Nabakwasi River Loop

CanadaOntarioNorth Channel
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Richard Munn
Trip Date : 
Additional Route Information
Distance: 
52 km
Duration: 
3 days
Loop Trip: 
Yes
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
14
Total Portage Distance: 
4245 m
Longest Portage: 
1500 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Intermediate
Lake Travel: 
Novice
Portaging: 
Moderate
Remoteness: 
Intermediate
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 

Frequent and long portages - rugged landscape

Technical Guide: 

Town of Gogama off Hwy 144
Public Launch area on Minisinakwa Lake
South through Duckbreast Lake
P 160 m L
P 180 m R
South through Groves Lake
P 115 m to Hanover Lake
South through Hanover Lake
P 50 m (and 2 liftovers) to Londenderry Lake
South through Londenderry Lake
Hanover Creek, including 5 portages:
P 250 m R
P 200 m L
P 150 m R
P 100 m L
P 30 m L
North on Donnegana River
North on Nabakwasi River
P 725 m R around falls
P 430 m (island portage)
Swift
P 325 m R around falls
North on Nabakwasi River
Southwest on Minisinakwa River
P 1500 m L around Togo Rapids
(possible P 900 m R and CBR)
Southwest on Minisikawa River
P 30 m R around dam
Continue southwest to finish at Gogama

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

Every year in August, we paddle a four-day trip with a group of couples we know. The number of participants has fluctuated over the years, and we’ve travelled with as few as three couples and as many as six, depending on people’s schedules and commitments. We’ve been paddling together now for ten years, and when we met in July to choose a route for trip number eleven, we happened to glance through Kevin Callan’s “Lost Canoe Routes” book looking for possibilities. The Nabakwasi seemed to fit the bill, being fairly close to home for us (Gogama is only two hours north of us) and the duration of 3-4 days also worked for us.

This year we would travel with four couples; Carmen and Peter Shuparski, Janet and Gil Gasparini, Kelly and Alan Marcon, and ourselves – Debbie and Richard Munn.

All of the canoes were Novacraft Prospectors in either Royalex or Royalite – three sixteen footers, and a seventeen footer that Debbie and I had rented to try out, since we were considering purchasing one. We travelled from Sudbury to Gogama in two vans. One of the vans was pulling a trailer with the four canoes and much of the heavy gear.

The route basically forms a rectangle, which is paddled in a counter-clockwise direction starting at the top left corner. The first leg, which heads south, is the Noble River. The second leg, (heading east) is Hanover Creek. Third (heading north) is the Donnegana and Nabakwasi Rivers. Finally, completing the loop is the Nisinakwa River and Minisinakwa Lake.

Day One – Thursday August 7, 2003,

We all met at the Tim Horton’s in Chelmsford, just north of Sudbury at 8:00 am. The plan was to be on the road by 8:30 am and on the water at 10:30 am. We left on schedule but after a few stops for gas, film and other odds and ends, it was 10:30 before we even arrived at the public launch in Gogama to begin unloading.

The put in is right next to the white Ministry of Natural Resources buildings, and clearly marked as a boat launch on Minisinakwa Lake. It’s right off the main road that runs through the town of Gogama. It’s marked for no overnight camping, but seems fine as a vehicle storage location for the duration of the trip. We left the two vans and the canoe trailer there for the four days.

We were on the water at 11:00 am and headed in an easterly direction on Minisinakwa Lake. At the 4 km point on this lake, we would head south on the Noble River, which is in not a river for the most part, but a chain of small lakes joined by swifts or short portages.

At 12:15 pm, we were about 1.5 km down this system, in a narrow, swampy area. We stopped here for lunch, but ate in the canoes, since there was little dry land available for a lunch stop. It was cloudy and as we ate lunch, a very light rain – almost a mist – fell on us.

We continued south, heading past Pencil Creek and off the river into Duckbreast Lake, and then into Spruce Lake. At the southern end of Spruce Lake we saw the portage sign to the left, showing us where the 160 m trail began, our first portage of the trip. This trail would take us to a small, unnamed pond about 250 m in diameter. The portage bypassed a short section of fast water between Spruce Lake and that pond. We looked as far up the little channel as we could see, and it appeared to be only a shallow run of fast water over a rocky riverbed. Rather than portage, we decided to line the boats up this shallow swift.

As we expected, working our way up the creek was a simple process. We simply waded, pushing the canoes upstream. At times, the water got a little deep (thigh depth) but for the most part it was a simple wade in knee-deep water. However, when we rounded the last corner, about 120 m up the creek, we saw a small falls that dropped out of the pond into the creek. There was no way we could line or lift the boats up that falls. To the left of it was a small, six foot high ‘cliff’ that would be extremely difficult to get over. It looked like we had reached a dead end with no good way to continue – this is why you’re supposed to scout these things, I guess. In the end, we simply pulled into the small eddy below the falls and bushwhacked through the trees to the right. It was only 20 m through the bush to the pond, but even after cutting out some of the underbrush we came out of it hot and sweaty, with scratched legs. In retrospect, it would have been faster and simpler to do the 180 m portage on the left.

We paddled across the unnamed pond toward the next portage sign, showing the start of the trail to the right of the little creek that drained into the pond. After our experinence on the previous portage, we were a little gun shy. We could see some deadfalls across the creek, so we simply unloaded and took to the portage trail. It was a simple, flat trail – quite wet in spots, but that hardly mattered to a group who had just waded up a creek in thigh-deep water.

As it turned out, the deadfalls we could see across the mouth of the creek were the only obstacles on the entire creek, so the vast majority of the portage could have been skipped. Once again, we probably should have scouted, and thus avoided most of the portage. We did put the empty canoes into the water just past the deadfall and avoid carrying them.

This was a less-than-auspicious start. First, we had stayed on the water in a section of creek that definitely should have been portaged. Five minutes later, we portaged an entire section of creek when we should have stayed on the water. Some people never learn.

It was still early afternoon (about 2:30 pm) when we reached Groves Lake. We paddled past a cabin on the northeast shore, and continued down to the south end of the lake. An island just before the end of the lake contains what is supposed to be a very good campsite, but it was too early in the day (3:00 pm) to finish, so we paddled past without stopping to investigate it.

At the south end of Groves Lake, a 115 m portage took us to Hanover Lake. The trail had a few moderately steep ups and downs, but was not overly difficult.

We were planning on stopping at one of the two sites we had marked on Hanover Lake. Both were supposed to be on the left (east) side of the lake. Although the eight of us watched carefully as we paddled down the lake, we could only find one of those sites, which was a tiny clearing on a point of land. It would suffice for one or two people, but would never hold a group of eight people in four tents.

It appeared that we would have to continue south into Londonderry Lake, which meant doing a 50 m portage and two liftovers. There was supposed to be one campsite on Londonderry, near the north end. We didn’t even want to consider what might happen if that site were occupied or too small, since the next marked site was a four-hour paddle away. If we couldn’t get the site at the top of Londonderry, we were probably going to have to cut out a rough bush site on the shoreline.

The 250 m portage was marked with a sign at the south end of the lake. This was a short trail with a few steep downhill sections that required some careful footwork. It was also a height of land portage, and the water body now flowed to the south.

We emerged into Londonderry, anxiously looking for the site along the northwestern shore. There was not site along the shoreline, but there was a small island just off that shore, and we could see obvious signs that people had stayed there before. Like the other sites, it was too small for a group with four tents, but our options were limited at that point, so we decided that it looked just fine to us.

It took a bit of creative tent erecting, but we found spots for not only the four tents but also our Eureka VCS 16 bug shelter. It certainly wasn’t four-star accommodation, but by this time it was 5:00 and we more than ready to stop for the day.

We had a great dinner of Lipton noodles with chicken and a greek salad, and spent a few hours in the bug shelter playing cards and chatting. There were actually very few bugs, even at 9:00 at night, but the rain clouds had blown in so we all retired to the tents shortly after that.

Day Two – Friday August 8, 2003

We rolled out of the tents at about 7:00 am and were greeted by grey, cloudy skies. The Weather Network had promised sunny skies for Friday, but it didn’t look like they were going to materialize. All of us had spent a restless night slipping and sliding on the less than perfect tent spots. It’s funny how a spot that looks not too bad when you’re setting up can feel so sloped during the night.

Our plan for the morning was to head down to the south end of Londonderry, where we would take the exit to Hanover Creek. The creek was described in Kevin Callan’s book as challenging, with a combination of portages, liftovers, lining and wading. Kevin indicated that it took about three hours to navigate the six-kilometre length of the creek.

We were on the water at 9:00 am, and down to the mouth of the creek in half an hour. Thankfully, the high water levels had drowned out all of the beaver dams, and we didn’t have to do a single liftover for the entire length. We did encounter the four portages he mentioned in his book – all were marked with brand new MNR portage signs. Like Kevin, we used only the first portage, and found that the others could be bypassed with a combination of running, lining and wading.

The 250 m trail on the right side was simple and appeared to be well used. We were through it in about half an our.

We did not use the second portage (200 m on the left), choosing instead to run the rocky channel. It was a bit of a bump and grind, and some ducking under fallen trees and overhanging branches, but a simple run in the high water conditions we were experienceing. The only casualty on this run was Peter’s Tilley Hat. Carmen pushed a branch out of the way while they were running the little chute. The branch snapped back and sent Peter’s hat flying back into the water. Twenty minutes of searching didn’t tun up the hat, so we continued on, Peter hatless in the light rain. If anyone finds the hat, I’m sure he’d appreciate hearing from them.

The third portage (150 m on the right) bypassed a little chute. We chose to line this chute on the right side rather than carry on the trail.

The fourth and final portage on Hanover Creek (30 m on the left) was also not necessary. There was a small swift with a well-defined deepwater vee, and we simply flushed down and continued paddling.

It took about an hour to finish paddling the marshy oxbows of Hanover Creek. There was a little bit on navigation confusion at the exit of the creek into the Donnegana River, but we eventually got into the right channel and began to head north. At 1:30 pm we stopped for lunch at the campsite three kilometres north of the creek. The site was marked with an orange MNR sign, and was fairly high up the riverbank on the right side. It was quite a large site and would have easily accommodated our group. Unfortunately, the time wasn’t right. It was much too early in the day to stop so we carried on.

About 1.5 km north of our lunch stop, the Donnegana River emptied into the Nabakwasi River, and we continued north. There was no appreciable difference in either the scenery or the size of the river, but we did begin to see more rock outcrops and small cliffs rather than the continual swampy grasslands.

There were a couple of campsites shown a couple of kilometres to the north, and we were plannign on investigating these and perhaps staying at one of them. Once again, we were unable to locate one of the campsites at all, and the other was extremely small, nowhere close to adequte for our group of eight.

This meant that we would have to paddle another couple of kilometres and do the 725 m portage around the falls at that location, since the next marked campsite was past that. We arrived at the portage at 3:00 pm and although we couldn’t see the falls, the sound of crashing water left little doubt that the portage was the only option.

We offloaded all of the gear at the beginning of the portage and began the long carry. The first 200 m was a steady climb, and we estimated that we ended up about 150 ft. above the water. At that point, the trail levelled out somewhat and followed the shoreline. As we carried the gear, we began to notice that the water after the first drop of the falls didn’t look threatening or difficult. It looked like a combination of fastwater and class one rapids. Not knowing if there was another major drop further along, we continued to carry. When we reached the end, we found that the section after the falls had indeed been runnable.

A small rock ledge at the halfway point on the trail offered a good put-in to run the swift water below the falls, so we portaged the remained of the gear and canoes only to that location. Thankful for avoiding at least half of the carry, we ran the boats and the rest of the way down to the end of the portage trail.

There was a site marked on the map just past this portage, but the small rock ledge we had found in the middle of the portage trail had obviously been used as a site. We were beginning to wonder if that was the site, marked incorrectly on the map. If so, it was not a good situation. It was now after 4:00 pm, and if the site indicated after the falls was non-existent or too small, we once again had not too many options for our group. There were no sites indicated for another 15 km, and there were also a number of portages coming up.

Thankfully, we rounded the corner and saw an old MNR sign on the right side of the river, indicating a campsite. We paddled towards it, not really caring at that point how large or attractive it was. Considering the lack of options, we knew it would be just fine.

It wasn’t an overly pretty site, and it wasn’t really big enough for us, but necessity is the mother of invention and we squeezed the tents into the site somehow. Like most of the other sites we had found, it was cut out of the bush, and a bit dark. There was no exposed rock for stargazing, nor was there a good area for swimming. Still, it was suppertime and we were tired from our full day of paddling, so we didn’t complain.

We cooked up another great supper – tortellini with a tomato-pesto sauce. Once again, we had an impromptu euchre tournament, but at 9:30 pm people were already retiring to their tents.

Day Three – Saturday August 9, 2003

At about 6:30 am, we heard the first ambitious soul filling the coffee pot and getting the stove fired up. By 7:00 am we were all up and sharing a cup of coffee.

We knew that coming up in quick succession, we had a 430 m portage around a falls, a swift to line and a 325 m portage around another falls. From that point, it would be unobstructed paddling for 12 or 13 km to the confluence of the Nabakwasi and the Nisinakwa Rivers, where we were hoping to find a campsite. We weren’t aware of any sites in this area – we were just hoping for the best.

We were on the water by 9:00 am and paddling toward the first portage. The river split around the island, with an unrunnable rapid on both sides. The portage began in the channel to the right, with the take out close to the top of the rapid. The portage was well groomed and mostly downhill, with a very small put-in at the end.

Just past this portage, the river split around a tiny island. We paddled down the left side, where there was a small, easily run swift.

Less than a kilometre further, we arrived at the beginning of the next portage – a 325 m trail on the right that bypassed a falls. The approach doesn’t look at all threatening, but the drop is definitely not runnable. It’s a pretty staircase falls that drops a considerable height in a number of ledges and steps. The trail had a moderately steep climb at the beginning, and then dropped gradually down to the foot of the falls. There was a small campsite at the end of the portage, but it was little more than a grassy clearing that might hold two tents – three if absolutely necessary. A trail carried on past this site, which we thought might lead to some additional tent sites, but the trail simply disappeared after a short distance.

About three or four kilometres further north, we passed another campsite. It was just north of the boundary between Brunswick Township and Togo Township, on the point opposite the small creek that flows in from the west. Although we didn’t stop to investigate, it appeared big enough to hold our group, and was obviously regularly used.

About 2.5 km north, our notes indicated a possible swift in low water conditions. We found only a narrowing of the river at that point, and no trace of fast water at the levels we were paddling in. Approximately 2 km north of this narrowing, we found another campsite on the right. It wasn’t the best, just a cleared spot in the bush but it certainly would have held our group had we needed to stop there. However, like every other day, we felt that we hadn’t gone far enough, and decided to paddle on to our planned stop at the north end of the Nabakwasi.

We continued paddling under skies that promised sunshine, but always clouded over before fulfilling that promise. The little blue spots always disappeared, and it rained on us several times. This was a pleasant part of the river, with rocky cliffs visible behind the heavily treed shoreline.

By late afternoon, we were approaching the confluence of the Nabakwasi and Nisinakwa Rivers. We were hoping to find somewhere to camp here, although we weren’t certain exactly where. A quick examination of the old lumber mill site on river left showed that there was nothing suitable at that location – it was all low, bushy and swampy.

Just past that location, we noticed a cottage on the left side, and paddled over to speak with the owners. They told us that there was an old site on river left just around the corner, before Togo Rapids. We paddled over to that spot to see what type of site awaited us.

We’ve stayed at some magnificent sites in the past; and we’ve stayed at some not-so-great sites too. This one, however, would definitely rank in the lowest reaches of our campsite rating system. It was basically and old field, perhaps part of a logging road or camp. It was completely overgrown with thigh-high ferns, ground cover and blueberry plants. It was surrounded by thick bush, and very buggy. There was not even the slightest whisper of a breeze moving through the site.

Fifteen minutes of discussion followed, but we ultimately voted to stay there rather than carry on. We cut out and stomped down a large area of ferns and began to set up. It was hot, and the bugs were very annoying. As soon as camp was set up and we’d had something cold to drink, we decided to paddle over to the foot of Togo Rapids, visible just to the west of our site for a swim and cleanup.

We had a wonderful time sitting in rocks at the base of the rapids, being pummeled by the strong current. It was like being in a huge (and cold) Jaccuzzi spa. Cleaned and much refreshed, we paddled back to our site in a much better frame of mind to begin supper.

It was Janet and Gil’s turn to make supper, and they braved the bugs while the rest of us sat in the bug shelter and put together a fabulous supper of pasta Alfredo. We did a little better, staying up until after 10:00 pm before going to bed.

The skies had cleared and we could see a full moon rising above the trees as we retired.

Day Four – Sunday August 10, 2003

We awoke for the first time to blue skies. It appeared that the good weather had finally arrived. In spite of the bright sunshine, everything was soaked with dew and the mosquitoes were atrocious, bothering us while we had breakfast and knocked down tent. Happy to be leaving this less-than-spectacular site, we loaded up the boats and headed out.

We knew that we had two possible options for portaging around Togo Rapids. Kevin Callan described in his book how he began the 900 m portage on river right on a very rough and faint trail that eventually petered out completely. He eventually portaged 1500 m on the left along an old logging road, but that road was buried in piles of blowdown scattered on the trail “like toothpicks.” Neither option sounded appealing.

Kelly and Alan had investigated the beginning of the 900 m portage on the right and reported that it looked tough. However, it was marked with brand new portage signs and we wondered if some clearing work had been done on it. Debbie and I walked a couple of hundred metres up the portage on the opposite side. The first 200 m was rough, but after than it appeared to open up to an extremely good trail on the old logging road. It looked like most of the blowdown had been cut and moved aside, so we chose that option.

We dragged the gear and canoes up to the tiny clearing at the take-out and pulled them through thick, overgrown bush and under a set of deadfalls. We were soaked from crashing through the wet, thick bush. In half an hour though, we were past the tough section and only had the 1500 m of logging road to deal with. That trail was level, clear and easy to follow; and the footing was excellent. It was definitely the way to go, despite the longer distance. The only problems we experienced were the clouds of mosquitoes that tormented us along the entire trail; and the temperature, which was already quite high.

Two hours later, we had completed multiple carries along this long trail, and got back on the water, happy to be escaping the thousands of mosquitoes and oppressive heat.

The rest of the paddle back to our start point in Gogama was simple and uneventful. There was a tiny 30 m portage to the right of the control dam about 4 km past Togo Rapids, but that was a ten minute exercise. We managed to stir up a hornet’s nest at this location, which provided a bit of excitement and encouraged us to get on the water quickly.

Two hours of paddling brought us back to Gogama. The water was dead flat, showing reflections of the shoreline even on the large lakes. The temperature and humidity had skyrocketed; and there was not the slightest trace of a breeze. It made for a tiring end to our trip, particularly since we were already hot and tired from the 1500 m portage around Togo Rapids.

We arrived at Gogama at just after 2:00 pm and had a quick swim at the boat launch to cool off. Boats and gear reloaded on the trailer, we drove into the town for a post-trip lunch of clubhouse sandwiches, fries and cold beer. Excellent food and great, friendly service!

General Notes and Observations

We’d rate this trip as requiring intermediate tripping skills. Although not extremely difficult, it was certainly the most challenging of trips we’ve done with the couples in eleven years of paddling together.

Kevin Callan describes this as a 3-4 day loop. I don’t think I’d want to paddle this in three days. Four was reasonably busy, keeping us on the water from 9:00 am to 4:00 or 4:30 pm. I’d be more inclined to call it a 4-5 day loop. Were we to do it again, we’d probably do it in five relaxing days – a pace which would put us at better campsites than the ones we ultimately ended up at.

The sites are small, infrequent and rough. They’re all bush sites, with limited opportunity for swimming and no amenities like thunderboxes. The bushy nature of these sites also tends to make them buggy. It was a challenge finding room for eight people in four small tents – definitely not the place to take a large group like a school trip.

There’s a great diversity of scenery, ranging from swampy lowlands and marshes to fairly high cliffs to northern feeling boreal forest, with black spruce, pines and birch. Some of the falls and rapids are quite scenic.

The route is very quiet and isolated. In four days, we saw nobody else – no canoeists, no fishing boats, and next to no buildings. The only exception would be the area immediately adjacent to Gogama, and even this was quiet. We saw only 3 small boats on the water in this area too.

We paddled in what appeared to us to be fairly high water conditions. Lower water would have meant more portaging, wading, lining and lifting, particularly in the Hanover Creek area.

Richard Munn

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
41 P/11 Shining Tree 41 P/12 Gogama
Other
Special Comments: 

The MNR description is very vague and sketchy, but Callan`s book gives an excellent description of the route

Comments

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

Comments: 

I did this trip last week (July 2006) the water levels on all but the last leg (Nabakwasi river) were low (down about 40 cm) making this an extremely difficult trip. The creek system was filled with beaver damns and lift overs, and we were unable to line the canoe through any of the portages in the creek system. We completed the route in 4 days. Very hard, but Very enjoyable. We saw one other tripper for the entire span who was from our home town of Waterloo, (Go figure!) I do not believe this route is maintained any longer.

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

Comments: 

Another trip out of the "Lost Canoe Routes" book. This trip was fantastic. It was in the Hudson Bay watershed (my first) and we saw only 4 other people near the end of the trip.

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

Comments: 

Hey Richard. My group of Four had gone in on the Sunday before you and came out the friday (next day after you went in) The weather for us was not good but you got use to it. For everyone else I have lots of pictures if you want any. Drop me a line.

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

Comments: 

I have a beautiful picture of Lake Nabakwasi taken at sunset on Sunday, May 26, 2002. Please let me know if you are interested in it. I can make it available in either jpg or bmp format.