dark woods with much blowdown and with moss covering everything. Twice I had to drop my pack and really concentrate on each tree branch in order to spot the next piece of surveyor tape. It was a little chilling because I realized how simple it would be to get completely lost in a forest of this density. Of course, in this case, I could clearly hear the waterfall at all times and that was a comfort.
• This was the only time during our entire trip that it was warm enough that the mosquitoes were out and we both put on our bug shirts. I put my rain jacket on over top of the bug shirt just to protect the netting from getting snagged on a tree branch.
• The portage trail ended at a “tourist” trail that led from a lookout at the top of the falls down to a beach area set in the trees. The tourist trail was very steep and perpetually wet because of the heavy airborne spray from the falls. This trail was also full of exposed rocks and tree roots forcing us to use extreme caution so as not to slip and fall.
• It took about 40 minutes to get down to the small beach at the put-in below the outflow of the waterfall. Brian decided to go back up and bring down his boat but I opted to wait until morning.
• At around 8:30 p.m. the temperature dropped enough that the mosquitoes disappeared and we were able to remove our bug shirts. This made eating dinner much easier and the only other problem we had was a very pesky mouse that kept trying to get into our packs. We would chase him off and he would immediately return so we had to mouse-proof our gear for the night. This mouse was the only mammal of any size that harassed us in any of our camps.
• In the middle of the night I was awakened to the sound of light rain and strong wind buffeting the tent and I wondered what was in store for us in the morning.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007 (Kilometers covered: approx. 11.7)
• The rain was light and intermittent and there was definitely a gusting wind but in our protected spot, we couldn’t determine which direction it was blowing out of.
• After going through the morning routine of breakfast and pack-up, we pushed off into the last half-mile of Newpost Creek at 9:30 a.m..
• As we rounded the final bend of the creek and the main branch Abitibi came into view, the whitecaps on the river were very visible. As we approached the junction, it was also obvious that the surface of the river was flowing north to south or upstream. The wind was blowing 24 kph with gusts to 32 kph out of the north.
• We would not be going downriver to Otter Rapids Dam on this day. Our options were to turn around and spend another day at our previous campsite in the hope that the weather would turn or go south (upriver) to the Abitibi Canyon Dam.
• We made a snap decision to go upstream with the wind behind us to the take-out at the Abitibi Canyon Dam. It was completely overcast and the light intermittent rain continued to fall.
• We made the turn and since the whitecaps were right at the same height as our gunnels we stayed close to shore as we made our way south. A word of caution about the Abitibi River, however. It was deep water right up to the shore and everywhere I looked, the shore had a steep embankment and to try and pull out on either side of the river would be a difficult and dangerous task. There were areas where small creeks emptied into the river where a paddler could probably find a little gravel to get out at but that was about it.
• The main branch Abitibi also averages 400 to 500 meters in width so you tend to feel dwarfed as you make your way along its course.
• However, with the wind to our backs we made good time and at 12:30 p.m. we bumped up on the gravel shore of the access road take-out for the dam. There were large signs warning the boater not to go any further upstream because of dangerous water releases that could occur at any time and without warning. The access road was at the head of a narrow bay on river-right (as you faced downriver; the left side as we approached upriver). The road was shown on the topographic map but you had to look closely because it blended in with the contour lines.
• We carried our boats and gear about 200 meters up to an area that had been mined for sand or gravel and ate lunch. The wind had let up a little but not a lot. There appeared to be many old gravel operations around us, most likely left over from the dam construction. They were just pits and mounds of gravel but there was no visible equipment.
• After lunch we made our first trip with gear up to the dam, proper. This was along a decent road but it was a steady uphill and in several places it was very steep. The distance was about 2.1 km and it was a real grunt. After we deposited our packs at the road just where it actually crosses the dam, we had to return back down to bring up our boats.
• We decided to continue with our boats over to the opposite side of the dam where the Ontario Hydro offices were and as we crossed the exposed road over the structure, the gusts nearly ripped the canoes out of our hands.
• When we were having lunch, I had told Brian that I was going to find somebody with a truck to haul us, our gear and our boats to the Fraserdale train stop because it was 5 more kilometers west of the dam and I just didn’t have it in me to make two more round trips (14.4 kilometers total walking distance). I had cash with me and I was willing to pay up to $50 for this service. Actually I would have gone higher than that, if need be, because it was now about 2:00 PM and this 14.4 km, two-trip portage would have taken so long that we could have possibly missed our 8:00 PM train. Of course I would have probably also needed a defibrillator to get my heart started again, as well.
• To our good fortune, as I was carrying my boat past one of the Hydro offices, a pick-up truck was pulling out and they stopped next to me and asked where we were coming from. I told them and immediately asked them if they would give us a lift to the train track saying that I would make it worth their time. They agreed without hesitation and we were set.
• The truck occupants were two sub-contractors from Timmins and Sudbury who had been hired to repair some equipment but the parts had not yet arrived and they had been driving out to the dam for the past couple days, standing around and doing nothing. As a result of this, they were only too happy to facilitate us.
• They hauled us with all our gear for the first trip then, leaving Brian behind with our packs we returned and secured the canoes in their pick-up bed. By 3:30 p.m., and with all our equipment, we were at the Fraserdale train stop. I offered these guys $40 but it came as no surprise when they refused to accept payment. As they put it, “This is the only worthwhile thing we’ve done in two days.”
• There was now more sun than cloud and the rain had ended but the cold wind was still blowing out of the north. We took refuge on some old planks behind a trackside shed which afforded us a little protection but we had put on all our warm clothes including rain gear to give us some wind protection. We now had about 4½ hours to wait for the arrival of the ONR Polar Bear Express.
• Fraserdale was a small First Nation settlement with about a dozen houses scattered around both sides of the track. Some of the houses were alongside the dirt road but some were set back in the trees with the only access being from the railroad track. There were two locked-up railroad sheds alongside the track which was where we were seeking refuge from the wind.
• A local resident walked up and stood next to us for about 10 minutes before he said anything. As it turned out, he was a man of very few words but he appeared quite comfortable just standing there with us. At one point he said, “Canada’s goin’” which interpreted meant the Canadian Geese were flying south. Then, he asked where we came from (meaning where did we paddle in from) and we told him the network of lakes and rivers we had been on and he just nodded. Then, several minutes later he simply said, “Dangerous river” and we weren’t sure which river he meant since we had been on three. Just before he walked back to his house, he said, “Early winter”; then as he turned to leave, he nodded in the direction of Brian’s canoe which he had placed across the tracks on the west side and said, “Wrong side”. With that, he departed but his little dog, Badger, stayed with us for a couple more hours (until we ran out of snacks to feed her).
• As our visitor had recommended, Brian crossed over the track and brought his canoe back over to the east side and we lined up both of them along with all our gear, now completely consolidated.
• The train was scheduled for 7:57 p.m. and at about 8:03 p.m. it rounded the bend a kilometer away and gave a blast on the horn to let us know it was going to stop. The engineer stopped the train so that the baggage car was right in front of our equipment and we took all of 3 minutes to load and then boarded the passenger car that was just behind the baggage car.
• The conductor was a young man and we gave him our tickets, dumped some clothing in a couple of seats and proceeded immediately to the dining/bar car. We were picked up at mile 69 and the bar car served food and drink until mile 40 (mile 0 being Cochrane) and that was enough time for us to have two beers apiece. (Track markers on the ONR are in miles, not kilometers.) One of the true amazements of this route was that you could be in total wilderness in the morning and drinking cold beer in the bar car on the train in the evening.
• The conductor passed through the dining car a couple of times and at one point told us that the track inspectors had reported us at the Fraserdale stop so they knew we were there in advance. The track inspectors were driving the rail in two pick-up trucks with hydraulic railroad dollies and they passed us at about 6:00 p.m.. Apparently Ontario Northland sends these inspectors out ahead of each passenger train to make sure there are no track issues which could cause problems for the Polar Bear Express.
• There was a group of First Nation folks (3 men and a woman) sitting in the booth behind us downing beer after beer. They were really loaded (inebriated) and we had just gotten the last call for drinks around mile 40 when the conductor showed up at their table and told them to drink up because the train was approaching their stop. They went back to their seats to get their stuff as the train slowed to a stop and I couldn’t see anything but blackness out the windows. I got up to see where they were going just in time to see the woman, lugging two cases of beer, fall flat on her face at the bottom of the coach steps. They were all laughing hysterically as they trundled off down an overgrown path into the dark forest. I could see no lights in the woods and they didn’t have flashlights and they were completely swallowed up by the dark woods as the train departed.
• The Polar Bear Express pulled into the Cochrane station at about 10:00 p.m., roughly 15 minutes behind schedule. The railroad baggage crew unloaded our gear and boats and placed them under an open-air shelter on the platform.
• While Brian retrieved the truck, I booked us into the Station Inn which was the hotel that was upstairs in the station building. This was a decent small hotel with an adjoining restaurant (that closed at 8:00 p.m.) with rooms that looked out over the railroad track but it was a little pricey.
• After securing boat and gear, we really needed to eat dinner but only three places were open in Cochrane: Subway (open ‘til midnight), Tim Horton’s (open 24/7) and the Husky Truck Stop (also open 24/7). We ended up at Husky where we ate hot food and watched an old “Seinfeld” episode with a group of through-haulers who all seemed to be Quebecois.

Thursday, September 13, 2007 (The drive home)
• We took our breakfast in the Station Inn Restaurant and while we ate both the “Northlander” departed for Toronto and the “Polar Bear Express” departed for Moosonee. This, more or less, cleared out the restaurant and there were only a few diners left, including us.
• At about 10:00 a.m., we got on the road for home and nothing of any major significance occurred except we stopped at a historic site near Sudbury where they explained that the geologists believed all the zinc, nickel, gold and other minerals, which Sudbury was known for, were created instantaneously by a single, cataclysmic event caused by a giant meteor impact. I still haven’t fully processed that in my mind.
• We arrived back in Dexter (Michigan, just outside of Ann Arbor) at 2:00 a.m..
• On my way to the freeway from Brian’s house, I came to a complete stop for a possum that was eating carrion in the middle of the road. I flashed my lights and blew my horn and when I could no longer see it; I accelerated, immediately running it over with both wheels. I’m not sure what significance this has to my trip report but still, it haunts me just a little.

Trip Summary
• Travel Logistics: From the Detroit area, this is a solid 16 hour drive if you don’t make too many stops. From Toronto, it would be a 12 hour drive to Cochrane. It’s not a real easy drive but it’s not real hard either. We topped off our fuel at the "Soo" and when we reached Chapleau, we were nearly empty. The first gas station to open in the morning didn’t open until 7:00 a.m. and we arrived in town at 6:00. We found an all night diner out near the giant pulp mill plant and had breakfast and when we were done, the Esso station had opened so it all worked out well. It should be noted, however, that from the turn-off of Highway 17 at Thessalon onto Highway 129 to Chapleau, there was absolutely nothing (gas, food, etc.) until we got to Chapleau. We did pass some closed places but in the middle of the night, there was nothing.
• Trip Cost: The total cost of this 9-day trip was approximately $540 USD per person. This included food/provisions, shuttle, accommodation (hotel in Cochrane), train costs, restaurants (before and after canoe trip) and fuel for our truck. Approximately $450 (total) was spent on fuel for our vehicle (2007 Ford Escape). An unfortunate but necessary evil.
• Paddling Conditions: This route had a totally different personality this year than it did in 2001 due to several factors. The most significant factor was the greater volume of water flow which drove all white water ratings up and made this an almost different river, at least at the rapids areas. It also slightly increased the current in the slack water areas allowing our average boat-speed to increase. The second factor affecting our run was paddling solo Kevlar canoes instead of the tandem Royalex canoes of 6 years before. It forced us to be much more cautious in terms of what we could run and what we had to carry around. It also limited our lining abilities because the Royalex boats could bounce off a few rocks that would be unforgiving on the Kevlar hulls.
• Skills & Necessities: This route requires enough boat handling skill to avoid the many rocks that are a constant along its entire length. It also requires the skill to read the river so that you know when you can run something and when you need to take out and carry. With the exception of the three portage trails, put in by the Cochrane Explorer group, this route has very tough portages over broken jagged rock. The other problem is that, since very few people for reasons unknown seem to paddle this route, the portage trails will slowly revert back to nature; unless of course, the Explorers continue to maintain them. This route also has very limited campsite options which make for some long travel days. However, if you are a paddler who seeks remote regions where you must rely on your own skills in order to prevail, then this is a trip to seriously consider. You must have sound wilderness skills and the right gear. In terms of the right gear, you will need to protect yourself from the sun, the cold, the rain, the wind and the bugs. You must put careful thought into your first aid kit and you must have contingency plans in case someone in your party gets sick or injured. Remember, there will not be anyone coming around the bend to help you. You will need a shoe and sock system, which will protect your feet at all times and will be rugged enough to handle the scree on the portages.
• Emergencies: Once you enter the river complex, the only place to get help will be the service road bridge over Newpost Creek. This bridge is 3½ days into the trip. If you have thought about renting or purchasing a Satphone, this would be the trip to do it. We carried a waterproof VHF aircraft transceiver in the event of an emergency and I told my wife that if she didn’t get a call from me by Saturday (we caught the train on Wednesday) at noon she was to call the OPP, fax them my detailed itinerary and request emergency assistance.
• Equipment: We have been making these trips long enough that we have a pretty good understanding of what gear works and what does not. However, a couple items did not work out completely up to our expectations.
1) Our canister stoves worked but there was always the problem of lack of proper BTU’s when the fuel got low and there was no effective way to tell when that would happen. Also I did destroy one new canister by over-cranking the jet onto it but I will consider that my own fault. We still do not know just how much effective burn time we get out of one canister.
2) Our Neos Trekkers suffered small rips in the nylon uppers from the rock scree which was at every portage. As a result, we both suffered leakage and wet feet but in fairness to Neos, none of their advertising states they will stand up to such rugged treatment. Perhaps they should make a model using ballistic nylon material for more rugged applications. (P.S., As it turns out, they do.)
3) Brian’s new Big Agnes 3-man tent did not leak at all in the rain and the twin doors and vestibules were very convenient; however, the way the vestibule rainfly zipped open, guaranteed rain runoff would spill inside the tent door because of the design geometry. This was unavoidable and we had a lot of rain.
• Final Thoughts: I thought we got our money’s worth when we made this trip in 2001 but for Brian and I, this was the most continual fast water we had ever done; furthermore, this route remains to be one of great remoteness. Two major pluses for a couple of seasoned paddlers.

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
Maps: 42 H/10 Montreuil Lake 42 H/11 Island Falls 42 H/13 Fraserdale 42 H/14 Takwata Lake 42 I/4 Otter Rapids <br />
Topo Maps (1:250,000): 
42 H Cochrane<br />
Other
Special Comments: 

Personnel: Paddlers consisted of two adult males aged 40 and 58 paddling in two solo canoes (both Swift Ospreys).

Weather: Friday at Pierre Lake Put-in, temperature was 50s F and raining. It rained until 1:00 a.m. then the temperature dropped into the low 40s F and the wind came up.
Saturday was drizzle with temperature in the mid 40s F with increasing wind blowing 15 mph with gusts to 20 mph out of the northwest lessening at mid-day to 10 mph and then to 5 mph. Drizzle and light rain persisted throughout the day.
Sunday, heavy rain started at 1:30 a.m. and it rained continuously until about 5:30 p.m. with temperature in the mid 50s F. Wind was light to variable.
Monday, temperature was in the mid 30s in the morning with heavy convection fog until mid-morning. There was no rain but the temperature never got out of the mid-40s F.
Tuesday, the sky was partly clear and in the 40s in the morning but rapidly warming up to mid 60s F. More sun than overcast and this was the best weather day we had. Wind was light to variable.
Wednesday, the temperature dropped into the upper 30s with wind blowing out of the north. There was light rain until about 11:00 a.m. and the wind stayed steady at about 12 mph with constant gusts to 15 mph. At about 5:00 p.m. the wind died off completely and there was a partial clearing of the sky. The temperature never rose above the low 50s F all day.

Water Level: Water levels were higher than normal because of all the rain and all fast water was one grade higher than when we paddled this in 2001 (Swifts were now Class 1’s, Class 1’s were now Class 2’s and so on).

Dangers: Depending on water levels, there were numerous Class 2 and Class 3 rapids that had to be scouted before action was taken. If you were swamped in standing waves, you and your flooded canoe may swim through a few more sets of rapids in the water before you could find a gravel bar or suitable shore to get up on dry ground and you could lose gear or suffer some injury in the process.

The large hydraulic just before the bridge on Newpost Creek was more treacherous this year than 6 years before because there were solid Class 1 rapids that snaked around the three bends leading up to it and when we finally reached the last possible take-out on the right, we had to really pull ourselves over from river left in order to land on river right just in front of the last bend. By this time the river was really picking up speed. If a paddler missed that last bend, only an extreme expert might have the ability to pull a hard back-ferry and get into the last eddy on river right. Make no mistake, this hydraulic was solid Class 5 and only luck would allow you to survive in an open canoe without serious injury and loss of equipment.

Regarding the take-out above the Newpost Falls, 6 years before it was calm water leading up to the take-out which is just in front (30 feet) of the first cataract leading to the main falls. This year there was a Class 1 rapid just before the eddy at the take-out but to hit it properly would require the paddler to enter from left-center channel and then pull hard left for the eddy. We opted to paddle into the second to last eddy before the take-out and then make a lift over some rocks into the final eddy. It just seemed safer because if (for whatever reason) you could not get out of the current, you would not survive. After the first cataract there were three more, each steeper than the last and then came the main event . . . a 30 meter vertical drop into a narrow rock canyon.