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Our 2013 Wabakimi area canoe trip was a 350-kilometer paddle around the edge of Wabakimi Provincial Park, beginning with a 100-kilometer ride down the Misehkow River, then going with the flow of the Albany River to Petawanga Lake, and finally heading south via Petawa Creek and up a couple of river systems to access the south-flowing Pikitigushi River system.
The first five days of our trip are described in Canoeing Wabakimi’s Misehkow River.
This second post will take a look at the Albany stretch of our trip. The map below shows our four campsite locations of our down-the-Albany paddle. This section of our canoe trip was memorable for the four sets of impressive waterfalls that we got to see and inhale.
Maps & Portage/Rapids Info:
Federal Government (Natural Resources Canada) 1:50,000 Topos:
The entire collection of archived 1:50,000 NRC topos can be found (as of Nov. 2019!) at this Fed. Gov’t. website – ftp.maps.canada.ca/pub/rncan.Use the folder and sub-folder numbers below to access the maps. Of the three files you will see in each sub-folder, the ones with the URL ending with prt.pdf or prt.tif are the ones you want.
- Pruner Lake 052 P 06 ;
- Crerar Lake 052 P 11;
- Grace Lake 052 P 07;
- Miminiska Peninsula 052 P 10;
- Opikeigen Lake 052 P 09;
- Kawitos Lake 052 P 08.
Note: Whoever tends to the NRC Topo Maps’ website does something really annoying. Every year they change the URL that accesses the maps and every year I need to revisit a dozen of my canoe posts to update the links!
Ken Kokanie’s 2012 Albany River Trip report
We also had a copy of Ken Kokanie’s Albany River pdf file on the Albany. He and his crew started off from the side of Highway 559 at Osnaburgh Lake and paddled the Albany down to Mininiska Lake. His website went dead in 2018 but he said it was okay for me to host his report. You can download the 74 Mb pdf file here – it has maps, info on rapids, portages, campsites … all you need to get started!
Day Five (continued):
From The Mouth of the Misehkow to “Birchview” Camp
- distance: 8 kilometers from the Misehkow/Albany junction
- weather: sunny with a bit of headwind
- portages: 0
As mentioned in the post on the Misehkow, we were on the Albany before I even realized it. Given the sometimes dramatic descriptions of the series of swifts in the two kilometers before the Misehkow River merges with the Albany, I was expecting more. Perhaps higher or lower water levels would have given me what I was looking for! So there we were at noon on the historic Albany River, once a major fur-trading route from James Bay.
These days it is but a shadow of its former self, given the impact of major water diversion projects at various points along its length. Still, Ontario’s longest river has much more of a flow than the Misehkow – it is wider and has a less-enclosed feel to it. The following two images capture some of the differences:
We stopped for lunch two kilometers later on the north banks of the Albany and then continued on for another two hours of paddling before pulling in at the site pictured above. A bit of work and we had created a decent albeit completely open-to-the-elements spot for our Four-Person MEC Wanderer tent. We called it the Birchview because of the stand of trees on the other side of the river that we got to contemplate for the evening –
From the Birchview to Snake Falls Campsite
- distance: 29 km
- weather: sunny
- portages: 3
On the water at 8:30, we came to the first set of swifts about one kilometer into the day; there would be more as we made our way down to our first portage. At times they doubled our usual travelling speed! By 10:00 when we stopped to stretch our legs on a striking volcanic rock dome on the side of the river at the bottom of one of these swifts, we had already covered thirteen kilometers! While we sipped on the Gatorade-flavoured Albany Nouveau from the Nalgene bottle and munched on the Clif Bars, we watched a plane overhead on its way to the landing strips at Miminiska or Fort Hope – a rare reminder that we were not alone in Wabakimi.
Upper Eskakwa Falls:
A couple of kilometers south of our rest spot, we ran a very easy set of rapids and then headed for Upper Eskakwa Falls, the first of three falls that we would portage around this day. The 330-meter portage trail was easy to find; it begins fairly close to the falls on river right (N51°28.729 W088° 58.205). [Click on the coordinates to access a Google Earth view.]
An awkward take-out with a bit of a bank to hoist the packs and canoe to the top of and then the trail, showing signs of occasional use, runs through a large tenting area with room for four or five tents. The put-in is another twenty-five meters further. We stopped here for lunch, sitting on the logs by the fire pit.
On To Eskakwa Falls:
Immediately on leaving the put-in at Upper Eskakwa Falls, we faced a choppy but easy stretch of water which we figured was Class 1 but could become somewhat more worrisome with more or less water. And then it was on the next portage of the day – that of Eskakwa Falls. Paddling down a set of swifts, we got out just before the falls on river left.
This time we would be heading to river left for the trailhead and take-out point. Again, the 150-meter portage trail was easy to find and showed signs of use. See here for a Google Earth view of the Eskakwa Falls area –51°29’36.0″N 88°55’08.0″W
About an hour after having left our lunch spot we were at the put-in below Eskakwa Falls. A small fire pit and a potential make-do tent site would make this a possible campsite, though we did see a couple of better tent sites nestled in the stands of spruce between the trail and the river as we walked the gear across.
We did make one excellent decision at the put-in point. We decided to slow down for a bit and pull out the too-precious-to-be-out-during the day cameras from the Watershed duffel. Had we not done so we would not have had any pix of perhaps the most scenic falls of our entire route. (Usually, I just content myself with using a Canon Elph p&s for daytime pix but I would lose it and 250 images of our progress a few days later.)
As it is, Eskakwa Falls lends itself perfectly to scampering and rock hopping. You can walk along the side of the river almost all the way back to the top of the falls and feel the energy of the tumbling water as you inhale the mist.
Snake Falls Portage and Campsite:
By mid-afternoon it was clear that a new weather system was moving in; it was already clouding up. Since there wasn’t really a great campsite at Eskakwa Falls, we decided to push on to Snake Falls, thanks to reports of a scenic campsite there. In about thirty minutes we had paddled down the Albany to the take-out spot and in another hour had the short portage done and the tent up. The campsite is 30 meters above the put-in spot and is accessed by a side trail just before you start descending somewhat steeply to the shore.
Up to this point in the trip, this site was definitely the best – the tent nicely sheltered in the bush, a great cooking/lounge area on the top of a rock outcrop that slopes down to the put-in spot, and easy access to views of the falls themselves. We would get a bit of rain during the late afternoon and evening. The tent and the 10′ x 14′ tarp were up pretty quickly to keep everything and everyone nice and dry.
From Snake Falls to Miminiska Lake Wind Camp
- distance: 18 km
- weather: a grey day with noticeable NW wind which got increasingly worse
- portages: 0
We were on the water by 9 and headed down the river; on the way, we passed a rocky point () with a fire pit and room for a tent or two. It would be okay in a pinch. We continued on towards Miminiska Lake. (Minis is the Ojibwe word for island. Perhaps it is at the root of the name for the lake, given the number of islands at the east end of the lake?) The wind from the NW had already picked up and we could feel the effects as we paddled north and then east towards the big open section of Miminiska Lake. (The lake is divided into two by the massive peninsula – almost an island – that you see on the map above.)
A Futile Search For A Graveyard:
Continuing toward Miminiska we headed east into a side wind and then up Howells Lake to visit the Cree burial ground on the lake’s east side. (See the map above for the reported location.) We walked along the shore and checked out various possible trails and even stood on top of the hill in the general area of the supposed site. I had pictured a burial site something like the one I remember visiting on the banks of the Yukon River in the late 1970s – small 4′ high spirit houses enclosed with 2′ high picket fences.
Unfortunately, we were not rewarded for our effort! We saw no evidence of human activity and figured the entire site must have been forgotten and overgrown over the years. The burial site was perhaps connected with the Anglican chapel located on an island on the other side of the lake. Its services likely stopped – and visits to the burial site too – when the community it served moved to Fort Hope or down to the CN tracks by Armstrong or Collins. On the beach near the supposed burial ground, we picked up a large eagle feather. Over the years we have come to see the presence of eagles above as a sign that we are being watched over. We took the feather as a good omen and positioned it at the front of the canoe as we headed back to the Albany River. For the first time that day, we paddled with the wind as we made our way to Miminiska Lake.
Update: More research has turned up no information about that Howells Lake graveyard! However, examining the maps included in the Misehkow chapter of the 1980’s Ron Reid/Janet Grand book Canoeing Ontario’s Rivers did indicate a gravesite on the Albany River not far from the reported Howells Lake site. We were unaware of this site as we passed by on our way to Howells Lake. I wonder about the difference between a “gravesite” which could have as few as one grave and a “graveyard” which in my mind implies a number of graves.
Miminiska Lake Wind Camp:
By the time we got the entrance to the lake the wind had picked up even more and made paddling a scary proposition. I must compliment the stern paddler for his skill at hitting the 2′ + waves at just the right angle. I was relieved when we hit a sandy stretch of shore – a veritable beach that just needed some sun umbrellas and deck chairs to look like Carib North.
It was just before 1 p.m. but, given the strong wind and the waves, we decided that the day was done. Amazingly, we found a flat and fairly sheltered 15’x20′ area just in from the beach behind a stand of 40′ high white spruce and poplar. Fifteen minutes of site rehabilitation and the use of the canoe as an additional windscreen and we were all set.
From Miminiska Wind Camp to Petawanga Lake
- distance: 29 km
- weather: sunny; NW wind picked up as the day unfolded
- portages: 1
We got up a bit earlier this morning – 6:30 – and also got on the water without having breakfast. There was little wind and the water was much calmer than it had been the previous afternoon and evening. By 9:00 we were about 10 kilometers further along having that needed cup of freshly filtered coffee and our usual oatmeal concoction on a small island. We nicknamed it Picnic Island thanks to the tables we found. We figured it is probably used by the folks of nearby Miminiska Lodge as a lunchtime fish-fry spot. We were fully expecting to see or hear lodge guests in fishing boats as we paddled towards the falls – but nobody was around.
The Lodge itself is up at the north end of the lake; the original plan had been to paddle up there to say hello and have a look around. (Click here for info on the lodge and a great photo of their landing strip setup.) We had also planned to check out the Anglican chapel (named St. Andrew’s and operational from 1895 to 1959) on the small island on the way up there. Unfortunately, the NW wind made paddling the five kilometers a very unattractive proposition – so we decided to give it a pass.
We were also to pass on the chance to do the 850-meter portage with the take-out point on river/lake right just behind the small island. (See the above map for details.) Our assumption was that the portage is really meant for upriver travellers who want to avoid the swifts below the falls, as well as the falls themselves. Instead, we headed toward the falls. As we approached, we first had to deal with a set of swifts. Below them on river left just above the falls is the beginning of a short 100-meter carry. The trail takes you around the ten-meter drop of Miminiska Falls. It showed signs of recent use; laid along its length at regular intervals were logs that it seems motorboats had been hauled and rolled over. The falls themselves were quite scenic – as always, it was a rush to stand next to them and inhale the ion-enriched air. It sure beat walking the 850-meter portage on the other side!
Once at the put-in, we looked down at a series of swifts that promised a nice ride. Glancing down at our Garmin unit a few minutes later in the middle of one of them we noted a speed of 14 kilometers/hour! The water level was ideal – enough but not too much. It was not low enough to be a rock garden or high enough to turn the ride into something snarly. Before continuing downriver we did a brief detour to the put-in point of the long portage that we had avoided. Sitting there were a couple of motorboats ready to be used, perhaps by guests of the nearby Miminiska Lodge.
A couple of hours later we stopped for lunch on a small island/point just off the south shore of Petawanga Lake and then finished off the day by paddling through the narrow channel that divides the lake into two halves. On our way, we spotted a tin hut tucked in the bush on river right. (N51 29.296 W88 24.654) We checked it out and found a serviceable shelter in pretty good shape; it would make a great emergency refuge on a rainy or stormy day. On the wall was a message left by a fire crew that had been here in 2005 dealing with a 360-hectare burn, the signs of which were still visible as we continued on to our campsite for the night (N51 28.621 W88 23.959) The Wabakimi Project crew had worked on it the previous summer and Phil Cotton had mentioned it to me during a break at the Canoe Symposium in Waterloo in March.
As with most sites, some rehabilitation was necessary to clear blowdown and deadfall. By 4 the tent was up and the water was on the stove; soon we’d be sipping tea and contemplating tomorrow’s adventure – the eleven kilometers of Petawa Creek. On the plus side was the very word “creek”, which brought up images in my mind of a minor and fairly tame tributary. On the negative side was Chuck Ryan’s description of a day and a half spent in canoe trippers’ hell as he and his partner Dave Phillips fought their way up to Auger Lake. As is usually the case, time would reveal all!
Like all the other daytime shots I had taken since the beginning of the trip, the ones for this day can be found somewhere at the top of the very same Petawa Creek; I was to lose my camera at the end of the next day and my brother his ‘proverbial’ paddle. The result so far has been a couple of posts with very few pix to illustrate the proceedings!
If you want to continue the adventure, the next installment of our trip can be accessed by clicking on the following title- Up Wabakimi’s Petawa Creek Without A Paddle
The Misehkow chapter in Canoeing Ontario’s Rivers (published in 1985) by Ron Reid and Janet Grand details a canoe trip from a put-in off the CN tracks near Collins to the Albany River. It includes coverage of the Albany from the mouth of the Miminiska to Fort Hope. As well as route maps, it has well-researched natural and cultural history of the river and environs which adds another dimension to the journey. See here for a pdf copy of the Misehkow chapter.
Ken Kokanie’s website is dead as of 2018 but with his kind permission, I am hosting his Albany River map set here. The 77.4Mb pdf file has all the info a paddler would need to get a handle on the upper stretch of the Albany River. His trip report and accompanying 1:50,000 annotated maps and even GPS waypoints cover the river from Highway 599 at the Osnaburgh Lake put-in all the way to Miminiska Lake.
- He and his partner had a bush plane pick them up once they reached Miminiska Lake;
- You could continue on to Fort Hope and fly out from there.
- You could make the epic journey all the way to James Bay!
- You could also do what we did, which was head south from Petawanga Lake, the lake below Miminiska, via Petawa Creek to the Attwood and Ogoki River systems. The next post has the details on our option.
Really, the only limits to alternative routes and possible floatplane pick-up spots are how much time and money you have! Whatever you choose to do, you can be sure you will be paddling through an incredible slice of the boreal forest and will probably not see anyone.