Mistassibi Nord Est

CanadaQuebec06 Saguenay
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Additional Route Information
145 km
9 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
15 m
Longest Portage: 
8 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Technical Guide: 

The Mistassibi Nord-est is located approximately 350k north of Lac St. Jean in central Quebec. Trips generally start near the headwaters at Lac Machisque. There are a variety of possible takeouts enabling trips as short as 6 - 7 days or as long as 15 - 16 days. Access to the put-in is by floatplane although it is apparently possible to gain access overland (add 7 - 10 days and many kilometers of bushwhacking). Other than Lac Machisque it is entirely a river route. Campsites are well spread out along the river, generally small and not particularly spectacular but for the most part reasonably nice. The upper portion of the river consists of almost 100k of near continual whitewater/fast current, rapids vary from swifts/current to CIV drops, primarily CII - CIII with multiple 1 ft. - 3 ft. ledges, the biggest drops can be safely approached and bypassed. Water levels at the time of our trip were very good, about 12 - 18" below peak (NOT Spring flood) levels. Wave heights of 2+ feet were common (do not lose your bailer!), finding deep water is fairly easy for those with appropriate skill levels. Low water levels could be a problem downstream where the river flattens; as well one would have additional problems with the usual rock gardens (for the most part we had no trouble). In high water you would encounter BIG waves and probably some dangerous holes, eddies would be harder to utilize and due to the extended length of some runs (1 - 2k continuous) dumping could result in a long bumpy ride presenting a strong likelihood of lost gear and wrapped canoes (two spotted).
Vegetation in the upper river is primarily stunted black spruce, as you travel south and the river travels through a beautiful valley, the forest is more varied with birch, poplar, and fir. Although there is steady traffic on this river throughout the season it is unlikely that you will encounter any other paddlers. In the lower stretches a major lumber road runs through the river valley, generally not visible, you will hear the sound of lumber trucks. This is a very beautiful and isolated river; if you like plenty of moving water and have the money and time I highly recommend it

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

This was my second trip with my new paddling partner whom I hooked up with via the old Ontario Canoe Routes website. Steve is from Massachusetts, he paddles a Perception solo w/w boat, I am from Toronto and bring my bulk carrier (16 ft. Mad River Explorer). I do not think this river would be appropriate for anything other than Royalex, we both returned with a number of new "war wounds" although nothing serious. We prefer to paddle two canoes solo as opposed to tandem, we did on one occasion join up in my boat and towed the solo boat (A windy flat stretch). Two canoes do add some additional costs to the fly-in but provides the opportunity to go at ones own pace, take different routes through the rapids and generally watch out for each other. Our paddling experience is also very compatible, Steve is more experienced in whitewater, and I have done more long distance tripping. We arranged the fly-in with Air Bellevue located in St. Felicien (northeast shore of Lac St. Jean (418) 679-2632), they provided excellent service. Other air access may be possible from the Lac Mistissini area possibly at a lower cost. One word of advice, try to make sure you leave your pick-up vehicle where you plan to finish. We pulled out early, some 65k from our vehicle, knowing that the road had a reasonable amount of traffic I assumed that hitching a ride would be no problem. Lumber trucks WILL NOT stop FOR ANYTHING. Eleven other assorted vehicles drove past me during my 5 hour walk along this road before I got a ride.
Downstream of our takeout the river is mostly wide and flat with minimal current, rapids are very spaced out (5 - 20k), generally short but much bigger CIV+CV with portages ranging from 100 - 300m, the route from Lac Machisque to where it joins the west branch of the Mistassibi is about 200k you can continue for another 100k to Lac St. Jean. We covered our portion (150k) of the route in 9 very easy days including 2 layover days.
If you need any further details or additional information feel free to contact me.
Ben Hoffman

Mistassibi River Trip: August 2002

Location: Central Quebec
Start: Lac Machisque (float plane from Lac Boisvert)
Finish: Bridge near Domtar office
Distance: approx. 130kms
Duration: 5 river days

This trip was really and truly an excellent canoe tripping adventure in spite of Murphy’s Law prevailing in most situations from start to finish. When experiencing each “bad luck” event, hard work and a good attitude was paramount to successfully overcome these obstacles. Of course these types of things are what canoe tripping is all about and should be expected - but not necessarily anticipated. (I’ve been on easier ones) After all, the reason for these trips is to be with friends who share similar interests and have a desire to test their skills against the elements of nature - primarily “white water” and, of course, to have a good time. I personally researched this river over the winter of 2002. The main attractions, so I thought, were the remoteness (a fly-in trip), lots of Class I & II rapids and very few portages. (Boy did I screw up)

Mistassini River near the town of Mistassini
The participants were:

Willie & Sue
Steve & Donna
Shane & Greg

The 6 of us have varying canoe experience - from veterans to a novice (this was Shane’s first canoe trip.)
We took 3 different vehicles and left home at different times but met up in the town of Mistassini almost 1400kms from Windsor on Sunday afternoon. We booked into the motel and met for dinner that evening.
We agreed to leave the motel @ 7am the next morning as we still had to travel a good 2-3 hours (140 kms) on a logging road to Lac Boisvert where we were to meet the float plane @ 11am.

Day 1

Following the directions given to us by the charter plane people, the drive (in the rain) was uneventful up to the bridge, where according to the directions, we were to turn left - go over the bridge - then turn left again onto the first road. From the bridge to Lac Boisvert was another 17 kms. However, after making the second left we soon came to a portion of the road that was washed out due to previous torrential rains. (Water rushing over the road was at least a Class III) Not to be deterred by this minor inconvenience we huddled and decided to take the road to the right, which was just back from the washout. Besides, our written instructions said: “Stay to the right when given choices.” So away we went travelling up this so-called ‘road‘. It didn’t take long before the ‘road’ started to less resemble a road and became increasingly treacherous. We scraped and bumped our way along trying to dodge huge water & mud filled ruts and boulders while negotiating steep inclines. This became the norm as the ‘road’ began to narrow and deteriorate rapidly. After about 12kms we were starting to have doubts that this was the right ‘road’. A short time later Willie blew the right front tire on his Volvo. While the tire was being changed Shane and I went ahead in the Jeep to see if we were near the lake where we were to meet the floatplane. Travelling another 10kms, it became clear that we were not near the lake and the ‘road’ had now become nearly impassable. (Jeeps only) Backtracked back to the group to give them the bad news.

After another huddle, Plan B was to go back to the bridge, find a phone and let the charter plane people know that we would not make the 11am rendezvous as planned.

The trip back was a real treat. The Volvo was now riding on a ‘donut’ (the spare) giving it even less ground clearance and the road hadn’t got any better - still a boulder strewed, rutty “poor excuse for a road” with mud and water and lots of ups & downs. We basically pushed, pulled and tugged our way back to the bridge and luckily no further damage was done to the vehicles.

Sue got on the phone at a logging office and let the charter plane people know of our predicament. One of the ‘locals’ told us of another route to Lac Boisvert so off we went again - this time leaving the Volvo in the parking lot and doubling up the canoes, gear and people (Willie & Sue) in my Jeep with Steve & Donna following in the Ford Escape.

We finally made it to Lac Boisvert a couple of hours late and hurriedly off loaded the gear and canoes and portaged everything over to the waiting plane.

Two plane trips (3 people at a time) and four hours later we were camped on the beach at Lake Machisque taking in the remainder of a beautiful sunny day. (Little did we know that that was the last time we would see the sun for practically the rest of the trip.)

At Lake Machisque we met up with another group of canoeists - a party of about 8. They had flown in the day before and were out on the lake practising canoe manoeuvres prior to getting on the river. This would be the only time we would see others for the duration of the trip. As they had already set up camp, we paddled to the far shore and set up our camp.

Day 2

It rained early the next morning but stopped long enough for us to break camp and get on the water. After a short paddle we hit the Mistassibi River and began our river journey. (in the rain)

It soon became apparent that the river was swollen from both previous and present rainfalls - making it fast and furious. There were no riverbanks to speak of and the white water was angry white water with large standing waves at the bottom of the rapids. It wasn’t long before Shane & I began to take in water to the point of swamping on just about every set of rapids. Ours was the low sitting canoe - obviously too much weight. (Shane‘s fault - not mine) We probably made only 10 kms that first day - constantly stopping to bail and dump water out of the canoe. Being permanently wet from the rain and swamping didn’t seem to fare well with Shane. At one point when we had swamped for what seemed like the umpteenth time and were standing in waist high water with rain pouring down, bailing water from the canoe, Shane looked at me and said: “You call this fun?” What a sense of humour he had - I think. The others seemed to be very understanding and patient with Shane & I. They were always around to help.

Day 3
The above-described scenario continued. (So did the rain) As we slowly progressed downriver the rapids became more continuous and the waves larger. It wasn’t long before all 3 canoes were having trouble - but nothing like our canoe. The constant swamping was really slowing us down and there were few places to eddy out to dump water. Most of the bailing and dumping of river water was performed in the main current with one person waist deep in water holding onto shoreline branches with one hand while the other hand firmly gripped the canoe and/or purposely running on top of rocks to keep the canoe from going downriver. We were only 2 days on the river and had already lost 3 paddles and had no spares. (Shane & I were responsible for the loss of 2)

On one particular dump there was some momentary confusion when two canoes got spun around and started heading into the rapids backwards. Seeing this, Shane & I powered away from the two canoes straight into a huge drop where we promptly swamped and dumped. The force of the water threw Shane into a huge boulder knocking the wind out of him and promptly stripped him of 1 shoe and a sock. He headed to shore and I continued through the run of rapids holding on to the canoe and my only paddle. (I was learning) We regrouped at the end of the rapids - had a smoke to settle nerves - bailed water - retied packs and gear and continued down the river.

In spite of the ‘Murphy Law’ thing we were all having fun. We were doing throw rope rescues, wrapped canoe rescues, swimming, (a lot of it underwater) bailing, dumping, minor first aid treatments and we even tried drying clothes whenever the rain stopped for a few hours. Oh, by the way, we eventually found all 3 paddles in an eddy at the bottom of a ledge. And did I mention the black flies? (Lots of blood and swelling of bitten body parts) Yep, lottsa FUN!

The length of the rapids continued getting longer as we progressed and of course a lot rougher. (Murphy’s Law again) We finally did our first portage after unanimously agreeing that this particular section of the river could not be safely run. There was actually a portage trail on river left that took us past most of the real bad stuff.

Back on the river now we continued running rapids stopping quite often to bail and/or dump the canoes of river water. This part of the river seemed to be the worst. For a lot of the bad sections the canoes were cautiously lined down the side of the raging river. More than once, while lining, the canoes got broadside to the current or hung up on rocks and came perilously close to being wrapped and/or dumped. We lined from shore using painters when practical but mostly waded waste deep in the rushing water clambering over rocks and deadfalls while holding on to the canoes. Despite Shane being new to all this he became a great asset - especially to me. He had a good strong draw and was instinctively capable of reading the water and dodging many hidden rocks. His canoe lining ability was superb and he performed a lot of the hard physical work without question. (I think he felt sorry for the ‘old man’) During this particular run, at one time or another, all 3 canoes went over and the majority of us (mostly Shane & I) left skin and flesh on the rocks we bounced off trying to reach shore.

By this time it seemed that for me it would probably be easier and quicker to get down the river by tipping the canoe over and riding down through the rapids hanging on to the canoe. (I eventually perfected this. Practice makes perfect) The plus side of spending so much time soaking wet was that the air temp was quite warm. (It actually would have been hot if the sun ever came out.) Soon we came to another set of rapids that clearly couldn’t be run. After some scouting it was decided that this portage would have to be a bushwhack of about 2 kms. (No established portage trail) Still in good spirits, we tackled this portage with the resolve to finish it in the least amount of time - and we did - pushing, pulling, and dragging gear and canoes through the thick bush with lots of up & down terrain. Did I mention that it was part swamp too? - with literally millions of black flies on the attack.

After a short rest and with the sky darkening and thunder booming overhead we hit the river again just in time for a major downpour of rain - just what we needed after that sweaty bushwack. We proceeded to our next campsite - probably the nicest one on the trip. There was actually an eddy to put into although we missed it and off-loaded in the current again. By this time the rain had quit momentarily and allowed us to set up camp rain free. The site sat about 30 feet above the river and overlooked a 10-foot ledge that ran the width of the river. The view showed a true perspective of the volume of water rushing down the river. Once camp was set up and clothes & gear hung to dry we all finally got to wash properly in a nice pool of water beside the ledge. We lounged around for the rest of the day enjoying the briefly appearing sun. A well needed rest.

Day 4
The next morning we broke camp - in the rain - and headed down river. We ran a lot of riffles and Class I & II rapids and made fairly good progress. (I don’t think Shane & I swamped more than 1 or 2 times. Was Shane losing weight? The constant rain had now become the norm and everyone was resigned to the fact that nothing - including us - was going to be dry for any length of time. We finally ran out the rapids and basically floated down to the next campsite on river right. During our float, we finally got to see the landscape around us. Lots of high, treed elevations with huge waterfalls cascading down. Very nice.
We decided to get off the river early to rest and try to dry things out a little as it had now stopped raining.

Most everyone napped and/or took it easy as the previous days had taken a toll on our bodies. By now I think Shane was ‘shell-shocked’. He slept for the rest of the day (he missed the sunshine) and through the night.

Day 5
The next day we broke camp and started down the river (it was raining on and off) with the intentions of making it to the take-out. We ran a few swifts and then the river flattened out. After about 5 or 6 hrs of leisurely paddling we reached the take-out.

After landing on shore and bringing the canoes and gear up to the road we were immediately swarmed by black flies - probably the worst invasion of the trip. Willie talked to (and paid) a couple of guys in a pickup truck into giving Steve and I a ride to retrieve our vehicles at Lac Boisvert where we had left them. Within 2 hours we were back, packed and heading back to town.

And so ended our excellent canoe adventure.

Thanks to Donna and Sue for the majority of the pics.


A BIG thanks to Sue for working tirelessly during the trip to keep us well fed.

Greg Michaluk

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
22L/13-12-5-4 22E/13-12
Other Maps: 
Fédération québécoise du canot et du kayak Mistassibi Nord-Est route map (06-21-11-00) Mistassibi et Daniel route map (06-21-10-00)
Special Comments: 

We used maps obtained from the Fédération québécoise du canot et du kayak. The maps, which are nothing more than poor copies of the 1:50,000 topos are invaluable and also much cheaper than purchasing the full size maps. The maps show all campsites and rapids, the ratings seemed somewhat conservative to us, this may have been intended or due to water levels, they did seem very accurate in relative terms and most important location. We used the maps and GPS to keep track of our progress and to provide advance warning of the major rapids, this worked very well. (note: the marked campsite at km156 hardly exists, the unrated site at km153 is small but decent / the road which crosses the river at km52 now continues north and crosses the river again at about km94 providing the first possible take out point)