CanadaQuebec07 Lower St Lawrence, N Shore
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410 km
16 days
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Several years ago, while planning another trip, I saw a slide show of a canoe trip down the Moisie. I became instantly intoxicated with thoughts of paddling this river myself. Soon after, I read “The Complete Wilderness Paddler” and I was determined to paddle the Moisie the following year.

The Moisie is a spectacular river. We would complete the 410 km journey from the headwaters in Lac Menoustoc, a lake we accessed from Lac DeMille via the QSNL railway. Our trip would end 10 km north of the St. Lawrence River, where Highway 138 crosses the river. The Moisie drops over 1700 feet from Lac Felix as it begins its drop through the most stunning landscape that Eastern Canada has to offer.

Planning began in February. After acquiring the maps, I went to see Colin. He took very little convincing. Travis was automatically interested. Our usual fourth had used up his holiday time in the spring. Initially, the ideal fourth person was elusive. We went as far as considering the idea of doing it as three. Finally, Ben expressed serious interest in the trip. An experienced solo whitewater paddler, he was willing to paddle tandem. Ben fit in great with our group, and had both the time and the experience necessary.

Coordinating our schedules meant we would paddle the river in late August. August is a great time to paddle. Lower temperatures would reduce problems with bugs, and lower water levels create more technical rapids and allow more overall running. The Moisie doesn’t run low on water, as do some popular Hudson Bay rivers by summer’s end. We were however pressed for time. This year we were stretching our two weeks vacation. The prohibitive cost of the flight dictated we take the train to the put in on Lac DeMille. The train leaves from Sept Iles on Tuesday evenings and Thursday mornings and a few select Monday’s throughout the summer. Taking the Thursday train allowed us to maximize our time on the water. Work commitments allowed us a maximum of 16 days on the water.

In a gross display of frugality, Colin and I spent several weekends during the early summer fashioning spray skirts for our boats. I sourced material while Colin did about 80% of the actual sewing. The learning curve was steep but in the end we produced a fine product. As it turned out, making the skirts was time well spent.

August 13th – The drive

Twelve hours from our departure the rear springs blew on my van. Thankfully it got repaired before we needed to search for another vehicle capable of hauling our gear to Sept Iles. We didn’t have any extra time for the non-stop drive up, as there was only one train we could catch. The van was packed the night before and Travis and I departed early on Wednesday for Lucky Tire. We waited outside for the shop to open in order to have a nail removed from the rear tire. We picked up Colin on schedule and called Ben from the road to let him know we were on our way. Ben, who we clearly awoke from a deep sleep, lacked the expected enthusiasm usually common on the first day of a big trip. Ben, a nocturnal creature as we soon discovered, thoroughly enjoyed his sleep. I took the first shift from Waterloo to Kingston. We stopped in Toronto to pick up Ben and were back on the road by 11 AM. For the first batch of forgotten items, we made an hour-long Canadian Tire and Grocery store stop in Kingston. Here, at the first of many thirsty gas stops, the van refused to start. We quickly learned not to shut off the van unless we could allow the starter at least 30 minutes to cool down. Colin drove all the way to Quebec City. Except for a truck fire we witnessed in downtown Montreal, it was an uneventful stretch. Travis was next behind the wheel, just in time for nightfall. We got lost in downtown Quebec City, no fault of the driver. Later, Colin noticed we were driving in the wrong direction. We had gotten turned around in La Malbaie, partly due to a snoozing navigator. This mix up added another 40 minutes to the drive. Some ‘tense’ driving moments in the mountains saw Travis relieved of his duties at the Saguenay crossing. The van was burning oil and couldn’t be driven like a NASCAR much longer. While we waited for the ferry and blood flow to return to our knuckles, we met a group from Vermont on their way to paddle the Portneuf. They paddled the Moisie last year and shared their experiences. They scared us with stories of wind bound lake days, seething rapids, grueling portages and relentless bugs. Despite the hardships, speaking with them answered many last minute questions and certainly refreshed our excitement on what was an otherwise tedious drive. Ben drove the final stretch to Sept Iles. I was able to get a bit of shuteye but nothing I would consider sleep. We were too close now, and I was excited.

August 14th – The train.

We arrived at the train station at 6:30 AM. The sign in the window said it opened at 8:00 AM. That seemed a little late considering the train was scheduled to depart at 9:00 AM. But with time to spare, we ventured to one of Sept Iles two Tim Horton’s. After that it was off to Wal-Mart for some more last minute shopping. Wal-Mart was of course closed and we arrived back at 7:15 AM to complete chaos.

The train station was packed with hundreds of Indians headed back to Schefferville. Ben and I rushed in line with the tickets while Travis and Colin unloaded the gear. We had purchased our train tickets months earlier and had them mailed to us. Otherwise, tickets must be picked up at an office across town, and we had no time for that. I had been told the train didn’t like stopping at Opocopa. In fact, they won’t sell you tickets for Opocopa at the station (The stop is called Opocopa, even though you get off at Lac DeMille). After some difficulty communicating that we had canoes, and that we were getting off at Opocopa, we were led around the back of the building to unload the canoes and gear. In all the confusion, they forgot to charge us for the canoes, even though I specified we had not paid for them (canoes are paid for at the station). I got the impression not too many canoeists use the QSNL. Similarly, I got the impression the QSNL didn’t like canoeists. Our gear was placed beside the train and we were told to board the train in one of the last two cars. The train eventually splits, with most cars going to Schefferville and a few going to Labrador City. Upon boarding the train we met two Americans bound for a river north of Schefferville. While I don’t recall which river, I found it strange they knew next to nothing about the Moisie. As we exchanged canoe stories and jokes about SARS, I couldn’t help but wonder when our gear would be loaded.

We sat in the train for what seemed like hours watching our gear beside the station through the dirty windows, my anxiety compounding with each passing minute. When we asked the attendant, he quickly responded “Lab City”? This became a familiar phrase over the 7.5-hour ride, as it was the only two English words spoken by the attendants aboard the train. In fact, every question was answered with “Lab City”? The train started to pull ahead, then stopped to our relief to load our gear in the last car. While I didn’t like the ‘scoop and dump’ method used to load our gear with a Bobcat, we were nevertheless finally away at 9:20 AM.

The train soon passed over the infamous Bridge rapids at Mile 12. From high above it looked like a lot of whitewater… there was no picking a route from here. We all agreed it didn’t look too furious. Then again, we wouldn’t know the truth for another 16 days. For the next few hours, the train ride was boring and uneventful. The tracks soon split from the river and the land leveled out into a monotonous blur of spruce. When the train split our concerns surfaced again. The new attendant, fluent in English doubted the train would stop at Opocopa. I showed him our tickets and after a few calls back and forth to the conductor on the radio he said they’d find somewhere to stop.

Shortly before 5:00 PM the train stopped near Mile 23. It was a warm sunny afternoon. We began organizing our gear on the side of the lake, still not sure if everything would fit in the boats! We paddled out to a small island to find a cabin. A perfect spot to make camp. The cabin was locked but the area offered flat ground for the tents. We were all tired, not having slept in nearly 36 hours.

Day 1 – August 16th
21 km

We didn’t leave camp until 11:30 AM. While later than I hoped we were all tired from our journey and needed the extra rest. I was sure we would depart camp earlier in the future… A stiff wind blew from the southwest under a mix of sun and cloud. With the breeze it was fairly cool. I partnered up with Ben and Colin with Travis. Our plan was to rotate paddling partners every few days, although I knew both Colin and I were hesitant to trust our boats solely in the hands of others. Also, over the past few years I had always paddled whitewater with Colin. Together we knew how to work with each other. Although we were all experienced, the prospect of paddling rapids with someone new made me somewhat nervous.

The south wind formed whitecaps on the open lake. I was surprised at the size of the waves for a relatively small lake, making me fear what could be encountered on Opocopa. Crossing the open lake before reaching the sheltered arm was challenging. Once in the sheltered arm the wind was much less punishing. We crossed Lac DeMille and passed several small cabins and reached the small dam leading into the channel above Lac Menoustoc. We had a quick bite to eat as we hauled our loaded boats over the dam constructed of garbage. Somewhere across this channel is the watershed. The north side flows into DeMille and the south side begins a creek starting flowing into Menoustoc. We soon found the small creek, and we entered what we considered the true headwaters of the Moisie. Only 3 feet wide, the creek wasn’t even wide enough to float a canoe down. We dragged for about 1 km until it opened up. While perhaps a pond earlier in the year, it was now a muddy bog. This was a waist deep adventure in Beaver shit, comparable to walking through a pool of molasses that smelt like a septic tank. There was neither enough water to float a canoe, nor enough solid ground to stand on. Stranded in the mud field we eventually crawled our way to shore. From here we dragged the boats along shore through the alder brush. The creek continued for another few hundred meters, eventually expanding into Lac Menoustoc. While enough water to float the boats, there was not enough to paddle. We were warned of this and began to line through a now sandy bottom. Menoustoc is a large lake over 20 km long. However, despite being out in the middle of the lake, it was only 1” deep. We appeared to walk like Jesus as we dragged both gear and canoes from one spot to another, looking for deep channels.

The weather took a quick change for the worse and we were forced on shore for one hour to wait out a thunderstorm. Afterwards we decided to scout the lake, and look for a deep channel. I explored southwest down the lake while Travis ran southeast. Eventually, Travis found a channel on the far left barely deep enough to paddle. While the thunderstorm was over, the sky remained menacing. It was now late in the day and the priority was finding a campsite. Near dusk we reached a small, rather pitiful campsite in a sheltered bay. It began to rain. We sat on the mossy ground under a small tarp and cooked a late dinner of chili. It was here that we first learned of Ben’s Thermarest chair. It was love at first site. Travis, Colin and I instantly put one on our gear wish list.

Day 2 – August 17th
13 km

A cool morning, the winds were moderate from the north. Yesterday reminded us that we were out of shape. I hadn’t been paddling since early June. We ate a quick breakfast of coffee/tea and oatmeal. Again, we didn’t hit the water until shortly past 11 AM under mostly sunny skies. Once out of the sheltered bay, we realized the potential of the wind. We rigged a Mickey Mouse sail with paddles and a small tarp. However, the combination of inconsistent winds and a poor sail barely kept us moving at the equivalent of a leisurely drift. Nobody, myself included, seemed to mind the laziness. The scenery today was not different from canoeing on any other northern lake. The landscape was relatively flat, offering little for our viewing excitement. A few casts and trolling without results. Hopefully the poor fishing was a result of the $19 collapsible fishing rod purchased on route. We stopped for lunch on the left shore and found a very rough cabin. This cabin was home to several porcupines and hundreds of mice set on destroying it. It was a disgusting mess. Here we rigged a more efficient sail. Unfortunately, the diminishing wind countered any improvements in the sail. At 4 PM we reached the end of Menoustoc and found another cabin. This cabin was situated right at the channel that connects Menoustoc to Opocopa. While in better repair than the last, this cabin was not suitable to stay in. We camped on the beach… the first of many sandy sites. We made little distance today. To this point our progress was slower than expected, but I seemed to be the only one frustrated by this realization. However, Ben indicated it was still early in the trip and I shouldn’t worry. He was right. The setting sun cast a fabulous glow across the horizon. Tonight’s meal consisted of nitrate-laden sausage, cheesy mashed potatoes, and fresh Pineapple courtesy of Ben. Fire baked brownies would later complete the meal as we huddled on the wind swept beach.

Day 3 – August 18th
41 km

Last night was very cold. We left the tent open and slept in a freezing wind tunnel. At least we woke early for a change. Unfortunately what awoke me from much needed rest was Travis sawing wood at dawn. We made a fire this morning for the pancakes, a favorite breakfast of ours while paddling. We were on the water by 9:15 AM. While not early by most standards, this was one of the earliest days we got on the river the entire trip! The sun soon rose and warmed up the frigid morning air to a reasonable temperature. Today I began paddling with Travis. Although the plan was to rotate, this paddling arrangement remained constant for the duration of the trip.

The channel between Menoustoc and Opocopa is about 10 km. It’s a narrow meandering stream without current and with many tributaries. A few times we were unsure of the right direction. At one point Colin and Ben were paddling ahead of Travis and I. When we approached, Colin excitedly told us a bear had just appeared 10 feet away on shore. We were skeptical, as was Ben, Colin’s bow paddler, who didn’t see it either. This would become a topic of debate for the rest of the trip. Near the end are two rapids. The RIII was a clean, short run. Nevertheless, we received a decent splash of water in the boat. There was no scouting this narrow rapid, and definitely no portage to avoid it. The RII was shallow, easy run. The small steam dumped us into the vast waters of Lac Opocopa late in the morning. 4 km wide and 30 km long, Opocopa is an intimidating lake. The western shore has low rolling hills compared to the more level landscape present on the eastern shore. We paddled out to the open and stopped on the left shore for lunch. The wind was ferociously strong. Thankfully, it was blowing in the right direction – from the north. We spent an hour rigging a sail, most of which was dedicated to finding suitable masts. It performed fabulously. Soon we were zooming down the lake much faster than we could ever paddle. The sun was bright and uninterrupted by cloud on this gorgeous day. Nevertheless, we all wore jackets to keep warm.

The lake narrows and bends to the right before opening up again. In the shallows there was not enough water to paddle. For a short distance we lined the boat, while the wind continued to rip at the sail. We spotted a moose grazing nearby and watched it for quite some time at close range before it disappeared into the bush. Once the lake opened up it was smooth sailing again. Several loons and small islands passed by as we searched for campsites marked on the maps. The first set marked mid way through the lake on the right was not apparent as we scanned the shore. Even though we were making good time, sailing became unbelievably boring. Our bow paddlers were also supporting the masts and eventually mutinied, demanding their turn to lie down in the stern. I was glad when the winds diminished and we were forced to paddle the last 3-km.

We reached the beach campsite at the end of the lake around 7 pm. The temperature began to fall fast as the sun set, and we raced to set up camp in the twilight. We cooked soup and spaghetti for dinner, followed up by chocolate. With dinner we saw as spectacular showing of the northern lights. We unanimously agreed it was the best we’d ever seen. Outfitted with 20 Lbs. of camera accessories, Colin captured some fabulous shots of the light show. It was freezing… our key chain thermometer read 3 degrees Celsius, but I was certain it was colder.

Day 4 – August 19th
19 km

The sun beat down on our tents forcing us out early. The morning heated up quickly and it was the only day of the entire trip I wore shorts. While we awoke early, it was another notorious late start, and he hit the water at noon after a breakfast of oatmeal. It was clear to me now that the most challenging part of the trip might be getting going in the morning. However, I was just as responsible as the next, and took advantage of the weather with a cold dip in the lake.

Today we crossed between Opocopa and Felix. This channel is about 20 km long. Except for 10 short RI’s, it’s an uneventful paddle. Most of the RI’s were shallow, some were bump and grind but nevertheless they helped move us at a decent pace. An esker parallels the channel along the right shore. We stopped for a quick lunch midway through the channel. There was supposed to be a campsite here somewhere, but like yesterday, it proved elusive. The channel emptied us into Lac Felix sometime in the late afternoon. Lac Felix is small lake filled with low grassy islands, as well as several larger treed islands. We camped at a cabin on Lac Felix high atop an esker. There are two other campsites on Lac Felix. A beach site in the bay across from the esker where we camped, and another site on the opposite end of the lake near Rim Canyon. The cabin was in reasonable shape. A door mat make of plywood and nails reminded us that bears might be a problem. The cabin was open so we took the opportunity to cook away from the black flies that were in full force tonight. This cabin also offered favorable reading materials. As we set up camp, I realized one of my tent poles had been left behind at our last site. While not a critical piece of the tent, the absence of this pole caused my tent to droop for the duration of the trip. Damn sandy sites! We took refuge from the bugs inside while preparing out stir-fry and dumping dinner. It was our first experience making apple dumplings, and they proved an immediate success. High atop the esker presented a fantastic view of Lac Felix. Despite the blackflies we enjoyed the sunset and a small ration of Gin for our efforts so far.

Day 5 – August 20th
11 km

We were up and packing early. Of course, this meant little, as we didn’t hit the water until 10 AM. The Grey Jays were heartily fed on our smoked bacon that proved inedible due to poor preparation on our part. Crossing Lake Felix was a battle with the ever-intensifying westerly wind. Thankfully, the lake is small and fairly sheltered. The day was otherwise a mix of sun and cloud. We paddled east through a maze of islands heading the wrong way for a short while. Reluctantly, I admitted to reading the map incorrectly. Soon the high hills of the river canyon came into sight. I began picturing the river and visions of the upcoming valley overtook every other thought as we paddled onward.

We approached Rim Canyon apprehensively anticipating the portage. We crossed on the left side of Rim Canyon, the northern channel ending in a series of chutes with questionable portaging options. We also choose to line rather than portage whenever possible (this was our method for the entire trip). Nearly the entire channel around upper Rim was a walk or portage. From lake Felix, there is a substantial drop through a series of rapids and chutes to the river below. Paddling where we could, the canoes were waded through most of the RII’s and RIII’s from Lake Felix to the first portage around the main chutes. This was one of the more dangerous things we did. The bottom was uneven, the water cold, and the rocks jagged. One minute we’d drag in 1 foot of water, the next minute we’d be waist deep in the current. There was no lining on shore as it was steep and thick with Alder brush. Everyone took a few abrasions on this stretch. In higher spring water this would be a very challenging and dangerous paddle. Next was the first portage around upper rim falls. This portage was relatively easy. However, as it was our first portage we were disorganized. Travis did his best Atlas impression carrying three packs on every leg. We stopped here for lunch voted to put in at the half way mark of the portage and continue the lining and dragging. The next section was a bit deeper, allowing more running and less wadding. After connecting with the northern channel, we ran a series of RI’s, RII’s and RIII’s. We ran these without the spray decks. The next portage was around Lower Rim Falls. Described as 600 meters long, this portage is a textbook description of underestimation! We all agreed this portage was over 1km. Quick, light showers followed us across the portage. Thankfully the long, gradual climb to the top of the trail rewarded us with a spectacular view of a rainbow over the canyon. A straight drop off followed this. Already after 4 PM, we camped here at a site near the end of the trail. While small in size, this site offered a fantastic view upstream at the canyon avoided. It truly was a beautiful spot, the sunlight reflecting of the shear canyon walls and the rapids cascading below us. We baked tuna casserole for dinner and retired early for the first time during the trip.

Day 6 – August 21st
24 km

We were aiming for a campsite marked at 300 km. Prior to this, we had 18 km of numerous RI, RII and RIII rapids, as well as one RIV. Our goal today was not ambitious, and as such we justified our 11:15 AM start. It was a mostly sunny day, and somewhat warmer than the past few days. Just past our campsite lay a strong RII followed immediately by a RIII as the river turned sharply to the left. Following this were 10 other runnable rapids, many of which were indistinguishable in terms of classification. Hydro lines crossing the river at one point gave us reference to our location. The rapids were all easy and fun with the exception of a short RIV, which also placed us on the maps. While it was arguably runnable, we decided to play it safe and line the first drop (CBR river right). The following 1100 M RI (arguably a RII) was the highlight of the day. We could not find the campsite at km 300. By now it was evident that while the rapids marked on our maps were accurate, campsite locations were not. As it was still early, and the weather gorgeous, we keep going without concern. Next was a portage around a RV. We got back in the boats for a short RIII before heading to shore once again to portage once again. Here the river cut deep into the rocks flowing down a step continuous gradient as froth. This portage was probably the most difficult portage of the trip. Over 1.5 km long, it was wet and very rough as it bypassed yet another canyon of continuous chutes. Each way was at least 30 minutes. I had to stop three times when carrying the 90-LB behemoth canoe. Listening to Colin complain about weight distribution on his 65 LB Royalite boat was beginning to drive me insane. Biting my lip I kept going. The portage wound through the dense bush and out into clearings that were mostly bog. We started the portage around 3:30 PM. By the time we finished the portage the sun was setting. It was late… too late.

There was a campsite marked river left midway through the next 700 M set of RII rapids. This was a strong set and Colin and Ben paddling ahead zoomed through missing the campsite altogether. Travis and I spotted the site, which would have been very difficult to access on the high, steep banks if possible at all. We were only 1.5 km from the Pekans site but had the five-finger falls portage ahead of us. We could safely approach the falls avoiding half the portage and line the rest… a method used in a trip report we had read. By using a dried up box canyon on the right we bypassed the falls with a short, albeit dangerous carryover. This was a steep rough carry over, and by the time we finished it was pitch black.

Canoeing at night in the absence of moonlight is an eerie experience. With the roar of five-finger falls behind us, the roar of the Pekans to our right, and the roar of upcoming rapids ahead, the low growl of the river surrounded us. We foolishly searched for a cabin near the mouth of the Pekans in the dark. We crawled amongst the hills for half an hour. Alas, we couldn’t find anything and ventured across the bay to river left. We cautiously followed the left, within a paddle length of shore. It was 9:30 PM when we arrived at the sandy site across from the Pekans. Due to the hour of the night we opted for instant ‘meal in a bag’ to satisfy our appetites. The temperature again plummeted and now that we weren’t paddling we noticed it immediately. Travis built a fire and we enjoyed a late night, baking tea biscuits.

Day 7 – August 22nd
Layover day

Unanimously we agreed upon a layover day without speaking a word. We deserved a day of exceptional laziness. After a fabulous brunch of pasta we paddled back up to five-finger falls, hiked up the Pekans and scouted the upcoming RV rapid. The site at the Pekans was nice, and was certainly one of the larger campsites encountered. To this point the weather had been excellent. It was time to take a turn for the worse. In the afternoon it started to rain. While intermittent, it never really let up for the remainder of the trip. We cooked chili for dinner during a break in the rain, and retired early, vowing to get an early start tomorrow.

Day 8 – August 23rd
12 km

We awoke to a steady downpour. The next 12 km contained 1 RI, 2 RII, 1 RII, 6 RIV, 1 RV, and 2 chutes. The atmosphere was somewhat dismal as we calculated how the difficulties of the obstacles ahead would be amplified under the current conditions. Lining the RV immediately following our campsite was a mistake. It was raining hard. It was hard work. Jumping from giant boulders and scrambling along the jagged riverbed it took us 50 minutes to cross the 300 M rapid. To make matters worse, Travis experienced an “upset stomach” midway through. We hit a series of RII and RIII rapids that were escalating in difficulty from those in prior days. The scenery was also improving as the river followed a course through growing hills that began to rise on either side of the river. The rest of the day included numerous linings and lift-overs. I began to think this was more dangerous than running the rapid. Most RIV linings involved wading uncomfortably far and deep out into the swift cold river to help coax the canoe through chutes and over ledges. Midway through the day my spray skirt was damaged while lining an RIV as the boat got smashed against the rocks. We were lining the boats on river left only to discover that the final drop was not passable. With no portage in sight we were forced to ferry frantically upstream to the other side of the river between the froth of two boiling rapids. It wasn’t a maneuver for the inexperienced paddler. From here we lowered the boats through the final drop on the right, which was clearly and RV. We lined the next falls through a narrow chute on the left and continued to a 30 M R4. While it looked tempting we lined once again. A short S4 soon followed which we ran without difficulty. The next 100 M RIV was a combination of lining and running. After an RI, we ran the 200 M RIV. It consisted of two drops on river left, avoiding the heavier center flow. We plowed through the first drop; hard eddy to the left, then did an upstream ferry back across the river in order to catch the channel for the next drop. Next was a short RIII, with impressive volume and lots of rocks. We camped near the end of the portage around the second set of chutes. This was a relatively easy portage that, like usual ended in a free fall to the river. This was one of my favorite campsites, large, open and offering a great view of the river from high above.

As usual, Travis built a fire upon arrival. Only this time thick smoke filled the campsite from the smoldering mess. As a former Cub, Boy Scout, Venture and Rover, Travis should have been ashamed of it. Any attempts to remedy the fire were met with stiff resistance from Travis, the fire owner. We ate a smoked ham and mashed potatoes for dinner. This meal will be fondly remembered as one of the best camping dinners ever. Ben produced a fruitcake from his magic barrel of treats. Late in the evening it began to rain once again, an uncomfortable sleep for those of us choosing to sleep in a bivy sack.

Day 9 – August 24th
26 km

The 12:15 PM start was a new record in tardiness. Then again, these start times were no longer considered late. Rather they were the norm. The weather began as overcast, but quickly deteriorated into rain that stopped and started throughout the day. Today we encountered 4 RI, 3 RII, 1 RIII, 1 RIV and one chute. The morning was a leisurely paddle involving one cabin exploration. By lunch we came to a 5 M chute. It was marked portage right but we were able to carry over the rocks. It was a remarkably beautiful place. Despite our maps indicating a beautiful site somewhere nearby, we determined that the wonderful site was buried under driftwood. We stopped here for lunch. The scenery was growing more impressive with each passing kilometer. Following this was a long set, nearly 1.5 km long. It began with an RIV drop, followed by 800 M of RI/RII, ending with a 500 M stretch of RIII. We ran the RIV on river right. Travis and I went first and plowed straight into a rock buried in the froth at the bottom of the drop. The canoe came to an immediate stop, spun around 180° and shot us down the RII backwards. We quickly recovered only to watch the next boat make a flawless run. The RIII was volumous, and the spray skirt a most certainly saved us from swamping. The waves were large and sent to canoe airborne on each successive wave. Travis and I went rodeo style down the heaviest flow. My spray skirts effectiveness was still seriously compromised from yesterdays tear will lining. As water splashed through the hole I knew it was time to start sewing. Most of these large RIII were free of obstacles. It was merely a matter of avoiding the bigger waves, which were often nearing 2 M in height. Already late in the day, we pushed for the next site. We paddled the next 10 km in one hour! The current was unbelievable. We camped at the bottom of a 600 M RII on a flat rock outcropping. While not marked as a campsite, it proved an excellent spot to stay.

Day 10 – August 25th
34 km.

The morning refused to warm up, and the cold temperatures and constant rain raced us to a 9:45 AM start. I noticed a significant dent in the bow of my canoe from the RIV drop. The skid plate was broken and upon closer inspection I was lucky it wasn’t punctured right through. While the current was good, vicious winds, cool temperatures, and constant drizzle attacked us. By afternoon, I had trouble feeling my hands. We soon coined the term “trench ass” to describe the persistent cool, wet conditions. We stopped at another hunting cabin. Inside we found a journal for canoeists. We enjoyed reading the few entries that dated back over 10 years. According to the journal, we were only the third group to descend the Moisie this year. The cabin offered a nice break from the wind. We kicked ourselves for not making it here last night. Next the river narrowed significantly. It was a tranquil, beautiful spot where the river was slowed to a near stillness. Walls intercepted the river at a 90-degree angle and small steams traced their way down the rocks into the river. The river again widened and dropped through and impressive RII.

By early afternoon we reached one of the most challenging sections of river. This section contained most of the 4 RI, 3 RII, 3 RIII, 4 RIV, and 3 RV we encountered during the day. Continuous, mostly impassable rapids, the majority of which justified a portage. We ran the first two RIII rapids. Both were short, with significant drops and big water. By now the cold forced us to stop on an island where Travis was determined to build a fire to warm up. From here we had two portages, a lift-over and what I consider the most extravagant lining of my life around two RIV rapids.

This island was surrounded by and RV. It could have been bypassed through a small channel on the right in dryer conditions. There was no lining the main flow on the left. We crossed back to river left and portaged about 150 M around the rapid. Almost immediately we were out of the boats again to line around two RIV. This was more man handling than lining, definitely the most involved lining of my canoeing career. The following RII required careful maneuvering as it ended in a RV chute. The lift-over around the RV was a short, steep, slippery drag. I lost grip of my canoe and Colin and Ben were nearly crushed by my canoe as it slid down the rock face as they were loading their boat. Thankfully Travis caught the canoe just in time. We ran a quick RIII before getting out to portage another RIV. Under current conditions, running wasn’t even considered. It was late in the day when we reached the last portage. It was another long, grueling, muddy carry around a 400 M RV. A steep climb followed by a gradual decent, approx 1 km total. The acsent of the first half of the portage included forcing the canoes between trees where they grew too close to carry overhead. At the top, we reached yet another muddy bog. The decent was over and under numerous trees, which crossed the ever disappearing portage in early evenings light. My second trip over the portage was with the canoe. Mid way through the carry it was too dark to see with the canoe overhead. I had to drag it the rest of the way. Thankfully, our campsite at the Toati River was just around the corner. Ben and Colin, finishing the portage first, rushed to the campsite and set up flashlights to mark their location as we approached in the dark.

It was our second night arriving in complete darkness, but not our last. Rain returned just in time for dinner, and miscalculations on water measurements turned our casserole into soup. Soup everyone seemed to enjoy except me. Firewood proved difficult to scavenge in the dark. After a quick shot of hot chocolate everyone retired early.

Day 11 – August 26th
38 km

We awoke to a beautiful, cool, sunny day. Tired from the day before, I was impressed that we were on the water at a reasonable 11:30 AM. It seemed as though we had put two days paddling into one. Today’s paddle included 4 RI, 1 RII, 3 RIII, 1 RIV. Below the Toati River the scenery became even more spectacular and the additional flow from the Toati increased the current to a near continuous swift. Early in the afternoon, we arrived at a spectacular hunt camp. This fabulous A-frame cottage was a gem in the middle of the wilderness. It was open and also contained a logbook for canoeists. A helicopter pilot from Sept Iles owns the camp. We continued down stream, in awe of our surroundings. Towering mountains closed in on the river making the scenery breathtaking. The current through this section was strong, and quickly pushed us through a maze of gigantic boulders, evidence of landslides from long ago. These large boulders were the size of houses. The valley was very deep and steep in this section. Sunlight only reached the river a few short hours each day. While it was a relatively warm day, the valley was cool in the shadow of the hills.

Late in the afternoon we approached a major set of rapids for the day. An RIII and RIV followed by RI and RII. This stretch of river is very quick. In fact, it’s a continuous swift. Travis and I, distracted by the beauty of our surroundings nearly paddled straight down the RIII. Shouts from Colin and Ben who had eddied out behind us caught us just in time. We stopped to put on our spray skirts and Colin scouted the RIII. From his vantage point, there appeared to be a large eddy pool after a gigantic boulder midstream before the RIV. There was a large eddy pool. However, behind the large boulder first loomed a significant ledge. Ben and Colin ran first and soon disappeared out of site. The top of the run was tough enough. We reached the bolder; holding tight to it’s left side, and plunged over the ledge. To our surprise Colin and Ben were swimming to shore, boat in tow. They had taking the ledge at too much of an angle. It was the first upset of the trip. We bailed the boat and decided under current circumstances to line the boats to the RIV drop. The spray skirt had done a fabulous job of keeping the gear inside the boat. The only item lost was Colin’s trademark Indiana Jones hat. Colin and Ben, both suffering from the wet & cold, were anxious to camp. The next RIV was a very difficult line. There was no possibility for portaging, as is the case on several Moisie rapids. The large boulders made lining nearly impossible, as the rocks were too large to climb. With difficulty we lined the rapid. As we lined we realized that had the canoe not been rescued on the RIII above, it most certainly would have sustained damage here. A large sharp rock split the current. We still had 2 significant RIII’s to deal with, as the next campsite could not be found. Colin and Ben, somewhat embarrassed we had not dumped insisted we run the remaining rapids first. The first 450 M RIII was technical and volumous. The river narrowed as the river turned to the right. The second 50 M RIII was equally challenging, with large 2 M diagonal waves that crossed and pushed to boat in all directions. Both boats required bailing, even with the spray skirts.

We found a small, pleasant campsite on the left side of the river beside an unnamed stream entering the river. Travis took a turn at cooking stir-fry. After dinner we stargazed on the shore in to clear sky absent of moonlight. It was a cold, clear night on the most beautiful stretch of the river imaginable.

Day 12 – August 27th
39 km

Today we paddled to the fish ladder. It was a beautiful day and the first day in many it didn’t rain at all. We got on the water at a consistent 11:40 AM. The paddle to the fish ladder was eventful. We stopped for lunch at a beautiful campsite on an island just past the Caupacho River. Here we saw two young black bears on the other side of the river. From this site the hills looked magnificent back upstream, the shear cliffs highlighted by the sun. The river valley, now much wider, was still at a scenery highpoint. The current seemed to diminish later in the day as we neared the ladder making for a more monotonous paddle. For the first time on the trip we began talking about the world back home, what we might be missing, and what food we planned to eat on the way home. We explored another abandoned camp high in the hills on river left in a horrible state of repair. While visible from river, there was no trail and we wasted an hour bushwhacking our way to the property.

We reached the fish ladder around 6 PM. The fish ladder is constructed around a 7 M chute in order to allow the salmon further upstream. There are two options for portaging. The left side is longer but fairly easy (according to somebody). The right side is short but very difficult (as it’s steeper and less used), and ends at a camp set up to monitor the ladder. We opted for the left, thereby avoiding the RIII at the bottom of the falls but also the opportunity to camp on the helicopter pad beside the fish ladder. The portage was no problem until the end. Here the nearby fishing lodge built steep, narrow steps with only guardrails on only one side. Fantastic for descending gear, but treacherous for descending canoes. The very narrow steps crossed under cliffs overhangs and wobbled 20 feet off the ground in places. Man handling the boats 90 degrees around corners proved the worst. We met a local fishing guide just leaving with a group of American tourists. He informed us we were only 1 day behind another group. He also told us the water was low, and fishing poor. We rushed back for the boats. By the time everything was at the river, it was 8:15 PM and daylight had faded fast.

We could sleep on the narrow boardwalk, camp back to the start of the portage, or venture around the corner to the top of the 700 M RII where we hoped for space to camp at a boat landing set up by the fish camp. The boardwalk (without rails) was narrow, towering 8 feet above sharp rocks. Backtracking 1 km on the portage trail in the dark to set camp on a wet beach did not appeal to the majority of the group either. With the boats were already loaded we only hoped that we could find suitable camping at the boat landing. We followed the shore to the top of the rapid only to find a gigantic boulder field. We discovered equally bleak, probably worst, accommodation to the boardwalk. There was no room to set up a tent, and there was barely room for four people to lie down. We walked back in the bush with equally dismal results.

So there we sat, in total darkness at the river’s edge. Visibly upset we had not walked the portage back; one in our group sulked quietly and refused to help with chores. In hindsight we should have saved the portage for morning. But, what was done was done. Set on not making a poor situation worst, the rest of us enjoyed the evening. We built a small fire, ate a dinner of soup and summer sausage and enjoyed another small ration of Gin. Despite our situation, we remained up for the better part of the night. Finally, I wrapped myself in the tent fly lay 3 feet from the river’s edge for what was the best three-hour sleep in memory.

Day 13 – August 28th
15 km

Even in the gray light of early morning the view downstream was fabulous, the scenery big and impressive. With nothing to pack, we were on the water before 7 AM with a healthy breakfast of coffee or tea. The RII, which we camped above, proved to be nothing more than a RI. Nevertheless, we would never paddle any rapid in the dark. The fishing camp on river left below the fish ladder looked nice, but we continued on without visiting. By the time we reached the 20 M RIII it was beginning to rain. The RIII was a short steep drop free of obstacles. But like all RIII’s on the Moisie, it was enough motivation for Travis and I to stop and put on the spray skirt. It was obvious that the rain now falling was more than a passing shower. We were now paddling in the driving rain. The next 1000 M RII and 800 M RII were different from most RII’s encountered to this point These RII’s were some of the most difficult runs of the entire trip, more difficult than some earlier RIII’s. Filed with holes, pillow rocks and waves that would have instantly filled the boats had it not been for the spray skirts. We were a little shaken after the run and began to question rapid characteristics ahead.

At the Joseph River is an abandoned fish camp. The camp itself deserved some exploration that left us somewhat dumbfounded. The camp was in great condition, yet it had not been maintained or used in many years. Certain items had long ago been removed, while the beds remained made. Photos of past trophy fish lined the walls, and the book of rules and regulations was still on the counter. This camp could be a story in itself. Overall there was a ghostly feeling about the place that nobody could quite explain, no doubt heightened by the weather. Tired from the day before, and weary from the weather, we decided to call it a day here. Nobody was in the mood to run the whitewater that lay ahead…. It was shortly before 10 AM when we stopped. Today we were off the water before we were on the water most other days! At the camp we took inventory of our food and prepared a feast. The rain intensified and lasted all night long. I took the rare opportunity to relax indoors and finish repairs to my spray skirt; no doubt I would need it in the days ahead.

Day 14 – August 29th
50 km

Low hanging clouds and a thick mist covered the mountains in the early morning. We waited until 10:30 AM to depart at which time the rain was reduced to intermittent drizzle. With the recent rain, we expected the rapids ahead to be enhanced, and possibly at the limit of what could be safely run in a loaded boat. However, the next section of whitewater was somewhat anti climatic. We ran 4 RI’s and a 900 M RIII. We eddied out once half way through the RIII to bail after a single wave swallowed the boat near the top of the run. While rocky, it wasn’t too bad. The entire river was moving at a good pace. It remained shallow and gravelly for the next several kilometers. We passed another fish camp on river left near the Ouapetec River. This was a sister camp to the one we stayed at last night, only this one was operational. The sun was out in the afternoon and the weather progressively improved, making for a pleasant paddle in the swift current. We stopped for lunch across from an impressive waterfall cascading into the river from hundreds of feet up in the mountains. The weather improved significantly as the sun overtook the clouds. Here we spotted a Grey wolf. A few hours later we spotted what we thought was another wolf. Only this time the wolf proved to be a large German shepherd accompanying a fisherman beside a tiny cabin. He waved as we paddled by trying not to disturb his cast. Next we paddled through a short RI that threw up impressive waves on river right. A motorboat approached with fisherman who was curious to know where we were from and how long we had been on the river. A language barrier limited our communication. Nevertheless, he could tell we were eyeing his beer so he wished us luck and continued on his way. There was another operational fish camp secluded on an island on river left in a bay. No doubt this was where the motorboat was from. Barely visible from our position in the river, we didn’t waste any time visiting. We stopped soon after on an island for the night after passing up a sandy spot on river right. The current had been fabulous today. I only hoped it would continue. The winds picked up and rain spitted intermittently as we pitched camp. Fully exposed on the island, it was difficult to keep the tents on the ground.

Day 15 – August 30th
48 km

Clouds and cold winds soon crushed another fabulous morning. The weather on the Moisie was temperamental. The conditions could change instantly and they often did. We battled a stiff headwind all day that counteracted any push we got from the current. Today we wanted to get as far as possible, so we would have plenty of time for bridge rapids tomorrow. An 11 AM start didn’t help with our cause. Igloo Rock was a definite portage. The portage was short, but straight up and straight down. Travis and I watched in disgust and Colin and Ben ate sardines from a can at lunch. We entered another small canyon stretch and soon after a sudden widening produced a short swift. The river made a sharp S bend and then ahead we could see hydro wires and train tracks. We passed the prestigious Club Moisie visible from the railway. The river was no longer remote. Ever since the fish ladder cabins and fish camps became regular, as did those inhabiting them. However now, every half-hour either a helicopter or small plane would cross overhead. With the passing trains and occupied cabins civilization was boldly apparent. We were hit by frequent short drizzle and strong winds that made each stroke of the paddle more difficult over the next 25 km. The landscape had suddenly leveled out and while the right shore still presented some nice cliffs, the high Moisie was well behind us. The paddling was monotonous until we reached the start of the final rapids. The first RI marked on the map didn’t exist. There was a single RIII between our campsite and us. 100 M long, there was a substantial drop after which the main flow was tight against the rock face on river right. We were wet, cold and very tired. As we scouted we decided it would be better to line. I didn’t come this far to flip. The campsite was nice, but in my opinion not a GA as listed in the Quebec Federation maps. Just in time for dinner it started to rain and continued all night long. Sometime during the day we lost Travis’ plastic/aluminum paddle coined ‘stumpy’ for it’s 54” length. If we had to loose a paddle, that was the one.

Day 16 – August 31st
20 km

We awoke early to a drizzly morning. I noticed the water had risen a foot from yesterday, as the rock I gathered water from the night before was now submersed. As usual, we lounged around camp until late morning despite the fact that it was our last day on the water. While I had been thinking of the luxuries of regular life several days ago, I was not in a rush to leave the Moisie. By the time the canoes were loaded at 10:30 AM the sun had burned off the clouds and it was a beautiful day.

Our first set of rapids was a RV followed by and RII. The RV was an easy carry over the rocks; the RII leads into the first of two BIG 100 M RIII rapids. We scouted the first RIII and passed close to the right. The water through this section is very fast. A dump here would likely lead to a swim right past the train bridge. The second 100 M RIII was even larger. There was a clear run down the center right, but the waves were monstrous. After careful scouting we set up spotters and went for it. It was an exhilarating run. As we paddled into the first trough I feared the upcoming wall of water would swallow us for sure. Wishing we had taken the wave at more of an angle, I braced with all my might, loosening the spray skirt so the exiting the boat would be easier in what I thought was an inevitable swallowing by the river. However, to my relief the boat rode up the 8 foot wall of water and through the wave train without any problem. Following this was an 800 M RIII that goes right to the bridge. The 800 M RIII had several nasty looking holes at the top. After much debate we lined the first 30 M around a large hole and paddled from there. We eddied out again further down to scout the final drop before the bridge. This section is particularly nasty. Plenty of sharp rocks leaving several channels, none of which were very good. The water was complete froth making it difficult to read. We ran down the center narrowly avoiding disaster and we darted to river right. From here there is one more RIII at 350 M just past the bridge. We scouted this run from the top. There was no clear path through it, and no clear path around it. We ran to the right avoiding the heaviest flow on river left. This run turned out to be extremely difficult and technical. Our vantage point diminished the true power of the waves. Half way through the run both boats were swamped. Sideswiping rocks, every frothy wall of aerated water crushed over the boat, eventually ripping the skirts open. Too heavy with water to eddy out, we braced with all our might and submarined out, still upright, the canoes nearly level with the water. Colin and Ben, discouraged from a near 2nd upset, were adamant that Travis and I had picked the worst possible route. Not having scouted the rapid themselves, we had little sympathy. Nevertheless a good-hearted water fight ensued.

It was an exciting climax to a trip that was essentially over. We paddled the last RI, and then had a 12-km dead-water paddle to the takeout, where highway 138 crosses the Moisie. With the wind to our backs, we passed one more fishing camp before we beached the canoes around 4:00 PM. Travis and I called a taxi to take us back to the QSNL while Colin and Ben unpacked the gear. We didn’t know what to make of this campground that appeared to be celebrating Halloween. Perhaps we had paddled into the twilight zone. A local at the campground asked us many questions about the trip. As a railway employee, he had witnessed many canoes descend the Moisie over the years. He said the water had dropped 18” from July, but that low water made the paddle more challenging because the rapids were more technical. I guess we’d never know. Travis and I returned with the van after a $35 fare back to Sept Iles. We rewarded ourselves with a well-deserved beer from the campground variety store (which only sold liquor). After a quick meal at McDonalds, Ben drove to Baie-Comeau where we stayed at a decent motel.

The next day we took turns behind the wheel once again on the way home. Ben treated the group to a fabulous post trip celebratory meal during a three-hour stop off in Quebec City. We arrived back home in the wee hours of the morning, already planning next year’s trip.

Final Thoughts

Overall, this was the best canoe trip of my life and the first river I would anxiously paddle again. The whitewater was challenging and plentiful, and where there wasn’t whitewater, strong currents aided in paddling. A spray skirt is strongly recommended for this river. Without it, your chances of swamping and therefore upsetting are greatly increased in the rapids. The rapids can be long, difficult to scout and on occasion, impossible to portage. Furthermore spray skirts added a great element of warmth in the cool temperatures and constant rain we faced.

The scenery alone made the trip worthwhile, and was perhaps the highlight of the trip. Beginning relatively flat in Labrador, the route takes you through rolling hills, canyons, deep valleys, spectacular cliffs and cascading waterfalls. Already in late August we witnessed the leaves turning autumn colors on the lower river. The Moisie earns its reputation as the Nahanni of the East.

For the most part, there are portages to bypass the more difficult and/or longer RIV runs. However there was rarely a portage for anything less. As mentioned before, lining is often very difficult. While not marked and certainly not well used, the portages were relatively easy to locate and follow.

We used hand drawn maps exclusively. I sourced these through another group who paddled the river, and assume they are Quebec Canoe Federation Maps (from campsite ratings and the fact that they are French). We had a full set of topo’s from Lac Felix down, as well as computer print outs, but never used them once.

Our timeline was sufficient for a good trip, although more time certainly would have been appreciated. Except for the few occasions we paddled into the dark, we usually spent about 6 or 7 hours each day on the water. We were lucky on the lakes. Had the winds been against us, another day would have been needed on Lac Opocopa alone. Furthermore, on several occasions we were tempted to hike in the hills, something we only did on our layover day.

The remoteness of the river was somewhat disappointing. Cabins along the river indicated the presence of man. Above the fish ladder, cabins appeared to be hunting orientated. Of course, below the fish ladder camps were dedicated to fishing. While the camps were sparse and unoccupied on the upper river, they certainly increased as we paddled south. Nevertheless, this only distracted a little from the trip. The adventure was never lost. In fact, I’m not sure what will compare to the Moisie.


Post date: Tue, 08/11/2009 - 22:34


our group of 8 only ran up to c3 rapids--this made for some of the toughest linnings we have ever done--we were dropped off by plane 40k up river from bernie's cabin (we did not know this--we where told we were at the cabin) we had no maps for this part and one of our canoes went over a c5--(i always thought you would see something like this coming) the two were ok--i have dvds of our adventures--just e-mail me--this is a "bucket list" must do river

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


very physically challenging, very rewarding despite at least some rain 16 of 17 days, and bugs

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


The Fish ladder portage was done by us on the right...the short, steep version. At the end of the portage, you are in a government fish study camp. From there you have a nasty rapid with a huge boulder in the centre of the river. We ran it right of the boulder but according to the government employee, virtually everyone runs it left.

Our route started on the Pekans so we avoided the windblown threat of the lakes. The pekans is OK but the blackflies were terrible in early Aug. The last portage to the confluence of the Pekans & Moisie is over 1500m of tough terrain and the trail is NOT well marked.

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


I would say that the portaging on the Moise was pretty straightforward. Well established trails make carries basic and only one has a loty of length to it.