(18 days from Southern Indian to Hudson Bay)
This trip starts on Southern Indian lake. The road into Southern Indian has been redone on the last couple of years and is not as marked on the map. It is a very nice road for a school bus (it never used to be), and hits the lake north of the South Indian Reservation at the narrows about two miles south of Camp One and Lionel islands. The drive is approximately 20-22 hours, so if you leave after breakfast the morning before you arrive on Southern Indian in time for a full day on the water.
Southern Indian is a large lake that has very few campsites due to the flooding caused by the dam at Missi Falls. I recommend getting off this lake as fast as possible. Due to large open stretches it is very easy to get wind bound by large waves out of the north, south or east.
Head northwest up the lake. Approximately six miles south of Long Point there is a large island, and you can find your way through the narrows to the west if it is windy, or take the more open route to the east. You can go either side of Sweet Island into the narrows on the west side of Long Point (be careful of your maps as well-there are some old maps around from before the dam was built and they show Long Point as being a continuous point with no passage through). Depending on the water level there are some potential campsites near the end of the Long Point Narrows. I have also found some workable campsites on the west side of Loon Island before Loon Narrows. Continue up the west shore and head northwest into Moss Lake. There is one campsite on the eastern shore as you enter Moss Lake. It is a bit messy due to use by the locals, but is truly the only campsite. I do not recommend beginning up the Little Sand River unless you have a full day ahead of you. I have camped early in the afternoon on Moss so as to avoid starting up the Little Sand River and ending up with a buggy, mung-hole of a campsite.
The Little Sand River takes the better part of a day, but is really not too difficult. There are a few sets of small rapids that need to be pulled up, but primarily the impediments to progress are big sections of blow downs that the boats need to be pulled over. How many blow downs you run into certainly depends on the water level. I’ve made it up this creek in half a day, and I’ve had it be a long, full day in lower water.
There are multiple campsites in Little Sand Lake.
The lake literally dead-ends at a big esker. As the lake begins to narrow, approximately ¼ mile from the end there is a wide opening in the trees on the eastern shore. The portage is a highway. It takes you to the unnamed pothole just northeast of Little Sand Lake. There is a surprisingly nice campsite on a small rise on the west side of this pothole. There is a small bay on the western shore near the northern end of the pothole. There is a short trail over a small rise. This portage is several hundred years old and was originally used for travel and trade by settlements in the area.
There is a short portage out of this next pothole, and there is a nice trail out of the northwest bay. Out of the next pothole you can paddle north through some tall reeds into the next pothole and down the long skinny arm to the west. There is a good trail out of the westernmost bay of this pothole into Morris Bay on Trout Lake.
Head north and east out of Trout Lake into Trout Creek. This is a fun, shallow little river, and it is nice to actually go downstream. There is a decent campsite directly across from the mouth of the creek as it flows into the narrows into Loon Lake. Next, head east into Chipewyan. There are many nice (but sandy) campsites on Chipewyan along the eastern shore and islands.
There are two ways to go out of Chipewyan. The shortest is to head north and east and get on the South Seal River just north of Davis Island. However, there is an incentive for paddling the entirety of Chipewyan if you have time. I did this once and was rewarded with pop, fresh cookies and coffee from the nice folks at a fly-in fishing spot at the northern terminus of Chipewyan where it narrows down into the South Seal River. This is also a good place to know about in an emergency. The lodge is on a long sand beach just before the lake narrows down into the river and you literally can’t miss it.
There is only one decent campsites between Chipewyan and Davenport rapids, and it is rather hard to find. It is a small sand beach on the eastern shore of Fox Lake. There is a beautiful campsite after Davenport rapids (which is a pretty easy shoot) around a big esker on the right. The only rapids to be a little concerned about are Porcupine rapids. The first part is quite easy, but the last shoot gets pretty big and technical especially if the water is low. In higher water you can stick to the left and miss the big stuff, but in lower water it is a bit dicey.
There is a decent campsite just before Porcupine rapids, and there is one decent site on a ridge on the east side of the river approximately one mile after Porcupine rapids. There is a beautiful campsite on Chip Point on Tadoule Lake. Tadoule is a big open lake and I have never made it across the second half of the lake without some trouble from the wind. Be careful and do not let yourself get too far from shore if the weather looks bad.
There is a reservation in Thaytnudytoway Bay that has a nursing station in an emergency. (204-684-2031-in an emergency only). The rapids into Negassa Lake are not too difficult. I recommend going left around the island into Negassa, as the right side of the island tends to be low on water. The rapids to be cautious of are the ones out of Negassa into Shethanei. Take the southernmost exit from Negassa and proceed slowly down the left hand shore. The end of this rapid in the middle and to the right can be very difficult and I have watched it eat boats. In high water you can scratch your way down the left hand shore and avoid the big stuff, in lower water that option is not available -go slow, it is quite technical.
Shethanei is full of beautiful, sandy campsites. East out of Shethanei onto the Seal River. The river has quite a strong current almost immediately. Once you wind through a bunch of islands and the river narrows back down you know you are getting close to the Wolverine. There is a nice campsite in a bay on the south side of the river about ½ mile before the Wolverine (it actually has some good rock in lower water). You can also camp at the bottom of the Wolverine. As I trip head I would be looking to be at the bottom of the Wolverine by day 7 or 8 (if doing 18 days to the bay). If later than this all is not lost, but know that if later you should really start putting in some long days to make it down the Caribou. From here, you start immediately pulling up a few sets of rapids into Birch Canoe Lake. There is a nice looking campsite where Birch Canoe Lake narrows down and heads straight north towards Naelin on the right (a big sand beach). More dragging and walking up into MacLeod. After MacLeod Lake take the right, or eastern, fork in the river. After the split, pull up a couple of bars into the next little pothole. The river cuts out east at the end of this pothole, and you can actually save some time by portaging straight north up onto the ridge and into the next pothole. At this point you are in tundra, and the walking on this portage is beautiful (good trip picture spot). Once up on the ridge it is very easy to figure out where you’re going. More paddling and dragging/walking on your way up to Grayling Falls. The map is not entirely correct here. Grayling Falls flows into the pothole from the north. If you walk straight west (crossing a blue line on the map that doesn’t exist) and then north, you can portage into the pothole just south of Little Duck Lake. This portage is easy to figure out once you walk up onto the ridges and look around (again, it’s all tundra and easy walking). More walking and dragging up into Little Duck Lake. On the western point about half way up Little Duck Lake, there is an old Hudson Bay Trading Post that is worth an historically enlightening detour/explore. At the end of Little Duck Lake you wind around a point into Wolverine Rapids. You can pull-up/paddle these rapids on the left, or you can portage on the left or right. As you enter Wolverine Rapids you pass a big lodge/compound. I have not personally stopped here, but word from previous folks is that the owner is not very welcoming and this place is to be stopped at only in an emergency.
Nejanilini is a big, open lake surrounded by tundra (a strikingly different lake from any other one I’ve seen). However, being wind bound on this lake is certainly to be expected. I would recommend that if you can paddle it, get it done. There are many workable campsites throughout the lake and especially in the narrows at the northern end. Be cautious of where you set up tents in regards to wind. I recommend a sand dune or clump of trees to hide your tents behind and string up tarps if need be.
If you become wind bound on Nejanilini, I would recommend that if it becomes day 12 (out of 18) that it is time for you to turn around and go back to the Seal. I think you could make it down the Caribou from here in six days (if you HAD to), but it would not be possible to do it any quicker. Head back down the Wolverine to Birch Canoe Lake. Out of the east end of Birch Canoe Lake there is a southeast cut back into the Seal. I have never done this cutoff, but hear that it is beautiful. This cutoff connects with the Seal approximately 10 miles downriver from the mouth of the Wolverine.
Nejanilini to Commonwealth Lake is a long day and then some of pothole portaging. However, it is the easiest pothole portaging I’ve ever done. It is all on tundra, and most potholes you can see without having to set a compass. Be careful though. I recommend using your compass and following it diligently. There are so many potholes all over this country that if you get yourself confused you could easily become very, very lost.
Out of Nejanilini there is a short portage into an un-named lake. About two-thirds of the way down this un-named lake there is a point on the northwest shore. Head into the bay around the back of this point and begin pothole portaging north-northwest into Ruddick Lake. This is an area in which to be careful. There is a hill before Ruddick Lake, so you cannot see it until you get closer. Also, the potholes between the un-named lake and Ruddick are not as marked on the map. I recommend setting a compass bearing from the bay on the un-named lake to Ruddick and following it pretty diligently. If you happen to run into a pothole on the way (which you certainly will) portage across it and keep going on the same compass bearing. Do not try and figure out which pothole is which on the map, you will only get confused. You know you’re in Ruddick when you’re in the big pothole with the islands in it. There’s a short portage out of Ruddick into the long arm that runs northeast into Glover. Do not take the Roberts River out of Glover. Apparently camp has wrecked many boats dragging them from Glover to the Caribou. Believe me, you’re going to get enough dragging in before this trip’s over as it is-DO NOT BE TEMPTED. Pothole portage up onto Manders Lake. This portaging is pretty easy; but again, follow your map closely so you don’t become confused. Out of the east end of Manders it’s a 3 ½ mile portage to Commonwealth. I recommend camping at the beginning of the portage and carry the boats over that night. Stick to the high ridges to the south on your way to Commonwealth. Also, be very careful here. It is easy to see Commonwealth the whole time you’re walking there because it’s downhill, but without hanging some survey ribbon or setting a compass it is nearly impossible to find your way back uphill to Manders.
Head south out of Commonwealth on the Roberts River. You will have to portage the first two sets of rapids unless the water is very high (there just isn’t any water in them). From there until the river joins in with the branch that flows out of Glover, the rapids are very, very scratchy and will probably require some dragging or portaging. Once the two branches meet up, the river is still scratchy, but traveling is quicker until you get near Pollon and Baroni Lake. The river splits a bit (not exactly as marked on the map) on the way to Pollon and Baroni, and I’d just say go with what seems to have the most water. It’s either a lot of dragging or a bit of a portage. Pollon flows right into Baroni and is not exactly as marked on the map. Coming into Round Sand Lake the river splits off again (not as marked on the map) and basically becomes a rock garden. It’s a rock-hopping portage/boat dragging into Round Sand Lake.
A meteor created round Sand Lake and it is probably the most appropriately named lake I’ve ever seen. It is very round, and it is one continuous beach all the way around. I recommend camping on the left just as you enter the lake. From Round Sand to the South end of Rink Lake should be uneventful. However, be cautious of the rapids leaving Rink Lake. They seem fine, but end with a big drop off with no real water to speak of flowing through it. I think in high water you could stick to the right and find a shoot, but I personally have gone down the left and pulled over the rocks. There are many, many rapids between Rink and Caribou Lakes. Most of them are fairly easy and do not need to be scouted. In this stretch the only one to portage is the last set before Caribou Lake, unless water is low. However, this rapid does not sneak up on you. Coming into Caribou lake is a bit strange if you try and follow the map (again, it is not very accurate). The river splits a lot, but all the channels seem to have enough water. Once in Caribou Lake there is a campsite on the north shore at the narrows in the middle of the lake (it’s not a great site, but the best I have been able to find). After Caribou Lake the river gets quite a bit larger. Be prepared to portage all the rapids that have names (Richardson, Burch and Mink). Be very, very careful leaving Long Lake. There is a river that flows out of the southeast corner of the lake that is easy to get heading down if you’re not careful. All the rapids from here are shootable but quite large compared to anything else you’ve seen thus far. Proceed with caution.
Once in the delta the river widens and has a number of islands. Stick to the north and take the northern most branch (approximately 6 miles after Sac Rapids). There are some real fun shoots once the river narrows back down and heads southeast. About two miles from the bay the river splits again. Take the southernmost branch here and you will get to the bay with no problems. Take the shorter (tempting) branch that heads east and you will portage to the bay. There is a cabin in the delta that is owned by Jack Batstone. It is there for you to use in an emergency. If you are traveling off the bay with Jack, he can drive his boat right into the beach in front of this cabin at high tide and pick you up.
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