Harricana River September 2015
Harricana (aka Harricanaw) River headwaters are located in Western
Quebec just east of the Quebec/Ontario border. The last 30km of the
river is within Ontario.
Harricana River Journal
September 15th - 28th 2015
We waved goodbye to Terry and decided to hike out to the bridge going over the Harricana on the access road. I have seen this image a few times while researching the river. Under the bridge we saw a chocolate milk coloured river speed through a small class 3 canyon...actually it looked like a fun run but Ben and I put in below the final drop. Once the canoes were packed we pushed off from shore. The day was hot and sunny with a small breeze coming from the north east. I was paddling a red Mad River Caption and Ben was in his yellow Mohawk XL 14. The wind threw my rockered boat off course a few times and memories of the Kattawagami resurfaced....had I chosen the wrong boat to paddle again?!
I had spent much of the paddling year practicing in my new Caption and
I remained positive and would let my training get me down the
river...hopefully upright the whole way!! The river was chocolate milk
and my imagination reminded me of the scary beasts that lurked beneath
the muddy waters. Falling in was not an appealing idea! After a short
flatwater paddle of about 5km we stopped on River left were a clear
stream flowed in and a hunt camp was perched on a grassy hill. We spent an
enjoyable night there. Ichy (my short black haired canoe companion)
enjoyed exploring the camp and running around on the short grass. Our
trip down the "Scaricannaw" had begun.
caught up with me and we ran a small sneak route river right. We
collided in the washout of the drop were strange currents played with
our boats...thoughts of the Kattawagami resurfaced but this would be
the last of the "freaky" currents for the remainder if the trip...thank
goodness. This initial class 3 drop gave way to an easy class 1 rapid
that entered a class 3 canyon. Ben and I agreed to stop and scout
before the canyon. Ben was ahead of me and I silently (or not) cursed
as his bow dropped out of sight into...lord only new. I followed his
lead and Ichy and I enjoyed a wonderful class 3 drop. We eddied out
river right at the bottom and both Ben and I had to pump water from our
canoes. This landing was a huge rock with some nice cedars higher
up...it was a beautiful campsite and I highly recommend future
canoeists stop here for the night. It was still early and due to our
previous short day we decided to paddle on. We paddled down to the
confluence of the Turgeon River and made camp on a rocky island mid
river. There were no trees and we had to peg our tents down well to
avoid the wind tossing them into the water. It showered a little that
night but it was a nice campsite with a good view of the Turgeon. From
here the water would get clearer.
We set up a group shelter with Bens "bug hut" and I pitched my 2p Eureka
for Ichy and I to retire in later that evening. Ben, Ichy, and I
huddled together shivering while we drank warm drinks and ate some
dehydrated food. Spirits were not exactly high as we have been in this
situation before....cold, wet, behind schedule, and with the knowledge
that if it continued to downpour, our river may raise to uncomfortable
levels. Times like these when things seem tough and borderline scary
sometimes present with surprises. That night the rain eased off, the
stars came out, and we watched the northern lights ripple across the
sky. I went to bed, dry in my warm down quilt with my dog nestled into
my side with a big smile across my face as I gazed out at the beautiful
northern sky. Funny how things work out right?
We paddled a
short ways down river before calling it a day and camping on a sloping
gravel shoreline on river left. Ichy was very happy to not have to sit
soaking wet in the canoe any longer. Poor dog was shivering and looked
miserable! More dehydrated food for dinner and a long sit and reflect
period before bed...normally that is a delightful experience on a canoe
trip...getting to camp early and relaxing...but Ben and I were both
anxious to see what the notorious 7 mile island looked like...each
taking turns analyzing the map and stating what we felt we would find.
"Big water" was the general consensus.
Today we paddle mostly flatwater but the current is very fast and we make great time. We come to a a rapid that starts out as swifts. It builds. We start the rapid close together, talking casually both sitting upright in our canoes. We notice the current is stronger. We glide past a few holes. And the rapid gets bigger. I look farther downstream and what looks like "not much" in such a wide river soon looks like "much". I kneel in my canoe. Ichy assumes his sitting position to the right of the canoe...I'm a left handed paddler and him on the right side of the boat balances us out perfectly. "Stay", "Stay", "Easy boy", "Easy", I speak to Ichy, comforting him. I tell him he is a good boy as we dive into a class 3 hole. The flotation bags in the canoe keep most of the water out. Even still Ichy is soaked with a big wave necessitating a quick shake. We continue on down the rapid. I aim for the smoothest of waves but even so sometimes the big stuff is just more fun. We have plenty of fun. We eddy out River right at the bottom of the rapid. The canoe is full of water. I hug Ichy and he licks my face happily. Ben is still upright too. We spend a few moments bailing our boats and continue on downstream.
It had been a long day of paddling. We are both tired and
would like nothing more than to find a picture perfect campsite to end
the day. This is a James Bay River though, said campsites don't exist.
Sometimes when things are tough the unexpected happens. We are reminded
of why we paddle such rivers. We come to a large outcropping of rock
with a gentle rapid. Eddying out river left we come to IMO a 5 star
campsite complete with a swimming pool high up in the smooth rock. Ben
rates it a 4. I cannot remember why he didn't give it a 5. If Ben rates
a campsite with 5 stars you best believe it is something special. We
camped here for the night. Wet clothes are placed all over the rocks to
finally dry out. Down river we can see the river snake downwards around
a bend with more rock outcroppings and ragged pine trees stretching
toward the sky...it is beautiful. Ichy scouts the site out thoroughly.
Ben places his tent in a pine canopy with a flat tent pad towards the
top of the smooth rocks. I place my tent on the wide open rocks with a
clear view of the sky. We both sleep well that night. Ichy snores.
As we approach the scary 7 mile island we come to a very long class 3/4 rapid. Ben as usual takes the lead. I follow carefully behind him until he disappears. I continue on only to realize I may have bitten off more than I can chew. I drop through voluminous chutes and up ahead I see there is a diagonal ledge and what looks like big waves at the bottom but there is a rock outcrop on my side of the river blocking my view. I know this is rated a class 4 ledge rapid from the maps. Wondering where Ben is and nervous about what is around the rock outcrop I make a quick eddy out River right and pull into some smooth rocky shore. I get out of the boat with Ichy and walk up the smooth rocks. I see Ben is on shore a few hundred metres behind me. We wave to each other, a sign we are both ok. Ben walks down the shoreline and we scout the remaining rapid. After the weird diagonal ledge there are a series of 3-4 big haystacks. They look amazing in the sun, bright white and inviting. Ben gives it a go and makes a perfect run down them. His canoe bobbed up and down in the haystacks and nearly disappeared a few times. I don't think Ben even had to bail his canoe! I look at my position on the water and realize by eddying out I have cut off the better route of running the rapid. I drag my boat over the smooth rocks and out in below the rapid. I believe this is called "wussying out".
We continue on down river. There are 3 falls requiring portaging before 7 mile island. We run one of these through a sneak route. Portage another river right and the last one is a centre portage over smooth open rock in the middle of the rapid. The wind picks up and we are paddling hard to reach river right and the safe entrance to 7 mile island. We reach the first small island. I go river right and almost dump my canoe broaching on a rock...the wind whipped my rockered boat around...foolish. We continue on to another small island. The portage shows to go to the right around the island and the overland portage starts there somewhere. There is almost no water river right but I choose to drag my boat over the boulders and into the channel on river right. Ben braves the unknown and paddled to the left of the island, a solid class 2 drop. Easy enough but one mistake and you could end up going down some very bad falls. Ben makes it down safely. I feel like a "wussy" but I'm safe and we have made it to 7 mile island and are on the recommended river right side.
We pull up river right before a chute/waterfall and make camp on
the flattish rocks. It is a nice site but acts as a wind tunnel. Later
that night while we are sitting enjoying a small fire I get up to poke
around. "Ben your tent is gone". He barely blinks and slowly gets up to
investigate. Ben is one cool cat. Not much flusters him. I find his
tent in a small pool of water just before the river. Fortunately he had
tied his tent to his canoe with his throw bag. We settle in for the
night and sleep with the roar of wind and rapids in the background.
From here we ferry across the river to the left hand shore
and paddle through the next drop. From there we manage to paddle the
marked class 4 rapids by sneaking down the left side and lining when
necessary. These rapids have large elevation drops but we are still
able to paddle most of it. We camp after the last marked class 4 rapid
on river right. We can see high cliff bluffs far down river that light
up with the late evening sun. Our campsite is on wide open rock. My
clothing has been damp from all the whitewater and my skin is sweaty. I
have managed to develop a tender rash on the inside of my legs. Ben
comes to my rescue supplying a soothing ointment...I apply the
ointment. We retire early that night, exhausted from the day’s
We continued on past 7 Mile Island and while the majority of marked whitewater was behind us we made very quick time and paddled many km's. The current even on the flat sections moved at a steady pace. We passed by large limestone cliffs and paddled through many km's of class 1, borderline class 2 rapids...just steering enough to miss the boulders. Towards the end of the day the sky grew cloudy and the temperature dropped. We paddled perhaps too long and even though the end of the day had us paddling km's on end of continuous whitewater I was ready to find a suitable campsite.
stopped on river left at a hunt camp and called it home for the night.
The sky even cleared and made way for a beautiful pink sunset. The camp
itself was typical. A lopsided shack with junk lying outside and an
adjacent building that had collapsed. The floor of the main shack was
slopping but it was dry inside and provided relief from the wind. Ichy
was on mouse duty and spent the night perched on my bed staring into
the dark, occasional jumping down to investigate the hidden scampering.
After the final drop the current stopped and the water became almost stagnant. The mighty Harricana was now more lake like. There were large open mud flats here and evidence of low tide could be seen. Ichy and I took our time here, sad to feel the current leave the river. We looked at large boulders on the mud flats. When one such boulder began to move a big grin spread across my face. Ichy noticed my new fascination and became very alert. A bearded seal lay about 200m away from us on the mud. I slowly edged the canoe forwards and the huge creature quickly lurched from the mud into the water. Ichy actually wagged his tail and snorted. Our neighbour appeared twice more surfacing his head before disappearing into the murky water. That was the other big difference here. The water was again the colour of chocolate milk. We continued on down river. The wind picked up fiercely and blew my rockered boat around. Realization sinking in I slowed my paddle strokes until the wind pushed the canoe backwards and I had to fight the rest of the way to Goose Camp despite there being no point. Our boat shuttle would not be going anywhere today.
I arrived at Goose Camp. I grew slightly
nervous remembering the last time I had been there with Ben and it
being completely vacant. We had been assured that Mark our shuttle
driver would be there waiting for us but the anxiousness remained until
I spotted a group of natives sitting high up the bank near the cabins.
Sure enough Mark was there. About an hour after my arrival, Ben showed
up. I helped him drag his canoe up and we chatted with Mark and the
Goose Camp workers. They were very friendly and asked us if we had
fished at all or seen any Moose. We had not fished or seen any Moose.
They set us up in individual rooms and we changed into warm dry
clothes. They treated us to a roast chicken dinner that night. It was
I filled up a bottle of coke with some fire water to make
the train ride was a little less daunting. Ichy was placed inside a dog
crate for the journey. We arrived in Moosonee in the dark after our 5hr
train ride. The truck was there waiting for us as Terry said it would
be and we drove home that night. Ben did most of the driving. I was
exhausted. We had planned on getting a motel room but all of the rooms
in each motel we passed were either taken or not dog friendly. 9 hours
later we arrived back in Fenelon Falls. Ben loaded up his truck and
drove home to Toronto. I went right to bed.