Otoskwin-Attawapiskat

CanadaOntarioHudson Bay, James Bay north
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Frank de Jong
Trip Date : 
Additional Route Information
Distance: 
800 km
Duration: 
23 days
Loop Trip: 
No
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
5
Total Portage Distance: 
2000 m
Longest Portage: 
800 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Intermediate
Lake Travel: 
Intermediate
Portaging: 
Moderate
Remoteness: 
Advanced
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Technical Guide: 

Having canoed Ontario rivers like the Missinaibi, Wakweyokastic and the Albany, we thought we knew what to expect, but, for almost a month, the scenic and exciting Otoskwin-Attawapiskat delivered new charms daily.

After leaving our vehicles in Cochrane, Johnny Bait ( 705-272-4994 ) shuttled us to Foylet to catch the VIA Rail. We spent the ten-hour trip to Savant Lake watching the mysterious boreal forest go by from the panoramic viewing car, and enjoying a delicious white-table cloth/way-too-much-cutlery, dining car supper.

A second shuttle north on Road 599 (Dwight Monck dmonck@northstarair.ca) brought us to Pickle Lake where we chartered a bush-plane (Peter Johnson 807-221-6625 ) for a short flight past a reported burn/blown-down impassable portage. After a smooth landing, we started down the Otoskwin, excited and apprehensive.

With twenty-four days of food jammed in our barrels, unsure of our rusty white-water skills (is white water really like riding a bike?), we were on our way. We suspiciously eyed our other three crew members, most of whom had only recently met. Would we get along? Would we pull together if things got tough?

The Otoskwin-Attawapiskat watershed is world-class wilderness, one of the last few places on Earth where nature still flourishes unmolested. The entire watershed is well above the cut-line, there are no power lines, no logging roads, no fire suppression, no clearcuts. Here caribou, wolves, bears, moose, eagles and the entire panoply of species still wander at will, as the song says. The entire watershed should preserved forever as a national or provincial park.

The first half of our trip is the Otoskwin River, which is still Canadian shield country – pristine lakes connected by a “brawler” of river that we all agreed was white-water heaven – dozens and dozens of runnable rapids, very few portages, with no altitude “wasted” on water falls. With little effort and even less skill, we caught delicious pike and pickerel every day to add to our dried food rations.

Half-way through our trip – Day 12 – on the shore of the very large Lake Attawapiskat, we visited a small reserve, Nestanga First Nation, where at the Northern Store we purchased (at three times the normal price) some extra food, plus – embarrassingly – potato chips, pop, and butter tarts. A few kilometers along we visited historical Lansdowne House, the abandoned community and trading post, and now site of ceremonies and picnics for the local First Nations people.

The second half of our trip, the Attawapiskat River, is in the James Bay lowlands, where granite and gneiss hills and ridges give way to limestone cliffs and bluffs. There were still many exciting rapids, but rather then dodging granite boulders we “flew” over limestone ledges. Although the lowlands are famous for being topographically-challenged, the Attawapiskat is unique in that you canoe past dozens of twenty-five meter-high wedding-cake islands some of limestone and others of magma volcanic plugs -- the inner cores of ancient eroded volcanoes.

As few canoeists chose this river system, there are very few established camp sites. There are, however, plenty of “camping opportunities”: narrow beaches, gravel bars, grassy knolls, and forest interiors. Bugs were never a problem for us when on the river, but on shore we often availed ourselves of the canoeists best friend, DEET. Our trip was from mid-July to mid-August, which meant mostly mosquitoes with just enough black flies thrown in to keep us cursing.

Most days we experienced sunny, warm continental weather, but several days the north-east wind from the ocean delivered maritime cloudy skies and cold head winds. Unlike the tea-coloured Albany River water, the Attawapiskat was clear and beautiful.

Surprisingly almost no one travels this unknown gem of a river system. On our entire 800 kilometer trip we met but one crew of young female canoeists from a camp. The Cree at Attawapiskat told us that two or three crews complete the river per season, mostly young people from summer camps.

This river offers globally unparalleled canoeing and wilderness experience. The flora and fauna entertained us, the rapids thrilled us, the sky and river charmed us, the geological and human history humbled us, and the canoe-speed river-scape expanding in front of us was mesmerizing and enchanting.

The mosquito in the oatmeal is that the integrity of this beautiful river will soon be permanently compromised. Know as the Ring of Fire, extensive mineral deposits lie in the Attawapiskat basin. Mining companies have extensive plans to bulldoze and dig mines (in addition to the existing De Beers diamond mine), build roads and airports to service the thousands of miners, and pipelines and railroads to bring the ore south. The prospect of this imminent destruction cast a pall over our trip.

With three days till our flight to Moosonee, we took the opportunity to canoe into salt water. The receding tide effortlessly floated us the eight kilometers to the bay where we paddled out onto the shallow water covering the endless mud flats. Here we observed eagles, snow geese, pelicans, seals and countless shore birds all availing themselves of the James Bay's bounty. Camping near mud flats meant a billion mosquitoes, but our bug hats and bug tent served their intended purpose.

Thrilled with this crowning experience to our trip, we rode the rising tide back to Attawapiskat, and caught our flight (Air Crebec) home, brimming with pride at our accomplishment.

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To view photos please go to: https://picasaweb.google.com/110791923242380319035/OtoskwinAttawapiskat02
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Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

Our trip was July 15 - August 10. Water level was high due to wet weather in June.

Other
Special Comments: 

First 800 m portage on Otoskwin River was reported to be impassible due to fire and blowdown. We flew beyond it to start our trip.

Portage from Ozhiski Lake to first bog is well maintained but next portage from bog to Martin-Drinking route was overgrown or non-existent.

For route description refer to "Canoe Atlas of the Little North"