Mississagi River - Biscotasing to Aubrey Falls

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Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Admin
Trip Date : 
Route Author: 
Unknown
Additional Route Information
Distance: 
177 km
Duration: 
7 days
Loop Trip: 
No
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
27
Total Portage Distance: 
7340 m
Longest Portage: 
1000 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Advanced
Lake Travel: 
Advanced
Portaging: 
Moderate
Remoteness: 
Intermediate
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Technical Guide: 

Access to put-in at Biscotasing
By CPR Rail or by road (Hwy 144 north of Sudbury then Sultan-Ramsey Public Access Road)
South through Biscotasi Lake
P 70 m L around dam to Boyuk Bay
South through Boyuk Bay
West through Southern Bay
Northwest through Ramsey Lake
West on Spanish River
P 500 m L around rapids
Liftover at rapids just before Spanish Lake
South through Spanish Lake
P 150 m L around dam
South through Bardney Lake
P 430 m to Sulfur Lake (crosses height of land between watersheds)
Across Sulfur Lake
P 200 m to River
P 1000 m to small pothole
P 90 m to small pothole
P 90 m to Mississagi Lake
South through Mississagi Lake
South through Upper Green Lake
P 90 m L around rapids to Kashbogama Lake
p 300 m to Shangush Lake
P 30 m L around rapids into Mississagi River
South through Limit Lake
P 60 m L around rapids
P 60 m R around rapids
P 20 m around rapids
South through Upper Bark lake
P 500 m to small lake
P 100 m into Bark Lake
Road access to Bark Lake - alternate start / finish point)
Northwest on Mississagi River
P 160 m L around rapids
West on Mississagi River including:
P 70 m L around rapid
P 160 m L around rapid
P 60 m around Split Rock Rapids
P 680 m around Hellgate Rapids
P 180 m R around rapids
P 100 m L around rapids
P 510 m L around two sets of rapids
Northwest on Mississagi River
West then southwest through Rocky Island Lake
P 720 m L around dam
North to Aubrey Falls
P 1000 m between 2 dams before log boom
Finish at Aubrey Falls
Access to take-out via. Hwy 129 north of Thessalon

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

This trip log is a reprint of an article from Autumn 2000 Vol. 27 No. 3 of "Nastawgan - The Quarterly Journal of the Wilderness Canoe Association"

Copyright © 2000, Mark Robinson and the Wilderness Canoe Association

THE MAGNIFICENT MISSISSAGI

by Mark Robinson

The summer of 1999 had been a busy one and we were in need of some rejuvenation of our spirits. The perfect prescription was, of course, a wilderness canoe trip. I`m a dairy farmer from southern Ontario and my wife, Wendy, is an office administrator for a propane company. Our third partner on the August trip was Buddy, an Australian Shepherd puppy. We picked the Mississagi River because it`s a good week`s paddle and reasonably un-roaded, unpopulated, and uncrowded. The "Lands for Life" process had just added some acreage to Mississagi River Provincial Park and we were hoping to see lots of pine and some old-growth areas.

We left Friday evening after work and drove all night to meet our shuttle at Aubrey Falls Trading Post, north of Thessalon. We then headed up Hwy. 129 towards Chapleau with three of us, Bud, our gear, and our Royalex Dumoine all loaded in and on our Honda Civic. From the Sultan road we saw the devastation our consumptive habits are inflicting on our beautiful northern forests. Most people could never imagine the devastation and fewer could understand its disastrous consequences to the forest`s natural ecosystems. They never see it and don`t think it affects them. Maybe they don`t care or they would make it a major issue at election time. We have no shame or conscience and this makes my heart ache.

Turning south from Ramsey we missed our planned put-in at Spanish Chutes where the Spanish River runs into Abney Lake, driving about 60 km too far south before turning back. This region had all been logged by E. B. Eddy and the wood trucked to the mill in Espanola. Most of the area was clear cut, a very disturbing sight. When we finally got in the water at our starting point, we`d been 22 hours getting there.

A short paddle up the river brought us to our first portage (500 m) into Spanish Lake and we realized the water levels were very low. The water was clean but tea colored. We saw a pair of osprey. There is a chain of islands that crosses Spanish Lake and a big black bear was swimming from island to island checking out all the camp sites for leftovers. We could have paddled quite close to the animal but didn`t want to disturb him. He didn`t seem afraid of us. Bud woke up and let out a few woofs. I think he thought he was a big Rottweiler and was going to eat the bear.

After a short portage over the dam into Bardney Lake, we started looking for a campsite. At the dam it was kind of messy from fishermen leftovers, but after paddling out of the bay the lake became much prettier than Spanish Lake and with clearer water. The shorelines were covered in jack pine and a lot of aspen, evidence of forest fire history. There had been no frosts yet, so the forests were still very green. We found only one campsite and it was well used by fishermen. Eventually we camped on a rock ledge on the western shore overlooking the lake, surrounded by jack pine. A pair of osprey circled and fished the north end of Bardney Lake. After a quick supper and swim we hit the sack and slept well.
Next morning, we had a northern tailwind and surfed down the lake to the 450-m portage into Sulphur Lake. There we found a log book dating back to 1992. Among the entries was one by Gary and Joannie McGuffin with Kalija when they were doing their `Ancient Forest Trail` trip. Another guy wrote he had caught a 16-kg northern monster in Bardney. We always have that relieved feeling of `getting out and away` when we`re surfing along in our canoe and viewing some of the most beautiful scenery anywhere. Spectacular!

Across Sulphur is a 200-m portage down the creek bed into Surprise Lake and then a 1000-m one into Circle Lake. The trail is good, well travelled and dry, just a couple of short hills. From Circle Lake there`s a 90-m carry into a small unnamed lake and another 90-m one into Mississagi Lake. We were now in the Mississagi River watershed, all downhill from here. On these portages there was absolutely no sign of moose. Lots of bear scat filled with berries, but no moose. The little streams were practically bone dry.

Immediately, we noticed the huge pines as we paddled down Mississagi Lake. Big reds on the north and east shores and then white pine further south. This was why we were here, fabulous! We could also see hills in the distance that had been logged in the past and burn areas regrown with jack pine. This is a very pretty lake. The Misssissagi River enters the lake from the west draining from White Owl Lake. I wish we had paddled into White Owl but we realize that even on wilderness trips we never take enough time to do such things. Next trip! There was an aluminum boat at the portage, probably from a fly-in camp on White Owl. We cruised down Mississagi Lake and near the south end a huge bald eagle flew up from a point near a bunch of gulls. We also saw a second one, landing in a big pine. Magnificent birds, dark with white head and tail. That encounter made the day`s efforts more than worthwhile.

The river narrows down and where it enters Upper Green Lake it swings to the east behind a big sand spit. A modern lodge is built here on or near the site of an old North West Company post. This Mississagi Lodge is nice and neat with several cabins along the sand spit. It has a stone chimney and moose antlers are nailed over the front door. There was smoke coming from the chimney but we were afraid if we stopped for a visit we`d drink all their rum. We paddled around the point and found a campsite where the old fire ranger cabin had burnt below the fire tower on Upper Green`s east shore. This is a beautiful campsite with lots of pine and a good view of the lake and the western sunset. The waters in the Upper Mississagi River watershed are crystal clear and cold, great for a refreshing swim. This campsite offered us a great spot to sit around the fire and think about what it might have been like years past for trappers, fire rangers, and native people in this beautiful country. Grey Owl`s "men of the last frontier."

Next morning we had a hearty breakfast and bushwhacked our way up to the fire tower. It`s a steel tower with 1957 etched in the cement and it gives a grand view of the surrounding country and lakes. A bush plane flew up from White Owl Lake. Probably there are outfitter cabins all over the place. This is superb northern pike country, a favorite of American fishermen. On our return to our campsite we realized the old ranger cabin was surrounded by the refuse of years of canned goods and cabin life.

We packed up and headed down Upper Green Lake to the short portage into Kashbogama Lake. Another aluminum boat was at the portage and you could see a camp directly across the lake. The river flows out of Kashbogama to the south and the portage is from the bay east of the river mouth. It`s a good 300 m into the river and a short paddle into Shanguish Lake. This is a beautiful, rocky lake with many good campsites and lots of jack pine and some red and white pine. All the lakes look like great pike lakes. I had brought my fishing gear but we had sufficient food and not enough time to do everything.

At the south end of Shanguish, the river empties through a nearly dry rapid. Our possibilities for running whitewater on this trip were not looking so good! A 30-m carry leads to a small pond and a view of the only bridge crossing the river above Aubrey Falls. The Mississagi then widens into Limit Lake. We saw more large pine as we headed south. A 60-m carry brought us to Kettle Lake, another beautiful lake with rocky shorelines and lots of jack pine. These shorelines reminded me of country much farther north. We camped on the rocks on a little island near the south end of the lake. We relaxed that evening, doing some gear repairs around the fire, watching a colorful sunset.

On my farm I usually get up at 4:30 a.m. seven days a week and the habit is hard to break. It`s a special time of day. This early morning on Kettle Lake was magical. There was a heavy fog that faded and thickened and drifted around, giving us glimpses of the surroundings but never allowing us to see the whole scene. All the while a glowing orange-pink sunrise added to the drama. Loons called in the distance, announcing the morning like boreal roosters. A family swam within metres of our shoreline with a veil of mist behind them. Gorgeous mornings, my favorite time of day.

With breakfast done and things packed up we headed down the river where it enters Upper Bark Lake. There is a couple of little portages into the lake. The pollen line was half a metre or so above the water level and the abundant beaver houses were high out of the water. Curiously, almost all houses lacked feed beds or the feed beds were old and uneaten. A lot of beaver that were here are now gone.

Upper Bark Lake is beautiful with towering white pine everywhere. There was a marked campsite on the western shore occupied by canoes and tents, the first sign we ha seen of other canoeists. The wind was in our face again making for good exercise. The narrows leading into the south section of Upper Bark was shallow, so we had o line through it. I don`t think it`s even supposed to be swift or rapid. We stopped for lunch, pondering what the anticipated rapids on the river section of our trip might have in store for us. As we sat munching on gore and sausage, two guys came up in an aluminum boat, trying to ascend the shallows with the help of their motor. I go in the water and towed them up with the bowline. They were all dressed in camo, possibly bear hunting.

We had planned to take the portage straight across the lake that goes past an old cabin of Grey Owl`s and then into Bark Lake. But we decided to paddle around, following the river and adding 15-20 km to our trip. This section is very scenic with lots of pine. The forests of the interior of this loop we made are supposed to be protected now For how long we can only guess. We paddled nearly a full circle and a strong wind blew in our faces from ever direction we faced. Our Royalex boat is much more sluggish loaded compared to our Kevlar Kipawa. Bark Lake in big and long, draining to the south into River Aux Sable and westerly into the Mississagi.

Grey Owl`s cabin is on the north shore of Bark Lake where the Mississagi drains from the lake. Two portage (100 m and 500 m) behind the cabin lead to Upper Bark Lake as the alternate route. We paddled to the dock and an old fella came out to meet us. He and his two grand sons and son-in-law had been flown in by Frontenac Outfitters from north of Blind River. A couple o Americans were fishing from the other cabin; they had caught 95 pike in three days. The old guy offered us coke food, and all sorts of stuff but we didn`t need anything. He didn`t have to twist an arm too hard for a cold beer though. He apologized for it being light beer but that was just fine with us. Archie Belaney (Grey Owl) and his partner William Draper had carved their names in one cabin when they were patrolling as fire rangers in 1914, but this cabin is now locked and used as a supply shed by the outfitters. We were pretty disappointed, expecting that it would have been preserved somehow as a historic site.

We continued downriver to the first marked campsite amongst tall red pines. That evening, someone shot off 50-75 rounds from a heavy handgun, near the cabins. The target was set up facing down the portage trail. Bud was totally terrified. The Mississagi runs northwest 5-6 km, then takes a 90 degree turn to the left and runs 5-6 km southwest; it is between 25 and 100 m wide. The shores are flat and lined with predominately jack pine and some red and white pine. The river then swings back to the west and becomes more varied with small swifts and riffles, some of which needed lining because of the low water level. We saw our first sandhill cranes in a small marsh. We swung south of southwest and started into more whitewater but still had to line and wade a lot. In warm water this is fun too, but it doesn`t compare to the exhilaration of good whitewater. The country here is awesome, with sandy, jack pine-lined banks and rocky outcrops at the rapids.

We decided to spend the night at the Hellgate Rapids portage, which bypasses a spectacular canyon with three or four tough drops, a crooked gnarly waterfall, followed by a 9-m drop and steep rocky banks on both sides of the river. This is a "must" portage at any water level. It would be awesome to see the fall in spring flow. We had a refreshing swim and a nice fire. Our entertainment for the evening was a little aurora borealis display.

We awoke to a magical misty morning and headed across the 1200-m portage. Below the canyon we paddled through more beautiful country. We only portaged a couple of times but lined and waded a lot. The water was still nice, clear, and cold despite low levels. A bush road coming off Hwy. 546 accesses the river from the south and we began to see many tree stands and tent sites from moose hunters, but there was still no moose to be found. The Mississagi carves itself to the northwest into a huge lowland marsh where it twist and turns on itself for miles forming oxbows and dead ends. We saw a few more sandhill cranes and some waterfowl but not nearly as many as would be expected in this habitat. We became more aware of the lack of wildlife and signs of wildlife as the trip progressed. There was absolutely no recent sign of moose in this country that was ideal for them. I had hoped to hear wolves in the evening, but the forest was just too damn quiet. We didn`t even hear warblers or songbirds in the woods. Something appeared wrong.

This section of the river was sandy but turned muckier as we passed the mouth of the Abinette Rive Unfortunately, our schedule did not permit us to paddle up that river.

The Mississagi splits 6--7 km below the mouth of the Abinette. We took the right fork but soon ran out of water, backtracked, and then headed down the longer left for We lined a few rapids and camped at a rapid before the big marsh, pitching our tent on the rocks. The marsh w; 3-5 m above the water level and was bone dry, with snails, clams, and minnows laying dead on the hard pay We had a nice fire on the rocks and hung our food pack in a tree a few hundred metres downstream.

At 4:00 a.m., Bud awoke us barking. I tried to focus out the tent door with my groggy eyes while Wendy tried to relax Bud. Looking at our tent door was a big black fella, swinging his head back and forth, wondering what the heck we were doing there. I just said to Wendy, "there`s a bear," and that was enough to send the visitor crashing through the brush, away from us. Needless to say, we weren`t going back to sleep so we started our biggest campfire yet. Bud went back to sleep.

The next day we headed downriver through this big marsh that was high and dry above where we could see. The river was gradually widening and the water becoming darker and considerably warmer as we neared Rocky Island Lake. At the entry to the lake was one last swift. The water line on the granite outcrops of the shoreline was seven vertical metres above the lake. The shorelines are marsh and mudflats and the shallows all pine stumps from the pre-dam era. Rocky Island Lake is a huge reservoir of water to power the hydro turbines at Aubrey Falls during the summer, making Rocky Island Lake a pretty sad sight in late summer.

As we stroked down Rocky Island Lake, I tried to imagine the beauty of the scene before us as it must have been years ago. Rocky hills surrounding a valley with the mighty Mississagi flowing cold and clear through a river bed enveloped by monster pine and enriched by scattered small marshes and mini-deltas. Now the pines are gone and the water level in that zone fluctuates up and down some seven-odd metres. If the lake stayed at the high water level it would appear very beautiful, but the most important wildlife habitat is under water at fluctuating levels depending on our air conditioning requirements.

On an exposed mudflat a flock of sandhills picked a meal. We pulled over to get a picture and to our surprise Bud took off after them, sending the birds bugling into the air. We camped on an island above the dam holding back Rock Island Lake.
Our last day on the Mississagi we had a good swim but it wasn`t quite as refreshing as upriver. Two guys in homemade stitch and glue kayaks paddled by. They were here last summer too and said the water was the same then. We portaged around the dam into Aubrey Lake. There are campgrounds on Aubrey so the water levels are kept stable at the expense of Rocky Island. Aubrey is a beautiful lake surrounded by rocky hills but the water quality has suffered.

As we crossed the lake, another bald eagle lifted off from a big dead pine and soared up and up on the wind. This was one last treat before we ended our trip at Aubrey Falls dam. We loaded up, had a swim, and hiked down to seethe falls before we left.

Another trip in high water would be fantastic, but I`ll always wonder what spectacular sites we`d see paddling the Mississagi in Grey Owl`s days before it was dammed and the headwaters clear cut. It seems we come home with similar questions after most trips into what is left of the wilderness.

Mississagi Trip From Spanish Chutes to Aubrey Falls (Peshu Lake Road)
Aug. 7 - 13, 2005
By John Reipas jreipas@hotmail.com

I wanted to keep a log of my trip and add it to this website because I found the description of the trip made by Mark Robinson to be really helpfull in planning my trip and hopefully adding my journal of the trip will be helpful for others also. Just a couple of notes before I add my journal. My put-in for the trip was Spanish Chutes not Bisotasing. My exact put-out was Peshu Lake Road in Aubrey Falls Provincial Park. This road is at the north end of Aubrey Lake. I put out there and not Aubrey Falls Dam because the portage there is pretty tough and quite honestly when I scouted out the portage before the trip, I couldn't find the whole trail. Another good put-out is Rocky Island Lake Dam. The totaly distance of my trip was 187 km. I have a mapping program called SoftMap that shows all the topos for Northern Ontario. I traced the exact route we took including the many twists and turns of the river from Spanish Chutes to Peshu Lake Road. I thought this would be more of an accurate way to tell the distance rather than just estimating the distance using the map grid. The trip was taken by myself and another experienced canoeist, David Klink.

Day 1
We got at the put in at around 10:15am. We were canoeing by 10:45. The first portage is 500m and pourly maintained. That led into Spanish L. We saw a couple that where fishing here in a motor boat. They were from Sudbury. We did some fishing that day but didn't catch anything till the evening. We had some strong head winds and it was really hot also. Only went about 13km that day. We found a really nice camp site in the middle of Bardney L. on an island. It was a nice place to swim around and the camp site was really clean. We caught some fish that night (walleye & pike). The stars where amazing.

Day 2
We ate the fish that we caught last night for breakfast. They were delicious. We canoed through Bardney L. and hit the portage into Sulphur. Its a tough portage uphill (500m). I could tell that this portage was really old. Just guessing, I would say its 200+ years old. It was built up and the trees that had blazes were really old. There are 4 portages around here really close to eachother and the one from Surprise L. into an unnamed lake is really long (1000m) and pourly maintained. Here we passed a group of 12 who where with Outbound Canada. They had huge aluminum Grumman canoes that must of weighed a tone. I saw 3 guys carrying one...haha...crazy. It was hot that day and we were tired from the 4 portages plus we wanted to fish in the evening so we only did about 13 km that day. We camped at Mississagi L. at the first campsite we saw. It was a really huge campsite and pretty clean. Went fishing that night and caught just 1 Pike.

Day 3
The day began with a sudden realization that we had only paddled 26 km the first 2 days and we had to pick up the pace if we were going to make our put out time. We paddled all the way from our campsite on Mississagi L. to the beginning of Upper Bark L. This is where we should have planned the trip better. We zoomed through some really nice lakes. We didn't even take the time to climb the tower on Upper Green L. I also wanted to fish the lake too. We should have paddled more the first 2 days and spent the night on Upper Green. That day, we also noticed a bridge crossing the river between Shanguish L. and Limit L. I later looked at the maps when I got home and noticed that the road links up with the same road that we got off at Spanish Chutes. A possible put-in/put-out point? But, I'm not sure of the condition of the road or even if you can access the road. We paddled a total of 32 km that day.

Day 4
The 4th day was another tough paddle. We started on Upper Bark and camped at the Hellgate Rapids. The water level was really low so we had to line and portage a lot of spots. Of course, you can't run the H
ellgate rapids and that portage is pretty tough. We checked out Grey Owl's old cabin on Bark Lake (we took the shortcut from Upper Bark to Bark L). The portages through the short cut are pretty good maintenance wise. As we were checking out Grey Owl's cabin, the owner of the fishing/hunting camp that Grey Owl's cabin is located on, came flying in on his plane. We talked with him for a while. I was wanting to go in and look inside the cabin but the guy wouldn't open the lock for me. He said that no one is supposed to go in because it is an historical land mark and we're not supposed to mess with it...I wanted to go in because 50 years ago my grandfather came through here and actually stayed inside the cabin one night. At that time there wasn't any hunting or fishing camp located on the site. I'm thinking something has to be done with with this site. Maybe fix it up a bit or put an historical plaque on it. The owner said that he's tried asking the government to do something with the site but they having done anything. I wasn't sure if I really believed him. Also, we asked him if that was a bear baiting station he had right by the portage...he said it was a dumpsite. I can tell ya it looked like a bear baiting station to us so I don't know what the guy was talking about. Not a wise thing to have a baiting area so close to the portage. We paddled a total of 38 km that day.

Day 5
The 5th day was another long paddle. We paddled from Hellgate to the begining of Rocky Island L. Following all the twists and turns on the river, we paddled about 42 km that day. It was interesting to notice how the river changed as we paddled through it. From a fast flowing river with rapids and swifts to a river with slow meandering twists and turns. All the slow twist and turns make it a hard paddle. You have to watch out when you are paddling the river on high water through the "swamps" that you don't get lost. We where paddling through low water level so the path of the river was pretty apparent. We just followed the evident currents. I can imagine how fun the river would be to paddle through high water on the upper fast flowing parts...lots of white water. When you are paddling this whole portition of the river at any water level give it lots of time. Where the river is fast, you have to check out each rapid. Where the river is slow, it takes a while to paddle the twists and turns.

Day 6
We paddled from the beginning of Rocky Island lake to the lower part of Aubrey L. We found a nice camp site on the lower part of Aubrey on an island. Rocky Island L. is mainly a reservoir lake for the hydro pwer generating station at Aubry Falls. That was build in 1971. The water levels in the lake look to be about 8 feet below the water line. The water level is so low that you can see all the tree stumps that they had to cut to clear the way for the dam. We had a good tail wind through Rocky Island L. I can imagine it would be a tough paddle with a head wind. We saw some Sandhill cranes and the eastern part of the lake. The portage over Rocky Island L. dam is pretty long. But, the portage is a good road and it is all downhill. This is also a good put-out place for a trip. We paddled a total of 37 km that day.

Day 7
This was an easy day because we only had to paddle 12 km to Peshu L. road at the north end of Aubrey L. for out put-out. At the put out here, there are lots of places to camp but the sit was quite crowded. I guess people like coming here because they don't have to pay the park fees because it is an non-operating park. But, with a non-operating park, you don't have a warden patroling the area keeping the peace...across the bridge there were some pretty noisy campers (dare I say hicks) drinkin' it up, blasting the radio and letting there kids run around with pellet guns.

All and all we had a pretty good trip. We saw lots of nice scenery, lots of wildlife (1 moose, 2 bald eagles, sandhill cranes, minks, ofspreys), caught some fish, and enjoyed the challenge of paddling the Missassagi. But, I wouldn't recommend this trip to someone with little canoe tripping experience. The trails are not well marked, there is a lot of paddling and there are lots of rapids. But for scenery wise, getting away from it all, and appreciating the history of the area, it is a great trip.

Maps Required
Other Maps: 
41 J/NE Bark Lake 41 J/NW Wakomata Lake 41 O/SE Biscotasing (Provincial Series maps)

Comments

Post date: Sun, 05/04/2008 - 22:58

Comments: 

Thanks: It seems like your rushed to much. We, 6 people took the Biscotasing to Aubry Falls trip is 7days. It was not enough time I often wish to go back

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

Comments: 

hi there in biscostasing,
im the guy with the fire tower site below. just wondering if u knew which old township the fire tower near you was located in? i need the name of it for a map i am working on.
thanks again
PS- do u have any photos of old towers i can use for my site?