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 Post subject: Pontax River July 2013
PostPosted: March 17th, 2014, 8:31 pm 
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Joined: January 3rd, 2010, 5:59 pm
Posts: 197
Location: Kanata
Pontax River Trip 2013 – June 28-July 5 – 6 river days
4 people 2 canoes

The four of has have known each other for close to 20 years. Originally worked together at a canoe tripping camp in the early 1990’s. Three of us eventually went up north to work for an outfitter who we guided with for about 10 years, though we rarely got to work together in the Arctic. Since 2006 I’ve been organizing annual canoe trips for friends. Due to other commitments and responsibilities the trip is filled with a different mix of people every year. This is the first time that the 4 of us have tripped together in many years and we were all looking forward to it.

Day 1 Ottawa – Pontax River put in - Left Ottawa around 7-7:30am got there around 10pm. Picked up Sean in Wakefield. Stopped for snack in Maniwaki, then drove to Amos where we got gas, bought fishing licenses and some beer. I’d been in contact with Raymond Blackend, at Waskaganish band tourism office via e-mail several times but never really firmed things up, at least in my mind. So we were trying to get in contact with him on the drive up when we had cell coverage. Turns out he was driving to Montreal that day – we met up with him north of Amos – stopped and talked for a bit. We were astounded by the number of dead blackflies on his truck.
Stopped in Matagami for dinner. Noticed that the local tourism office had a bunch of Esquif Canyons on a canoe rack outside their office, not sure if they are for rent of not, but would be worth looking into. Just outside of Matagami is the check in for the James Bay highway. There was a forest fire burning near Eastmain, it was evacuated, and the people at the office encouraged us to think about not doing the river, but we chose to keep going.
At around 8pm we started to hear a funny sound outside the truck, soon we noticed that a crazy number of black flies were hitting the truck, enough that we needed to use the windshield washer fluid fairly often to see properly. That was a first for all of us – and I’m sure we were all a little bit worried about what it would be like on the river. Made it to the put in around 10-10:30pm – Raymond said we could camp at the collection of cabins that are on the right hand side after the bridge. Had a beer, swatted at the bugs, put the tents up and went to bed. It was a long day of driving, but we stopped frequently, likely too frequently.
Blackflys (800x600).jpg

Day 2 Km 125-105 – Weather was hot, sunny and windy all day. Shuttle driver picked up our truck around 9am. Nice guy, he and his son-in-law came to drive our truck to Waskaganish – price was $400 - cash. Raymond and the shuttle driver seemed to think the water levels were a little higher than normal for that time of year. The gauge had been knocked off line in the spring floods so we didn’t really know what the levels were like – we’d soon find out.
Hit the water around 10am and made our way down stream – saw a couple of moose – 3 I think, along the shore on our way down. First rapid is a class III rapid, maybe 30-40 minutes downstream of the road. We got out to scout and were flabbergasted by what we saw – ROCKS – for as far as we could see. The first rapid is 3km long and we walked/dragged most of it. Took quite a while. It seems all the water came down the river in one huge flood and then it all dried up.
We ran a couple more shallow rapids – but all required us to get out and push at some point. The rapids so far were only challenging because we were trying to avoid the multitude of rocks.
Made camp just above km 105 on an island at the class 4/5 ledge in Dog Leg Rapids, (I think I got the names for the rapids and falls from the Wanapitei website) camped on flat rocks. There was a breeze which kept the bugs away, but when it died down they made their presence known. One member of our group is a Franciscan Monk and he had a long beard. The blackflies bothered him more than us and would get caught behind his beard. So much so that he was starting to feel sick from all the bites. Upon closer inspection when he lifted up his beard his neck was a bloody mess, so he decided to hack off his beard, which Mark, his brother, did with scissors from the 1st aid kid.
After our traditional first night dinner of taco salad we did some fishing and caught several small pickerel.
1st campsite (800x600).jpg

Day 3 - Long day on the water. Paddled 29km today to camp at km76. Sunny, hot and windy again today. Camped on rocks again on the river left side at what I think might be Xateop Falls. We pulled out just above the R3/4 section. Saw some large plumes of smoke from the forest fire. This would be the last time we saw the smoke. Rapids were again very shallow, lots of dragging, which was time consuming. As we unloaded the boats Mark got a fish hook embedded in his thumb, past the barb. After a few painful minutes we managed to get it out. Shortly after arriving at camp, and getting the hook out of Mark’s thumb, it rained really hard. The cold rain, mixed with the hot rocks we were on made it very humid, to the point that there was fog coming off the rocks and our glasses needed to be removed. For about half an hour it felt like we were in the middle of the rain forest it was so hot and humid. After the rain we did some fishing and caught several fish for dinner.

Day 4 – Very hot again today and windy. Rain shower in the early evening before dinner. Luckily the humidity did not return like it did yesterday after the rain. Only paddled 15kms, but plenty of head wind and two short portages around water falls: one at km 74 and another shorter portage around Nighthawk Falls(km61 just below the water gauge), where we camped. The falls at km 74 were quite beautiful, could have camped here on the rocks. Long walk/drag though the R2 at the bottom of the falls. Had a relaxing lunch where the Lesser Pontax comes in to the river. We were hoping that the volume of the river would go up, but it didn’t really seem to be adding any volume to the river at all, much to our disappointment.
The reports we had read about the river indicated that we could camp at the weather station at km 62ish on river left. I would not want to camp there at these levels. It was a steep hike up from the river to camp in the grass. I would imagine that the bugs would have been terrible. We once again slept on the rocks at Nighthawk Falls. It was quite a nice place to stay if you can tolerate uneven sleeping pads. The tent spots were small, fit two person tents only. Really only room for two maybe three tents, not sure you could camp here in higher water.
Nighthawk Falls (800x533).jpg

Day 5 – km 61-36 - Woke up to an overcast cool morning. It rained off and on throughout the night. Did some fishing before breakfast – nothing better than fresh pickerel first thing in the morning. Ate breakfast in under the tarp, pouring rain, temperature dropping. On last cast before pushing off from the pool Sean caught an 8lbs pickerel. It turned out to be the biggest fish of the trip. Rained all morning, cold head wind and fog blowing in off of the bay. Stopped to get warmed up on the island just below km45. We were all very cold, despite putting warm clothes and having snacks before getting here. It was a group effort to get the wet wood burning but we all got warmed up with a big lunch and soup. The rain had stopped for the day just before getting to the island.
The map indicates that it’s a class 3 rapid to the left of the island and class 5 on the right. Obviously we planned to run the class 3 – one problem though, there wasn’t an ounce of water flowing through the boulders, this is how low the water was. After a big lunch and drying out a bit we headed over to the R5 side to line the boats. Somehow in the R2/3 further down Sean and I managed to dump/swap our boat while bolder hoping. We got wet, but didn’t really swim, we just stood up and grabbed the boat. Unfortunately, Sean lost his fishing rod and may peli case leaked, ruining my camera and memory card.
The wind calmed down and the sun came out for the afternoon/evening, but the temperature was still cool. We looked for a place to camp between km 40 and the next rapid, but didn’t see anywhere suitable, at least to us. It was getting late and we were hoping to find a campsite on rocks above the R3 at km 37, but no luck. So we paddled through some of the rapid, and rock hoped and lined other parts of it. Towards the bottom of the rapid I noticed a small patch of flat rocks that looked like we could pitch two tents on. Mark and Chris had already bumped and ground their way to the bottom of the rapid, but Sean and I managed to eddy out at the site. It was a short walk along the shore to bring the gear from their boat up to the site. We had a beautiful sun set at the site, though it was quite cool. This site would definitely not be available in higher water.
camp at km 36 (800x600).jpg

Day 6 Km 36-12 – 24km of paddling. Cool morning. Sunny, but cool all day. Long day on the water. More pushing and pulling through the rapids. Great fishing today. Camped on the upstream end of the large island after the last rapid. Not a great site, first time we didn’t camp on rocks. Lots of mud when the tide went down. Map indicated that there was good fishing here, but we caught nothing.

Day 7 Km 12-Waskaganish – Foggy morning, once fog burned off, hot and sunny. No rapids today. Paddle to the bay was easy. Had lunch on a gravel bar at the mouth of the river. Quite windy, but not nearly as bad as we imagined it could have been. We paddled what seemed like a long way out from the mouth of the river to avoid the shallow areas. Large waves, made for an interesting paddle when turning towards Waskaganish. Took us several hours to get to the village. We arrived there mid-afternoon and located Raymond at the band office. He took us to get the truck and gave us a tour of the village. We bought dinner at the restaurant that overlooks that river and then drove until dark. We slept by the side of the road on a pull out.

Day 8 – James Bay Highway – Ottawa – Up early in the morning and drove to Ottawa. Stopped a couple of times to eat. I think we had breakfast in Amos. Arrived in Ottawa in time for rush-hour on the Queensway.

paddling on the bay (800x600).jpg

Despite the low water we had a great time. Not sure if the high water in the spring washed away all signs of previous trips, but we saw virtually no sign of other trips being down the river. I’m pretty sure we were the first trip down in 2013. The only human evidence we was some garbage left on the island at our last campsite. Otherwise it was a pristine river with great fishing. The scenery was not too exciting – lots of spruce trees – lots of old burn areas. Fairly typical for most bay rivers I imagine. Where the rapids and falls were was often quite scenic though. Would like to go back and see the water at a higher level. Higher water would mean that the campsites would need to be hacked out of the willow and alder trees, and the bugs would likely be more of an issue. Despite our fears of epic bugs on the river, we really didn’t experience any after the first day.

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PostPosted: March 18th, 2014, 12:41 pm 

Joined: January 11th, 2005, 4:58 pm
Posts: 1973
Location: Manitoba
Great report!
It looks like high water on the bay.
You have to love that granite outcrop.



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