Missinaibi River - Missanabie to Mattice

CanadaOntarioJames Bay south
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Additional Route Information
236 km
12 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
8170 m
Longest Portage: 
1400 m
Difficulty Ratings
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Lake Travel: 
Background Trip Info
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Route Description
Technical Guide: 

Town of Missanabie via Hwy 651 (50 km north of Hwy 101)
Train access to Peterbell
East on Dog Lake
P 290 m (crosses height of land)
Northeast through Crooked Lake
P 360 m to Missinaibi Lake
Southeast then east through Missinaibi Lake
East on Missinaibi River
P 200 m R around Quittagene Rapids
Cedar Rapids (CBR)
P 200 m L around Long Rapids (or CBR)
P 100 m L around rapids (or CBR)
P 100 m L around rapids (or CBR)
P 450 m L around Sun Rapids (or CBR)
P 200 m L around Barrel Rapids (or CBR)
Past town of Peterbell (intermediate access / finish by train)
P 200 m R around Swamp Rapids
Two rapids (CBR)
P 135 m R around Deadwood Rapid
P 310 m R around Allan Island Rapids
P 200 m R around Wavy Rapids
P 1400 m L around Greenwood Rapids
P 550 m R around Calf Rapids
P 75 m R around St. Peter Rapids
P 100 m R around rapid
P 275 m R around Split Rock Falls
P 180 m R around Thunder Falls
P 200 m R around St. Paul`s Rapids
P 150m R around rapid
P 250 m R around Two Portage Falls
P 200 m R around Pond Falls
P 125 m R around Devil Cap Falls
P 590 m R around rapid
P 185 m R around Devil Shoepack Falls
Rapid (cbr)
P 70 m L around Devil Rapids
Rapid (CBR)
Rapid (CBR)
Rapid (CBR)
Rapid (CBR)
Albany Rapids (CBR - some lining / wading required)
P 450 m L around Big Beaver Rapids
P 135 m L around Small Beaver Rapids
P 65 m L around Sharprock Rapids
P 175 m R around Glassy Falls
P 250 m R around Crow Island Rapids
Finish at town of Mattice

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

The Missinaibi River,
a Canadian Wilderness Adventure
by Jose Joven © 2002

The Michipicoten/Missinaibi/Moose River corridor is the shortest route between Lake Superior and Hudson Bay. It has been occupied by Natives since 1500-1000 BC, and was used by the Hudson Bay and Northwest Companies as a communication and transport route. Today it is a protected Canadian Heritage River and the Missinaibi River is a Provincial Park.

The crew consisted of:

Jeff “three carry” Kuhn, paddling his Mohawk Challenger “Ole Red", Worth “the Man” Donaldson, in a brand new Swift Raven, Jim “the Principal” Kendall, who used a We-no-nah Adirondack tandem and me, Jose “the Hoz” Joven, in a We-no-nah Rendezvous “Green Pepper” .All are HCC members. Worth, Jeff and I had been paddling together for a few seasons. Jim contacted me five days before our departure asking if he could come along. After reviewing his experience in wilderness tripping I quickly decided he would make a good addition to the crew.

To save on travel expenses Jeff and Jim rode up together and Worth and I followed in another car. We left Indy at 6:30am on Saturday, July 13th. It was an uneventful drive up to Canada and clearing customs at Sault Saint Marie was a breeze. Everyone had certified copies of their Birth Certificate or a Passport just to be sure. After exchanging US greenbacks for colorful Canadian currency and purchasing fishing permits at the Custom House we continued north up Canadian National Highway 17. The beautiful early evening drive up Lake Superior was inspiring and an overnight motel stay in Wawa completed the first day of our adventure.

Next morning we had breakfast at the Family Restaurant, befriending a few locals with tales of our upcoming adventure. We could entice no one to come along. We then drove up 101 to the town of Missanabie and the Government Dock on Dog Lake. The village of Missanabie is spelled different from the river Missinaibi because it was supposedly named for a nurse who worked there named “Miss Anna Bee”. Owen Korpela of Missinaibi Outfitters and his shuttle drivers met us to take our vehicles to the other end of our trip at the town of Mattice, Ontario. For a reasonable fee, our cars would be stored at their secure outpost until we arrived 14 days later. Owen noticed our four loaded solo canoes and asked about them. “We can`t get anyone to paddle with us...we don`t even like paddling with each other.” I joked. He laughed, saying, “There`s more solo canoes thesedays.” Owen told us the river was dropping fast but we should be able to get through the low spots with some route finding .

We got on the water by 11:30am. Our destination was through Dog Lake and across the Height of Land portage to Crooked Lake where we would camp the first night. It was a sunny day with fair weather clouds, about 70 degrees and fine paddling. Some of the crew mentioned the wind, which was out of the SW, light but steady with small wave action. Since our route wound around several arms and bays I wasn`t concerned. There would be lots of sheltered paddling. I noticed Jim was fishing right away, trolling a lure behind. It wasn`t long before he had a couple of pike on his stringer.

We stopped for lunch at a sheltered peninsula camp. Jim had a fire going and was roasting the pike in no time. We all shared a taste of fresh grilled fish. Ummmmmmm good!

The Height of Land portage into Crooked Lake was a small difficulty. Here is where the waters part, one side to Lake Superior and the other to James Bay. We were headed north. 290 meters long and a small bog at the start, there was some grumbling, but our crew handled the portage with ease. Jeff had a problem with his removable portage yoke slipping off, letting the canoe slam down on his head, but he solved that as the trip went on. We found our first island camp around 4:30 on rock slabs with an outstanding view of the Canadian sunset, and made home for the night. Jim and I set out fishing and in no time I hooked a 3 lb.. smallmouth. Our first night in the Canadian wilderness, ah yes! Distance covered the first day with a late start, 15 kilometers.

Day 2, Monday morning we established a routine that would stay with us the entire trip. We rose with the sun, tore down camp and had breakfast. We were on the water by 8am. Everyone was responsible for their own gear and food but we wound up sharing as the trip passed.

The paddle up Crooked Lake was uneventful. The weather was again fantastic, in the 70`s with a light NW wind. We crossed the 345M portage into Missinaibi Lake in forty minutes. Paddling SE across some small bays we found the wind and waves building and were surfing at times. We took a small campsite across from Fairy Point, a 100 ft cliff with native pictographs. That evening we enjoyed a 1 kilometer paddle to view the over 100 pictographs in the setting sun. The wind had died, the lake was smooth and looking at the pictures, which depict visions experienced by Natives centuries ago, was a spiritual experience. We left offerings of tobacco, asking Michipeshiu the Ojibwe god of waters to grant us a safe journey. Back in camp I prepared a wilderness drink of rum and lemonade to celebrate our viewing of Fairy Point. Distance covered 20k.

Day 3, Tuesday. In the morning the wind had shifted to the SW and was building. We could see 1 foot waves out beyond the Point. Our route lay 1.5 kilometers into these waves and then NW up Barclay Bay. We had to move quickly to make the crossing this morning. Fairy Point is where three large arms of the lake join and high wind and waves have claimed several lives. The waves break on the cliff face and the water is over 200 meters deep. Jeff and I loaded our canoes and left first, Worth and Jim followed. The idea was if one got into trouble the other was there to help. In reality, in the middle of the crossing it was almost every man for himself!

Waves were 1-2 feet with some whitecaps. My canoe was trimmed bow heavy and it pointed up and rode over easily, but still gave a wild ride. Jeff and I made the crossing in an estimated 20 minutes and turned NW into a small sheltered bay to wait for the others, Worth and Jim arrived about 15 minutes later. Everyone had harried tales of the big waves that almost swamped them. We were thankful to make the crossing. All rigged makeshift sails for the downwind reach. Sticks from a beaver lodge made our masts and shirts became the sails. Barclay Bay on Missinaibi Lake is 30 kilometers long and we hoped to make it in one day!

Jim was the most experienced canoe sailor and showed us how it should be done. He easily tacked out into the middle of the lake and went flying downwind. We warily followed, trying to hug the coastline as much as possible. As the day wore on we became more comfortable with our new found skills but after lunch the wind started building to 20-25 mph. At one point my GPS showed I was traveling 9.5 kilometers per hour! I was having a hard time holding my boat, it wanted to wallow in the troughs, and Worth was having the same problem. By late afternoon our canoes were really becoming unmanageable and there was a tricky crossing to the north side of the lake coming up. Worth and I pulled out on a cobble shore to wait out the big blow while Jeff and Jim went on to locate the next camp. Jeff later told me he was scared stiff on the crossing. Worth and I sat on a rock slab, contemplating a hard nights bivouac.

We had some nourishment and an hour wait when I thought the wind was beginning to die down. At least there were not as many whitecaps showing out there so we chanced the crossing. After some creative paddling (at one point I was headed upwind, in the wrong direction) we made the far shore and a sheltered bay. I tried moving BOTH packs to the stern (over 80 lbs) and found it helped tremendously to keep the boat aligned, bow downwind. Trim is everything.

Worth and I slowly paddled into camp at sunset. The others had been worried but I assured them we were OK and were only waiting for the wind to die. It was a good thing we crossed when we did. That evening the wind picked up and it started a cold rain. Distance covered, 21 kilometers.

Wednesday, our 4th day dawned clear and cool with no wind. We were on the water by 8am again paddling slow and Jim and I fishing along the way. By late morning we were exploring the site of historic Missinaibi Lake House, a Hudson Bay Post established in 1777. There wasn`t much to see, just a large clearing and a big old Red pine standing alone in the middle. The clearing had reverted to a wildflower meadow. I noticed several circular “beds” where some animals had recently rested. Bears? Moose? Elk? We could only imagine the hustle and bustle of the fur trade as the natives would bring their pelts here to trade with the Baymen for copper pots, knives, guns, powder, yard goods, tobacco and of course, firewater.

Leaving the Post and entering the river we could feel the anticipation of the coming rapids. Quittagene Rapids are a CII 200 meters with an old log sluice to dodge and large stacks to ride. As we paddled down river a couple in a motorboat passed and waved. We later met them fishing at Quittagene.

We carried our gear across the 185 meter portage and scouted the drop. It looked straightforward, just down the middle. We introduced ourselves to the lady wading while her husband caught walleye in the riffles below. Carol, the “Queen of Quittagene” told us to be careful as her husband had to rescue a father and his two young daughters on this very rapid. Losing control coming down, they ended up with a wrapped canoe.

I went first and had no problem, just a slight draw right to skirt the haystacks. Everyone came through laughing. Carol took pictures which she said would be e-mailed to me. Our first run was accomplished! We had lunch riverside and shoved off downstream. Cedar Rapids followed, a CI 300 meters. We ran it without scouting.

Further down we spotted two possible camps but rejected them as too small or rough. Past the confluence of the marshy Hay river Jeff saw a moose. We pulled off at a 6 tent site on river right. After supper Jim, Worth and I paddled back upstream to the Hay to see some moose. The weather turned cold, with a strong NE wind. We were unlucky at moose viewing, only mosquitoes and friendly flies greeted us. The paddle back to camp in my solo canoe, after dark, against the chill wind was an ordeal. Worth and Jim (in the tandem) were good enough to wait for me occasionally. Distance covered, 20 kilometers. (Not including 5K moose hunt).

Day 5, Thursday, brought a cool morning changing to a hot afternoon. We negotiated several CI`s and two CII`s .Jim had his lure in the water. I lined Sun Rapids, a CII with a tricky “thread the needle” move while Jeff and Worth portaged. Jim ran everything with confidence. Temps climbed into the mid 80`s .As we paddled through Peterbell Marsh, a string bog that stretches 15 kilometers along the river, the heat became oppressive. Most stripped down to T-shirts or no shirts and shorts. Sunscreen was the order of the day. We stopped at the abandoned rail town of Peterbell to snoop around. This is an unofficial stop on the Canadian National Railroad and can be used to access the Missinaibi. The train arrives at 1am and leaves you track side in the dark and bug infested marsh. Freight trains also run almost every 20 minutes. The only good campsite is 300 meters away.

You would think a marsh is a bad place to camp but a few kilometers down from Peterbell crossing some rock outcroppings begin to appear. These are covered with trees and make a fine camp. We chose another 6 tent site on RR, paddling through the string bog to get to the take out. The sunset that night was spectacular over the large pond that faced our camp. Distance 24 kilometers.

Friday, Day 6 was to be a short day. We planned on stopping early to camp and play the water at Wavy Rapids. Jim and I caught a few pike in the pond before leaving. After exiting the marsh the Missinaibi encounters one CII and 5 CI`s before splitting around Allan Island. To the right is a pull over, a 175 meter portage and small CI, to the left is Allan Falls with a 350 meter portage. I decided to do the right side and come back up the other side to view the falls. Jeff and Worth followed me. Jim took the falls route and discovered low water made for an easy pull over and 2 CII chutes. He was waiting for us at the other end!

After exploring Allan Island and Falls we paddled down one half kilometer to Wavy Rapids, a CII 175 meter chute. Feeling strong I entered Wavy without scouting. The whole river enters a 5 meter wide chute and develops over meter high haystacks at the bottom.”Green Pepper” brought me through a wild bucking ride, shipping about 5 gallons of water. I eddied out at the big bottom pool and watched while the rest of the guys came through, all smiles and whoopee`s!

We set camp at the rapids in a beautiful 6 tent site nestled in white cedar. Lots of firewood had been left by previous campers and there were sitting logs and stones ready for occupancy. Since the portage was only 145 meters we decided to play. I took Worth`s canoe through empty, Jeff followed in his Mohawk Challenger. Jim joined the fun with the Adirondack. I then carried my empty Rendezvous up for a run, clipped a rock in the upper chute and dumped. I was scrubbed, tossed and agitated down the chute getting beaten and bruised by the rocks. My boat exited the rapid with some dents, dings and creases, but I still had the paddle in my hand. Jim was waiting and towed the canoe and me to shore. Jeff ran again and Jim donned his PFD, went to the top of the rapid and jumped in bareback! He was all smiles as he exited the bottom. “There ARE a few rocks in there, eh?” was all he said.

Worth followed in his Swift Raven. He was doing fine until the last haystack. It caught him sideways and he went over, losing his paddle. I was waiting below and fished it out. We got him and the canoe to shore. Big fun! After all this activity in the water we all did a leech check. I had several small ones and a BIG momma feeding on my leg. A sprinkle with salt made them quickly let go. Distance 17 meters.

Day 7, Saturday we came face to face with the infamous Greenhill Rapids. Hap Wilson`s guide book lists it a a real “Canoe Sematary” .Greenhill is almost 2 kilometers long and begins with a CIII 700 meter that is recommended run only by experts at medium-high water and with spray skirts. This is followed by a sharp right turn (Dogs Hind Leg) at “The Wall", a CII, sharp left turn and 2 CI pillow and gravel runs. The option is to line the right side rock garden on the CIII or take the difficult, boggy 1500 meter portage. We weren`t looking forward to either challenge.

Upon arriving at the entrance we could see only the top 300 meters and scouting was impossible. We were facing a large, low water frothing rock garden about 50-75 meters across. A thin route could be picked out on the right for the first 300 meters, from there it was anyone`s guess. Jim, who was the best paddler of the group, was picked to lead Worth, the least experienced, down. The plan was to eddy hop down to the Dogs Hind Leg. Jim made his preparations and shoved off but instead of stopping at the first or second eddy he just continued through to the wall at the Hind Leg 700 meters down. We saw him go over at least 2 ledges, all the time working left across the rock garden and getting hung up a few times.

Worth looked nervous but gamely followed. He bridged two rocks about halfway down and had to exit the canoe to get squared away. After a few anxious minutes we saw him join Jim at the Wall.

Jeff looked at me and said “You wanna go next?” I took this as a hint and said “Sure” with as much bravado as I could muster. The first 100 meters I went slow, working my back ferry, draws and prys to find a channel through and around the rocks. The sharp granite looked dangerous. Then all hell broke out. The river picked up speed and the way became confused as water found its path through more and more jumbled rocks. I was being forced out into the middle of the river, a place I really didn`t want to be. I caught a rock and found myself doing the run backwards to find an eddy. After getting turned back around I neared the first ledge. I was executing a ferocious back ferry trying to find a chute or crease to run. Then I saw the souse hole at the bottom..."Surely they didn`t go through there", I pulled right, to what looked like a small tongue around a black granite canoe eater.

Unfortunately, 15` canoes cannot be bent around corners and I got hung. Gingerly exiting I stood in the river on slippery rocks, defeated. By strenuous pushing, pulling, lining and wading, I eventually got over to a small channel where I could ride my canoe down to the Wall and join Worth, Jim and Jeff.

As I was pushing my boat I could see Jeff coming down. He too was drawn towards the middle of the river and there was a lot of banging and boofing against the rocks. I saw him grab the gunnels a few times. He slid over both ledges and into the souse holes, no problem. In no time we were all at the Wall, whooping it up, laughing, burning off nervous energy.

The next reach looked clearer so I led the way through. The CII had a deep channel and it was great fun dancing my canoe through the rocks. The 2 CI`s were just an exercise in route finding. Make a wrong move and you would have to walk. We all came through without wetting our feet, though I did a 360 spin after hitting a pillow rock. Everyone was high from knowing we had ridden the dreaded Greenhill.

Two more CIIs and three CI`s led us to Split Rock Falls. Jeff had been pushing to get to Thunder Falls today, another 8 kilometers distant. We lost time traversing Missinaibi Lake. Jeff wanted to make some distance to finish the trip so he could get back to work on time. As we neared the portage I could sense everyone was tired. I called a halt at Split Rock and we set camp at another spectacular site overlooking the falls. Distance, 20 kilometers.

At Split Rock the river funnels down through a cleft 100 meters deep and 500 meters long. The roar of rushing water is everywhere. We explored ledges down to the waters edge and saw potholes in the rock, some with the scouring stones still inside. An eddy cave offered hidden secrets, the changing patterns in the crashing water is mesmerizing. Sitting alone by the falls and thinking about all that water, gravity and time has done here in this canyon I was moved to tears.

That evening we had a group discussion. Jeff was concerned we wouldn`t get out by Saturday so he can drive home and be ready for work Monday morning. I look at the itinerary. If we forego our scheduled full rest day at Brunswick Lake we only have to do 20 kilometers a day maximum (most were under 20K) and still exit at Mattice by 12 noon Saturday. There is more discussion on even doing the Brunswick Portage. The portage is the historic route, used by Natives, Voyageurs, and Baymen. The site of New Brunswick House, a Hudson`s Bay Post is there. It`s shorter than staying with the Missinaibi and involves a 1500 meter carry to Brunswick Lake, paddle 25 kilometers up the lake, down the Brunswick River with 8 CI`s and a waterfall and rejoin the Missinaibi. The Missinaibi in this reach is slow and uninteresting. I want to go, I think Jim does too, I sense Jeff and Worth are reluctant. I call for a vote, majority rules. (Don`t know what to do in case of a tie). I won`t force anyone to do the portage if they don`t want to, but at this point we all have to stick together. On discussion, Jim calls for tabling the vote until we get to Brunswick Portage. So moved and the matter is dropped for the time being.

Sunday, Day 8 dawned with light rain. My tent is leaking. My “innie” plastic liner saved the sleeping bag from getting wet. I had sealed the fly before leaving but not the bathtub floor and resolved to work on it that evening. I rise early and rig a kitchen tarp so everyone can cook their breakfasts in comfort. After packing we completed the 350 meter portage and headed out.

Below Split Rock Falls is a small lake. I realized this lake is simply a large eddy pool for the falls above. There`s a small sand spit sticking up in the middle. It had several large driftwood logs on it. While waiting for the others to launch I circumnavigated the island. The sand is barely above the water. On one side a small colony of arrowroot plants have taken root, no grasses and no trees, yet. I wonder how long before grass grows there or the first trees? I thought someday this will be an island in the middle of this lake. How I`d like to camp there for a night. I know I will be long gone before that happens.

The 8 kilometer paddle down to Thunder Falls was slow water and the 180 meter portage starts near the pitch off. We carried to the other side and saw the best campsite on the river across the pool. It`s sandy, big enough for 25-30 tents, in white cedar with an outstanding view of Thunder Falls. I thought it would be nice to stay here a night and fish the falls. I said if we pass on the Brunswick Portage I want to stay here, have a rest day and fish the falls. Jim replied we don`t have the time for a rest day either way and must continue on whether we do the portage or not. He`s right, we continue on.

From Thunder the river continued it`s slow pace. Current is almost nonexistent for 15 kilometers. It`s a hot, overcast day. The cedars and pines close in on both sides. It felt claustrophobic. I tried the “Minnesota Switch” for an hour or so and quickly outdistanced the group. They were happy with lily dipping. Jim, as usual was fishing.

Later, when Worth caught up to me he says this portion of the river is getting to him. He has been looking at the reflections in the water (I call this the “Mirror world”) and can feel eyes watching him. We see a small break in the forest and stop to explore. It`s all trees, bush and bugs. We were quickly under attack by hordes of mosquitoes. A quick dash to river center saved us from being reluctant blood donors. We continued in hot, oppressive silence. At least we now know what sort of eyes are watching.

Arriving at the Brunswick Portage and it`s poor “bush camp” by late afternoon. I walked 100 meters up the trail to try and gauge it`s condition. Wide, dry and easy to follow. I returned to the river and the group was there. By now I have my mind made up. I started pulling my gear and canoe up the 5 meter muddy bank. Someone asked “what are you doing?” and I replied, “getting ready to set camp and get my canoe ready” .I heard,” Assuming we go to Brunswick Lake...” and my curt response was “assumptions, hell, there are no assumptions, I can`t take two more days of this slow moving current. I don`t care how long it takes, an hour, two or six, these boats are going over that hill!” That was the end of discussion, though there were some hard looks.

After setting up our tents Jim and I began the carry with our canoes. A long gradual climb through forest led to an open, high granite park like area. If you are going to Brunswick Lake this area we called “The Shield” would make a much better camp than the buggy bush at riverside. Descending the other side we saw more deep woods and lastly a boggy section We arrived at a marsh which led to a creek which emptied into Brunswick Lake. We could feel the cool breeze coming off the lake. It took about an hour or slightly more with 3-4 rest stops. Not too bad!

That evening everyone carried their canoes across in stages. That night Jeff asked me if all my trips were this tough. I said, “or tougher, unless I am beating myself up out here I don`t feel I have done anything. It`s in my psyche” We had a hot, rain soaked buggy bush camp that night. Distance, 25 kilometers not including the portage.

Day 9, Monday we rose early and after breakfast carried the rest of our gear across. Worth Donaldson was the first to get all his gear to the other side, thereby earning his nickname, “The Man” .By 8:50am the 1500 meter Brunswick Portage was completed. Jeff shook my hand, thanked me and said it “made him a man” and was “the toughest thing he had ever done.”

There was a short “bog push” through to the creek and then a 9 kilometer paddle up a narrow arm to Red Pine Island, our camp and rest stop for the day. We arrived at Red Pine by noon in wind and rain. I rigged the kitchen tarp and because there was a sharp NW wind Jeff added a windbreak with his new tarp. With the fire pit in front we were wilderness cozy.

Brunswick Lake has two fly-in fishing lodges so we saw a few motorboats and even a bush plane flying overhead. Red Pine Island camp is big and beautiful, set in the last stand of stately red pines on the route, this being the northern terminus of their range. The camp has some detonation due to the fishermen. We found a broken fold up camp chair, a useable fold up table, 5 gallon bucket (made in EVANSVILLE, IN!) a few beer cans, and assorted twist ties and cast offs. Too bad. We try to practice no trace camping and it`s a discouraging to see others do not.

That afternoon while Jim was again out fishing, the wind picked up and we experienced a mini “white squall” coming from the NW. Looking out over the lake we could see it coming down on us, just a wall of white. When it hit our camp everything was buffeted, we estimated gusts to 45mph. Tarps and tents held against the onslaught and we kept dry. We did wonder what had happened to Jim, and started casting lots for his gear and food. After a few hours he came in with a couple pike for supper! Seems he had been hiding on the lee side of islands, and having a ball.

That night the sunset was spectacular, with the sun playing on the racing broken storm clouds. We all shared our suppers and it was a wilderness smorgasbord, Jim`s fresh fish, my home dehydrated shepherds pie, Worth and Jeff with their Cache Lake pizzas. Distance, 9.5 kilometers.

Tuesday, Day 10 dawned partly cloudy and cold, cold, COLD. We had a quick fire to take the chill off, ate breakfast, broke camp and set off for the northern end of Brunswick Lake. Due to a strong N-NW wind we had to island hop to try and stay in the wind shadows. Once we gained the western shore we saw it was going to be a long day of paddling against the wind. We would duck behind a small bay for respite, then head out across open water to our next lee shore. On some of these crossings the waves were 1-2 feet high with whitecaps. Everyone handled the conditions with confidence, it`s amazing what a week in the wilderness will do for your abilities. That and knowing the only way out lay ahead!

We found a sheltered cove for lunch and while resting saw fresh bear footprints in the sand. A lone bruin had passed this way only hours before. How exciting!

It was a 15 kilometer paddle up Brunswick Lake and we fought the wind all the way. By early afternoon we arrived at the Brunswick River and began going down. The Brunswick is smaller than the Missinaibi, more like Sugar Creek here in Indiana. eventually we came to the first rapids. There are 8 sets of CI`s along the way. The channel was cleared long ago by Indians and Voyageurs to make way for their freighter canoes. It`s nice to see a deep channel with big rocks neatly piled on each side. I really got the feeling I was paddling in history. Our destination was a logging road bridge about 9 kilometers down the river. There are no set camps here and we hoped to “bush camp” on the shoulder of this road.

The rapids were easy and fun and I got ahead of the group as we ran them. On one I noticed a large wave at the bottom of the run. Not moving fast enough I hit it and found myself swimming next to my overturned canoe in the eddy pool below. There were several leeches on my canoe bottom and I began to flick them off as I was struggling to get the boat to shore. Jim, Jeff and Worth came down, they saw my predicament and helped get my boat righted and underway. Jim found my Zaveral paddle floating in the eddy. Everything else had been tied in.

Being late afternoon, wet and cold didn`t help my mental attitude. I began a quick paddle to search for the logging bridge. I set the coordinates in GPS earlier that afternoon and it updated me on the distance. One kilometer, 500 meters, 300 meters. The wind was against me and making me cold. 150 meters, 75, 50, another rapid to run, should I wait on the group? I kept going. Thirty , 10, where IS that bridge? Was the topo in error? Has the bridge been removed? I round a corner and see it crossing the river. A little scouting shows the best take out is on river left below the bridge. There is no trail, we make our own. There is a smell here, someone has dumped a carcass. The road is gravel and the shoulder is wide enough for several tents though there are no cleared tent pads. We are not the first to camp here, there`s an old fire ring. We had about one hour until sunset. I immediately began to dry my gear while the others set up their tents.

Though my food bag made it O.K., everything in my gear pack was in varying stages, damp, wet, or dripping. I hung what I could on an improvised clothesline and checked my most important Sealine “dry bag” .There I carry my wallet, assorted personal items, spare matches and the anti-rejection meds I take for my kidney transplant. I am shocked to find the meds are soaked in their daily dosage cases, just melted, puffed up chemical sponges. Oh, boy! What to do now? We still had four days to get out! Further hunting found my first week stash of two prescription bottles with some meds separated by cotton balls. These were my “extras", carried just in case we got delayed. I have 3 a.m. doses and 2 p.m. doses, dry and in good shape. How they made it through when everything else got wet is a miracle.

I consult with Worth, our wilderness Pharmacist, and upon consideration he recommends I take one of the chemical sponges this evening and use the rest of the meds to get out. I might have to miss a dose but will be in Mattice in time to get fresh meds from my stash in the car. I have missed a dose here and there in the past with no ill effect so I don`t feel overly concerned.

Jeff says we could power paddle out in two days but I reject that. I planned this trip for the past year and have no intention of rushing my exit. That evening everyone pitches in some food so I don`t have to cook and I bunk with Jim because my tent is saturated. Distance covered, 21 kilometers (probably more like 31 with all the wind hopping we did on Brunswick Lake).

Wednesday, Day 11 is bright and sunny. While preparing breakfast three pickup trucks and a tanker pass our camp, the only traffic all night. For some reason we all thought the tanker would fill up on water at the bridge. Swimming pools??? In this wilderness? To keep the dust down on the gravel roads might be a better assumption. But when it arrives we see it`s a petroleum tanker, fuel for the loggers.

I packed all my wet damp gear and choked down a chemical sponge hoping it contained no giardia. It`s a 5K paddle down to the confluence with the Missinaibi and a few more to our first rapid of the day. We liftover a small falls on the Brunswick and rejoin the Missinaibi River. Two Portages Falls was a CII 200 meter. The falls could be cheated by a short carry around and the bottom run with some strong ferrying and maneuvering. Worth and I opted for the 250 meter trail while Jeff decided to carry around and run the bottom empty. Jim ran the whole thing empty, including the Falls which were actually 2 short cascades.

Next came Pond Falls (CIII 150 meter) and a 200 meter portage which everyone carried. Then unrunable Devils Cap Falls (125 meter portage) and the 1.5 kilometer long CI-II technical Devils Shoepack Rapids. I was in no mood to chance my remaining meds so was considering the 590 meter portage trail when Jeff looked at me and said, “You can run this” .After carrying the falls and paddling down to the head I asked Worth what he wanted to do. He decided to chance a running so I joined in the fun. The kilometer and a half was just what I needed to get back in the “swing" .Lots of escape routes, sneaks and eddies to rest and reconnoiter. It was fun again! A small CI zig zag led us to our campsite for the evening, CII technical, Ledge Rapids. The 6 tent site had a cold water spring that was dripping enough for Jeff to filter a bottle of cool water. We spent an enjoyable evening fire watching, sharing food and contemplating the ledge run in the morning. Distance, a grueling 19 kilometers with lots of portages and rapid runs.

Day 12, Thursday everyone was up early and ready to go, only I was dragging my feet cooking pancakes over an open fire. Somehow I felt a rush was on. Someone wanted to be somewhere in a hurry. I tried to take my time and get into the “Zen” of breaking my camp down. I was last to push off. The ledge run was quick and fun. I started fishing with Jim and in no time snagged 2 smallmouth bass. Jeff had forged ahead but we would occasionally catch sight of him waiting in an eddy. The river ran with current over rocky shoals, only swifts all day.

It was great fishing, I caught 2 more walleye and a 28” Pike came out of less than 12 inches of water to take my lure. The Pike put up a ferocious battle and broke off as I tried to land him on shore. I watched as he swam off triumphantly with my last black and silver Rapalla hooked in his jaw.

We stopped for lunch on a granite outcropping where Jim had a fire going. I quickly filleted my catch and all had tasty grilled fish for lunch. Here I noticed my canoe had at least 8 gallons of water in the rear and saw the painter hole had sprung a leak. Too much rough handling on the portages I guess. I tied the line to the carrying thwart and put duct tape over the holes. That should get me out.

After lunch we approached “Z” Drag Rapids, a CII 50 meter run. As I was setting up, my fishing rod fell overboard. I tried to catch it but could only watch as it sank to the bottom and caught on some rocks. Jim had a rod put together from pieces found along the way, I had a spare reel in my pack. Together they made the “Missinaibi Special” .Blue and stout in the butt, green, long and limber in the tip, that rod is over 6 ft long, but I caught fish with it, carried it out and it is in my garage today.

We drifted apart with Jeff and Jim in the lead. The river curved and I found myself alone. I rigged a sail to try and catch up with the rest of the crew but they were too far ahead. We planned on camping somewhere around Albany Rapids, a CI, one kilometer rock garden with boulders the size of Volkswagens. Although there was no camp marked there I hoped we could find something.

Approaching Albany I noticed a paddle flash on river left and supposed they had waited for me. When I got there Worth came out of an eddy and asked if I knew the way through. Jeff and Jim had pulled ahead and left him behind! Together we negotiated Upper Albany. It was fun twisting, turning and trying not to get hung up. We met the others in the middle, between Upper and Lower Albany.

Jim said Jeff had found a camp and on inspection I saw it had not been used this year. Rock shelves by the river for cooking and room for our tents in the forest. We would have to trample the weeds down for tent pads but it would do for the night. Jeff didn`t like the site and wanted to push on to Big Beaver Rapids, another 9 kilometers. I felt this would upset the schedule as we had planned a last camp at Glassy Falls 13 kilometers from Mattice. If we paddled to Big Beaver it was only 7K to Glassy. Who camps after a 7K paddle? The paddle from Big Beaver Rapids to Mattice would be 25 kilometers, a long day. I asked Jeff if he wanted to get out tomorrow but he didn`t give me an answer. Then it became clear. Jeff was always the first one ready to go in the morning. Since before Red Pine Island camp there was a push to cover more and more distance each day. It no longer was just a wilderness paddle, it was a race to get out early.

Jeff and I are friends, we have paddled together for three years. It`s his nature is to rush ahead to finish a route. It`s mine to linger. I actually slow down towards the end to prolong the pleasure. What to do? A compromise. Since Jim drove up with Jeff and seemed open to leave a day early Worth and I would paddle to Big Beaver with them, but we would camp at Glassy Falls and exit on Saturday as planned. They could go on ahead. It was an uneasy compromise.

Lower Albany Rapids were tougher than Upper. Rock gardens were interspersed with chutes. Jim ran the last CIII chute which had a big rock at the end. No dodging this one, he ran right up on it, jumped out, cleared his canoe around the rock, and jumped back in. That guy can paddle! Worth, Jeff and I took the old mans route and lined the right hand side of the river.

At Big Beaver Rapids we found the 450 meter portage around this CIV chute. The river runs down through another cleft in the rock for 600 meters going over 2 short falls. The rock here is fractured and lying in big heaps. It`s a run impossible to contemplate. The big campsite at the end of the portage was taken. Jim and I were stuck with spreading our tents along the portage trail on pads stamped out of the bush. Worth and Jeff set up in a small sandy clearing in the trees. A central area on rock shelves became our kitchen.

I walked around checking out the site. Jeff said the portage had a big hill to climb and several more elevation changes. My map marked an alternate route closer to the river. I found this low road overgrown with brush but negotiable. It was flat and had a few downed trees. In one spot you would have to carry across a large flat stone “walkway” for 15 meters with a pitch off the cliff to the right. In no time I arrived at the other end and met our neighbors. They were a group of three whitewater hotdoggers and two Indians. I assumed the Indians were guiding the youngsters down the river. I introduced myself and we exchanged route information. They had put in at Missinaibi Lake before we crossed. I was introduced to the elder Indian, a 78 year old named Fletcher. Fletcher has paddled the Missinaibi three times in the past five years. I shook his hand and told him it was an honor to meet him. He just smiled and said” I like this river” .Hope I will be going as strong when I`m 78.

That evening Worth and I decided to carry the low portage in the morning. We combined our resources and shared dinner, not much else was said. It was an uneasy camp.

Friday, Day 13. It started raining during the night, and kept raining while we got packed. A cold, steady drizzle that makes getting up and out of your snug sleeping bag a dismal chore. Everything I had was damp or wet. I put on damp clothes and my wet rain suit (which I had inadvertently left out in the rain). Jeff and Jim were already packed and had most of their gear across the portage while I was taking down my tent. Worth and I made our first carry of packs across and Jim took a group picture. We shook hands and I thanked him for coming along and being such a great help. The Break, Parting of the Ways, The Split, sometimes bodes ill for a wilderness expedition, but we were close enough to Mattice and I knew Jim would watch out for Jeff.

“I hope there are no hard feelings", Jeff said to me. I replied, “No man, it`s just your nature” and we left it at that.

Worth and I took another hour to get ready and we started out. Next, Little Beaver Rapids are a 200 meter CII tech with a 70 meter portage. We were undecided whether to take a chance but upon inspection I thought we could make it. There were a few tense moments when I got hung on a rock but otherwise the run was clean, with a few nice stacks at the bottom.

Next came Sharp Rock Rapids, a short CIV falls through broken, fragmented rock. No choice here, we double carried the canoes and gear over the sharp rocks on the 65 meter portage. We saw lots or royalex scrapes on the rock here.

The 7 kilometers to Glassy Falls passed quickly. Once there it was still raining so I rigged the kitchen tarp. I thought there was a small break in the clouds and predicted sun in the afternoon. We set our tents under some trees and changed into dry clothes, such as they were. Worth found two discarded office chairs in the bush. We brought them to our camp. There is a road to Glassy Falls and we saw a lot of pieces of “civilization” lying around.

Before long the rain had stopped and within an hour the sun was blazing down on us. A drying line was hung between two trees and we spent a couple hours washing out all our clothes. We each swam in the river and explored the huge sandy beach that lies at the bottom of Glassy Falls. The surrounding granite shows signs of glaciation, smooth as a pancake in spots with parallel scratches all in one direction. It is an amazing site.

We pigged out on leftover food and believe me there was plenty. Upon returning to Indy I found enough in my stuff bags for another weeks journey! That evening we had a big bonfire to celebrate the end of the trip. Distance, 7 kilometers.

Last day Saturday, Day 14. Morning dawned bright and sunny and after a breakfast of oatmeal and coffee with tortillas and jerky we loaded up and started on the last paddle of the expedition. We left Glassy Falls at 9:30am. I set the GPS to read off the distance to Mattice, 13.6 kilometers. It was an easy paddle with only a few swifts to break up the monotony. The river had grown wide here, about the size of the Wabash in Indiana, and flowed steadily.

Nearing Mattice we started to see some houses and cottages on the riverbanks. About one kilometer outside of town is an old Cree burial site. We climbed the hill to pay our respects. The cemetery had a lot of wind damage with trees down in several places. It looked like someone had begun work clearing because a neat stack of firewood was in one corner. Most all the graves were from the early 20th century, and many were children. I noticed one grave that held twin boys who evidently died in childbirth. It is a hard life up here in the North woods. From the cemetery we had a great view of the river passing by below.

In no time we paddled under the train and Highway 11 bridges and landed at Mattice Community Park which has free campsites and showers for canoeists. We were right on time, 12:28 p.m. on Saturday, July 27th. We met a group of 4 canoes (three ladies, five guys, Canadians all) who were headed down the river to James Bay. One of the guys I have indirectly “met” on the CanadianCanoeRoutes bulletin board. Theirs will be a tough trip, maybe tougher than ours seeing as how there are two portages over a mile and a half long down there. I hope to finish that route someday, paddle all the way to Moosonee an the James Bay. You take a train, The “Little Bear” back. It hauls a special canoe car with racks for your boats.

I walked up the hill into town and called the Korpelas, within 15 minutes Denyce Korpela arrived with a van to take us to the car. I waited with the gear while Worth made the trip to their outpost. Denyce followed Worth back to the Park to insure he knew the way. We all chatted about the trip and she made sure to invite us back. What great people! After a quick shower in the Community House we had lunch at Cafe Dedou in Mattice. The French Canadian waitress brought the Paddlers Log and we had some fun reading all the posts and entering our own. We Hoosier hillbillies tried a new dish there, “Poutine Quebecouise”, French fries with cheese curds and brown gravy. Strange? Yes, but tasty! That and a double cheeseburger hit the spot. It was a strange feeling, sitting in the small cafe surrounded by French speaking patrons. After lunch we headed for the Soo, a motel and a hearty steak dinner. After a good nights sleep Worth and I returned to Indy, arriving at 9:00pm Sunday night. Our Missinaibi trip had been a success!

Here is more about `The Crew` and their thoughts on the adventure:

Jim Kendall, `The Principal`. Paddler and Fisherman Supreme. Jim`s quiet enthusiasm was a great help during this trip. He never complained, worked hard, led the toughest rapids and windy crossings, fished everyday, and SHARED HIS CATCH. You won`t starve with Jim along.

“Discovery was the key word for this incredible adventure. Though we did not pretend to make any original historical or natural discoveries, we did experience wonderfully rich and various aspects of this amazing survival quest. The Missinaibi River corridor challenges seasoned wilderness trippers to apply their skills efficiently and successfully. I enjoyed every paddle stroke of this trip, and I appreciate the efforts of Jose in planning and arranging the itinerary. In addition to the discoveries associated with our Missinaibi River expedition, I discovered three hardy canoeing companions with whom I had the pleasure of paddling for two weeks. We learned from each other in many ways ranging from paddling techniques and being willing to attempt daunting rapids in the heart of a vast wilderness to enjoying new campfire cuisine as we shared the daily supper buffet. It was the most difficult as well as rewarding trip I have experienced, and I would go again in a heartbeat! Anyone want some walleye tonight?”

Jeff Kuhn, `Three Carry Kuhn`, as his load got lighter he joined the two carry club. Though Jeff has been on multi-day trips before, this was his first serious expedition. He met the challenges with cautious, dogged determination. At first hesitant, he quickly became “expert” in windy lake crossings and wilderness rapids. His stash of delicious Cache Lake dehydrated foods was a delight. Always something different to eat!

“The most surprising thing to me was how I felt stronger as the days went by. Initially I was full of self-doubt as to my ability to cope with the challenges. I was exhausted after the portages, and woke daily to a stiff and sore body. I was apprehensive about running the rapids...the biggest I had encountered in all my years of paddling. Losing the boat or the gear that far from rescue would have been catastrophic. But as time went on I felt more confident in my abilities. I felt a renewal of my strength. The portages became less draining (and not just because the food pack was getting lighter), and my paddling confidence increased with each successful run through the whitewater. At the end of the journey I felt a real sense of accomplishment. I was stronger, more confident, and proud of what I had done. Not just anyone could have done what we did. That to me was the best part of the trip.”

Worth Donaldson, `The Man`, wilderness Pharmacist. Being first across the Brunswick Portage was no small feat. Worth trained last spring by hiking around his neighborhood with a 40 pound bag of rock salt in his pack, later increasing it to 80. His neighbors called him `The Culligan Man`, his wife called him crazy. Worth carried lots of good homemade meals and desserts in his bag of goodies. His paddling skills increased exponentially during this trip. Put yourself in his place on the Missinaibi:

With some trepidation, I agreed to paddle the Missinaibi. My wife and friends kept asking me to quit before I even left. Our first child is only 3 months old. I just started a new job. I severely twisted my back. My absent father lay dying in a hospital bed. These were my excuses; however, I had good reason to go. I needed to clear my head and re-evaluate what is important and what I want out of life with no distractions. Life has brought many changes and my path is unclear.

In honor of my father, I would ask the spirits to guide him to the after-life and request safe passage for our small group with an offering of rum and tobacco at Fairy Point on Lake Missinaibi. Fairy Point is a sacred place. Over 100 red and white paintings can be seen on the 100-foot cliff painted 2,000 years ago by Black Duck shamans. Alone, I paddled the 1-mile crossing on mirrored waters to marvel at the pictographs and contemplate their meanings late in the evening. In my rush I forgot to remove my bottle of rum and tobacco from the food pack hanging in the tree. I told the spirits I would return with my offering tomorrow. After a few snap shots I hastily retreated to camp as twilight approached.

The following morning we found our crossing to be choppy. Due to the three long bays that converge onto Fairy Point this area can become quite dangerous with large waves. There have been several drownings where the waves smash against the cliff face and create serious cross-chop that is difficult to paddle in moderate or high winds. With some apprehension we paddled out into the crossing. I lagged behind and felt the wind beginning to blow. The waves were building and everyone made it safely across except Jim and I. I began to lose sight of Jim`s canoe in the waves. I told myself, “White man, keep your promise to the Indian spirits or suffer their wrath” .Fairy Point was too dangerous to get close today. Upwind from the point and near the safety of a bay I pried the cap off the rum bottle using my mouth and skidded the waves. There was no time for a toast. I said a prayer and dumped the rum into the lake. I could no longer see Jim and realize I have drifted towards the cliff. Looking over my shoulder the cliff was approaching fast. I needed to get out of there. I was near the waves being reflected off the cliff face. Tearing the tobacco bag in half I threw its contents over my shoulder while madly paddling towards safety. Throughout the day I wonder if I had appeased Mishipeshu and the rock people. The wind continued to blow. We sailed our canoes using our shirts and hit speeds of 5-½ mph. Eventually Hoz and I became wind bound on a narrow rocky shoreline for several hours.

Days later approaching the Brunswick 1-mile portage we found the Missinaibi to be somewhat mystical. Not a sound was coming from the wooded shoreline. Dead cedars hung over the river like outstretched arms. There was no wind. The sky was void of clouds. It was hot. Yet, there was a slight mist rising from the water. We were being watched. I could see them moving amongst the trees in my peripheral vision. When I turned my head for a better view they would jump behind the trees. I started to watch the reflections in the water. I was seeing another would and it was speaking to me, calling to me. I was one with the canoe. I felt peaceful and also euphoric. Hoz paddled up and asked me what I was thinking. "Shhh, we are being watched", I said. He refused to watch and listen to the reflections for fear of falling into the water. After returning home I learned my dad died that day. Was it his spirit visiting? Was it Mishipeshu toying with me? Was I having a white man`s vision quest? Who knows? However, I do have a photograph showing the mist rising in an unusual stretch of river that afternoon.

If I were to do one thing different I would take more time on the route. I `d like to spend a few more days fishing and exploring, instead of just traveling. Brunswick Lake deserves more than a quick pass through. Some of the tributary rivers could be explored upstream, and someday I`d still like to camp on that sand spit island at the bottom of Split Rock Falls…

Thanks to Kevin Callan and Hap Wilson for the inspiration. To Richard Munn of CanadianCanoeRoutes.com for providing a forum where I could exchange information with other paddlers. To Jim, Jeff and Worth for joining me in this adventure.

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
42 C/8 Franz 42 B/5 Missinaibi Lake 42 B/6 Makonie Lake 42 B/11 Peterbell 42 B/14 Ericson Creek 42 G/3 Opasatika Lake 42 G/6 Rock Lake 42 G/11 Mattice
Special Comments: 

For a key plan showing topo maps required for the entire Missinaibi River route, click here


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


when you arrive in moose river crossing please pay respects to the ancestors at the ancestrial burial gound located on the east bank of the river on the village side