Navigating the Mystery Move

Along with the mosquito-filled cabin from hell, another notable point of this summer’s canoe trip was the distinct division into different sections. The first river, the Eastmain, was relatively well traveled and generally had actual (!!!) portage trails. Then we moved onto the Clearwater River, which was distinctly NOT well traveled. And, a forest fire had ripped through the area, so the shorelines were trail-less and covered with dense, ankle grabbing regrowth and burned, downed trees.

There was a pretty wild section of big drop after big drop after big drop. It was really quite beautiful (but I still swore a lot).

One of the more interesting Clearwater put-ins
An example of me being super helpful. You got this honey!
A neat (geological) kettle on a portage

By the last rapid I was ready to throw caution to the wind and run just about anything to avoid another portage. For once Conor was the voice of reason, while I enthusiastically pointed to possible lines through the maelstrom. Eventually I won him over and we successfully ran it.

A drizzly last morning on the Clearwater

Things changed again upon leaving the Clearwater. We briefly reentered the Eastmain, but just long enough to paddle across it and portage 2km over dam (damn!) roads to a big reservoir. And thus began the man made section of the trip.

Portaging past the spillway, visible in the background

We camped at the end of the portage (gravel roads, how beautiful), and the next morning had just enough of a weather window to paddle the 40km stretch across the reservoir. It’s weird because no maps have been created of these new, man made water bodies. The maps still show small lakes and rivers with lots of land in between, but a vast area is now covered by water. We were navigating via a patched together map composed of a satellite image superimposed on the original topo map.

If I stood in certain areas here I had cell phone service, which was bizarre since we were still far from anywhere. Don’t be offended if I didn’t text you, I stayed incognito.

This is also where the Mystery Move comes in. We had to somehow get out of the reservoir and onto the final stretch of our trip. Again, we were going by satellite images, and our best guess was an upstream stretch through a river created entirely through hydro related diversions. The satellite image showed patches of white in some places, which we took to be rapids, but who knows how they vary with fluctuating water levels. There were also two canals identified on the site plan, which were potential crux points.

Heading to the start of the Mystery Move the next morning we quickly learned that a truly massive river had been created – there was no way we would be wading up these rapids! We ended up doing 6 portages in the stretch leading up to the canals, and the paddling portions were a solid upstream paddle against the current!

Things got interesting at the canals. The first one didn’t really contain rapids, but the current was ripping through it, and there were small ledges to power over at the top. Unfortunately our route put us on the less optimal side, but we thought we could do it. We snuck up the shore eddy, and aaaaalllmost made it up the final ledge push, but not quite. It’s that feeling of paddling as hard as you possibly can…staying still..and then slowly slipping backwards. I then had the terrible idea that we should ferry across and power up the other side, which didn’t look as bad at the top. While this was true, the crossing was wider than it looked and the current was strong, and while ferrying across we lost virtually all the ground we had gained (and all our energy). We did make it up that side, but it was exhausting and accepting a portage right away would have been a smarter plan.

There was no way we could make it up the second canal – the current was even stronger. Once again, unfortunately, we were on the wrong side, which we discovered after landing, unloading, and scouting for a portage route. Loaded up again and ferried to the other side, where it was an easy portage.

A bit more upstream paddling and we had successfully completed the Mystery Move! Hurrah! We camped in another gravel pit, ready to start on the final stretch of the trip, the Nemiscau River.

Quebec tells it like it is

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