Down Wabakimi’s Pikitigushi River From Cliff Lake

Last revised on October 23, 2022.

Table of Contents:

Previous Post: Up Wabakimi’s Raymond River To Cliff Lake


Cliff Lake – A Special Place

Cliff Lake is one of Wabakimi’s – and the Canadian Shield’s in general – premier pictograph sites. We spent some time paddling along the perimeter of the lake and checking out some dramatic stretches of vertical rock face – and found all the rock paintings which Selwyn Dewdney had highlighted in his classic study of the mostly-Anishinaabe (i.e. Ojibwe)  pictographs of the Canadian Shield.

Cliff Lake – Dewdney’s Face III – the Moose Panel

Click on the post titles below to access pix and discussion:

Cliff Lake pictographs - south end of lake

Cliff Lake pictographs – south end of the lake


From Cliff Lake To Wash Lake – Three Portages

Tuesday, August 13  (Day 17)

  • distance: 16 km.
  • Weather:  a sunny day with a bit of wind from the W
  • portages: 4 – 90 m; 525 m; 300 m.; 265 m.; 150 m.   See the maps below.
  • Natural Resources Canada 1:50000 topo maps: Linklater Lake 052 I 10 (10Mb) and  Pikitigushi Lake 052 I 07. (8Mb)

It was time to move on. We were down from twenty to three days of food,  and while it definitely meant a lighter load for the remaining portages,  it was also a sign that our trip was almost done.  We were about 27 kilometers from the take-out point at the Bear Camp on river right of the Pikitigushi just above the logging road bridge.

We had originally arranged for a shuttle back to our vehicle at the Mattice Lake headquarters of Mattice Lake Outfitters from there on Thursday. However, a couple of emails sent via my Spot Connect from Cliff Lake had requested that the pick-up happen a day early. It was Tuesday, and we now had a day and a half to knock off the last 27 kilometers!

At the south end of Cliff Lake, just across from the best-preserved collection of pictographs on the lake, we left Wabakimi Provincial Park and entered Whitesand Provincial Park. (The stretch from Bad Medicine Lake down to the north shore of Pikitigushi Lake is all within the boundaries of Whitesand P.P.)

We also dealt with the first of the five or six portages on this section of the Pikitigushi. Over the next couple of days, we’d do another four, with the 1400-meter haul from Derraugh Lake to Pikitigushi Lake as the longest and mushiest.

Cliff Lake to Gort lake

Cliff Lake to Gort lake

Gort Lake to Pikitigushi Lake

Gort Lake to Pikitigushi Lake

From Cliff To Ratte

The portage out of Cliff Lake is a 90-meter and pretty obvious trail that takes you up and over a small hill to a put-in on the edge of a small pond.  A quick paddle across the pond, and you get to experience the Bad Medicine Lake portage for yourself- and decide whether it deserves its reputation!  (See here for some canoe trippers sharing fond reminiscences at the Canadian Canoe Routes forum!)

It is undoubtedly an easier portage if you come from the north.  We found a 525-meter trail that starts off rather steeply but is dry.  After a dramatic middle stretch where you are walking on a ridge just a few meters from the edge of the gorge, the trail takes you to a challenging and winding descent to the lake itself.

Cliff lake -Bad Medicine Lake Portages

Cliff lake -Bad Medicine Lake Portages

The last few meters involve an almost vertical drop to the shore.  Here is a shot – I should have stepped back a few more feet to get the complete slope to the water’s edge in – but it’ll give you an idea of what it looks like.  We actually had lunch at the top of the final drop.

the south end of the 450 meter Bad Medicine Lake portage

the east end of the 450-meter Bad Medicine Lake portage

A bit more time, and we might have tried walking up the river through the mess of bush you see in the pic below in search of a photo that would show some of the 20-meter drop in elevation from Cliff Lake to where our canoe was sitting.

the 'Gushi as it comes tumbling into Bad Medicine Lake

the ‘Gushi as it comes tumbling into Bad Medicine Lake

The pics below show the north side (river left) of the impressive gorge that runs the distance of the portage.

the shoreline across from the put-in on Bad Medicine lake

the shoreline across from the put-in on Bad Medicine lake

looking down to the east end of Bad Medicine Lake from the put-in

looking down to the east end of Bad Medicine Lake from the put-in

Instead of bushwhacking a bit upriver, we headed off for the next portage, which would take us out of Bad Medicine and into Ratte Lake.  The take-out is on a sandy beach on river left; 265 meters later, we were at the other end.   Shortly afterward, we paddled by a cow moose and her calf as we approached Ratte lake.

Down Ratte To Wash

Down Ratte Lake and through a meandering narrow-river section, and we were back on a more open stretch – the two-part Gort Lake.  At the south end of Gort Lake, just above the rapids, we went on shore to check out a potential campsite; it was serviceable, but we didn’t feel like stopping for the day yet, so we pushed off again.

The rapids themselves rate a Class 1; it was an easy run into Wash Lake.  As we paddled down the lake, we passed an established campsite – fire pit and all – on the east shore (see map above for approximate location).  It would have been a good place to stop – but we pushed on!


The Remains of a Beechcraft 18 

First, we paddled by the shell of the downed airplane at the south end of Wash Lake –

airplane shell at the bottom of Wash Lake

airplane shell at the bottom of Wash Lake

As to how the plane got there, Don Elliot of Mattice Lake Outfitters tells it this way –

The aircraft on Wash Lake is a Beechcraft 18 on wheels.  About 40 years ago it was flying south from Fort Hope (on the Albany) to Thunder Bay when one of its engines quit.  The pilot belly landed on Wash Lake and the aircraft floated while the pilot and all passengers go out.  Everyone was rescued and the airplane was pulled up on shore.  The company that owned the airplane salvaged the engines and some parts at the time.  About 15 years ago another group went in and salvaged the wings for another aircraft that was being rebuilt.


Our Derraugh Lake Campsite

On river right about 1.5 kilometers SE of the airplane comes the portage out of Wash and into Derraugh Lake. It is a 150-meter carry. Our map indicated a campsite at the put-in but we weren’t seeing anything that resembled a place to put our tent for the night so we headed down Derraugh Lake.  We stopped twenty minutes later at the site indicated on the map above.  With a bit of trimming, sawing,  and rearranging, we created a nicely sheltered spot tucked into the bush with a sloping rock face patio.

the view from our Derraugh Lake patio

the afternoon view from our Derraugh Lake patio

Max getting the breakfast fire going

Max getting the late afternoon fire going

You can barely see the tent and tarp behind the canoe in the pic below.  With the chores done, we’re getting ready for a cup of coffee!

Derraugh Lake Campsite - definitely tucked away!

Derraugh Lake Campsite – definitely tucked away!


From Derraugh To the Boucher Camp Take-Out 

Wednesday, August 14  (Day 18)

Distance: 10 km. over three and a half hours – with half of that for the portage!

Weather:  another beautiful sunny day in the Greater Wabakimi Area

Portages: 1 – 1400 m.

(The Chuck Ryan post of their 2009 trip has some images of the last day’s brief paddle here. He and his partner Dave Phillips had also camped on Derraugh Lake on their final night.)

The Origin of the name Derraugh For The Lake

We paddled to the end of Derraugh Lake and looked for the portage take-out. We were in the general area where prospectors had located a 200-meter gold-bearing quartz vein in the mid-1930s.  In fact, it had been J.E. Derraugh, then the vice-president and manager of Jedder Gold Mines Ltd., who had made the discovery. Nothing ever became of what they hoped would be another Red Lake gold strike, but now we have a Derraugh Lake.

One wonders what the earlier- i.e. Ojibwe – name for the lake would have been. In some cases, we have reverted to the older Ojibwa names.  For example, before the 1930s, the Pikitigushi River was still known as Mud River and Pikitigushi Lake as Round Lake.

The two lakes on this stretch that I am most curious about are Cliff Lake and Bad Medicine Lake – their Ojibwe names might reveal something about their significance to those who used to paddle these waters.  Their English names may just be translations of their previous Anishinaabe ones.

Just to the west of Derraugh Lake are two small lakes – one named Haile and the other Selassie – like Derraugh Lake also given their names in the 1930s when the Ethiopian Emperor embraced his moment of statesmanship on the world stage.  In the 1970s, Haile Selassie would become the Jah Rastafari, the God figure in the Rastafarian mythic world!


The Gooseneck Portage – Derraugh to Pikitigushi 

Back to the Gooseneck Rapids portage – an hour and a half later,  by a unanimous decision,  the Trip Highlights Committee had awarded it the prize for “the most poorly maintained portage”.  Finding it was problem #1 – it was a bit further up from the rapids on river right than we thought it would be.

Pikitigushi River - Gooseneck Rapids

Pikitigushi River – Gooseneck Rapids

Our portage routine has Max take two packs right to the other end and then come back halfway for the other two I have dropped off while I go back for the canoe.  I still have no idea how he could sniff a trail all the way to Pikitigushi Lake out of the dense bush we walked through!  In fact, after I dropped off the packs and went back for the canoe, I got lost as I tried to redo the “trail” I had just walked twice! Long stretches were also quite mushy, and we were happy to see the end of it.

Given the state of the portage, we wondered what locals were doing to get up or down the river on this stretch.  Perhaps staying on the river instead and lining their way down? Looking at the Google satellite image below, locals going up the river might use McKinley Road running up the west side of Pikitigushi Lake and put in somewhere above the rapids.

Update: We walked this portage in July of 2013.  Since then, in August of 2014, to be exact, Phil Cotton and the Wabakimi Project Crew have given the portage some of their tender, lovin’ care – so the trail should be easier to follow for at least the next few years!

Derraugh Lake to Pikitigushi River take out point south of the Lake

Derraugh Lake to Pikitigushi River take-out point south of the Lake


Below Pikitigushi Lake To The Boucher Bros. Camp

Once on the shores of Pikitigushi Lake, it was an easy paddle to the south end of the lake and then 4.5 kilometers down the river with the beginnings of the high sandy banks that undoubtedly gave it its first English name, Mud River.

the end of the trip - not the high sand banks on the other side

The end of the trip – note the high sand banks on the other side

Not in the picture – for some reason, we stopped taking pictures at this point!  – is the  Quonset Hut that the Bear Camp owners (the Boucher Bros.) use to store vehicles and equipment.  We walked up a gravel road to the large clearing on the side of the road to Armstrong Station. A half-dozen canvas tents on wooden platforms were set up, as well as a few trailers. We had arrived the day before the opening of the season’s bear hunt, and there was a bit of activity since the first of the guests had already arrived. This satellite image gives a clear idea of what it looks like.

We briefly chatted with one of the Boucher brothers while we waited for our  Mattice Lake Outfitters shuttle.  Not too long after we arrived, so did Annette Elliot and we were on our way.

It is a little under 40 kilometers back to Armstrong Station from the take-out point at the Bear Camp.  Another ten kilometers to Mattice Lake, we were back to where we had started our 17-day canoe trip around the northern perimeter of Wabakimi Provincial Park. If you’d like to go back to the start of what was a truly excellent adventure, the following post, Canoeing Wabakimi’s Misehkow Riveris where it begins.


The Logging Road from the Pikitigushi River to Armstrong Station


The Pikitigushi – From the Road To Windigo Bay

Not attempted, but an intriguing possibility for a future trip is the stretch of the Pikitigushi from the Bear Camp to Mud River on the CN rail line and then maybe all the way to Windigo Bay and Lake Nipigon. It looks like it would take a good day or two, and it is difficult to say exactly what you’d deal with since information on rapids, log jams, and portages is pretty scarce.

Update: In September of 2018 Max and I paddled the Pikitigushi from The Bear Camp down to Windigo Bay and then across Lake Nipigon to Undercliff Island and Echo Rock.  The river section took us two days and was not difficult. See this post for maps and info –

 Down The Pikitigushi River From The Bear Camp To Lake Nipigon (Windigo Bay)

The Pikitigushi River – From The Lake to Windigo Bay (Lake Nipigon)

the four log jams on the lower Pikitigushi


Some Useful Links: Maps; VIA; Outfitter

The Federal Government (Natural Resources Canada) 1:50000 topos for this stretch can be downloaded from my website here –

You can access the entire collection of NRC topos from the Government of Canada website here. The sheets are available in pdf or tif format.

For another trip report – and lots of pix – on the section of the Pikitigushi from Cliff Lake to just before the logging road bridge, see the entries for Days 20 and 21 in CIIcanoe’s (aka Chuck Ryan) epic 21-Day Canoe Trip To The “Little North.”  Finding his report online is what gave us the idea to take on the 350-kilometer route ourselves. We are really glad we did.

Click on the header to access the VIA home page

During the canoe-tripping season, the VIA train only passes through Mud River twice a week.  For the westbound VIA “The Canadian” train schedule, see here –  and here for the eastbound one. It would be necessary to purchase your ticket before you set off on your trip since it is no longer a flag stop. However, since it is a designated stop, you do not need to know the mileage marker.


Once we got to Mattice Lake, Don and Annette Elliot of Mattice Lake Outfitters handled all of the logistics and park permits.  We left the vehicle in their parking lot (totally safe) and flew up to the Misehkow River start point on one of their de Havilland Beavers.  At the end of the trip, we were picked up at the Boucher Bear Camp on the Pikitigushi for the 50-kilometer ride back to our vehicle.  I’d highly recommend MLO. They’ve been doing this for a while and know what they’re doing. They do have all sorts of other services that they offer – see here for the full list.


Some Of Our Other Wabakimi Trips – access here!

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