July 11-24, 2009: To the best of our knowledge we were the first canoe trip on the Lunan Branch of the Quoich. We could find no pre information on the river and as such were running with topo maps only, no river notes.
and Northern Outdoor Expeditions Inc.
Shawn Hodgins, David Plante
Mark Chmielewicz, Brian Dawson, Ned Franks, Jim Kent, Christine Rennhard, Artur Völkl
• Lunan River (east branch of the Quoich) & Quoich River
• Location: Nunavut, West Cost of Hudson Bay, 1hr north of Rankin Inlet.
• Approx 65 N, 92W
• 14 days: 9 paddling days, 2 weather delay days, 1 layover day, 2 travel/flight days, average 6hrs per day on the water.
• Approx 180km
• Elevation drop approx 540ft
• 4 portages (longest 1+ km)
• Rapids: Class 1-3 – mostly 2s, (several class 3+ that need to be lined)
• Wildlife seen: 4 Caribou, 2 Arctic Wolves, 1 Wolverine, numerous Gyre & Peregrine Falcon, (musk-ox and grizzly from the plane)
• Fish: Numerous 5-25lb Trout
• Charter Flight: 1hr north from Rankin Inlet to starting Lake, 1hr out from near St. Claire Falls back to Rankin
The Group: L to R
Artur, Jim, Dave, Christine, Ned
Mark, Brian, Shawn
Before the trip Shawn & Dave packed all the food and gear and had it, along with the Pak boats shipped to Rankin Inlet, Nunavut about 4 weeks prior to the trip.
July 8: David, Shawn and Mark arrived on July 8, in Rankin Inlet via Ottawa and Iqaluit.
July 9: Nunavut Day – These were packing and reorganization day for us. Our gear had all been shipped up in advance and luckily had all arrived. We spent the time re organizing the gear to make it appropriate for the trip and shopping for our last minute items like fuel and a bit of fresh food. The ice was still in the Ocean around Rankin. Ned and Jim arrived today. We located Christine as well who had come early.
July 10: Cool, windy, wet and overcast. Artur arrived today. Mark tried to arrange an outing but the weather did not cooperate. Brian arrived on the late flight (7ish) without his gear, which was delayed in Iqaluit – the bad news – there are no more flights into Rankin until July 13th afternoon. Our flight is scheduled for 9am tomorrow (11th ). With the limited resources in Rankin this is problematic. Brian is not a happy camper! Between our group and Randy from Canadian North (who was extremely helpful and generous of not only his time but his personal gear) we managed to coble together enough gear for Brian. (new sleeping bag, borrowed tent and pfd, borrowed extra warm clothes, donated whisky thanks to Artur etc etc.)
July 11, Day 1: Weather Delay. The bad weather continued. It was windy & cold, limited visibility. As is common in the north our flights were delayed. We wait!
July 12, Day 2: The weather improved slightly and we were told that our flights were on. Fred from Ken Borek Air, arrived at our hotel with the truck for our gear around 9am, we all walked up to the airport. By the time we got there most of the gear was in the twin otter aircraft at 9:35 all 8 of us, our 4 pak boats and all of the gear were air born, (about 2600lbs of us all told). It all happened very fast! The ceiling continued to lift as we flew north affording us a great view out to Hudson Bay and then north into the vast water filled tundra. Most lakes were ice free but we could see that some of the larger ones remained frozen. We reached our hoped for landing area at 10:25. Then the search for an appropriate landing strip began. Luckily our entire group seemed to enjoy flying as the search involved doing multiple tight circles with the plane banking heavily 100ft off the ground. Several locations were scouted and then the pilots settled on a suitable spot. More close inspection followed by a “touch and go” to test if the ground was firm or not and then down we went onto the tundra. After a quick unload and chat with the pilots they were on their way. Despite looking for 900ft of suitable ‘runway’ the plane actually was in the air in not much more than 100ft. The 30km headwind and empty plane no doubt helped, but still a remarkable aircraft. Soon after unloading the skies began to clear. A beautiful spot! We find ourselves perched beside the north end of an unnamed tundra lake. Although only a short time by plane we are in fact 20km farther upriver than our hoped for landing spot. Given the beautiful location and the relatively stiff wind we set up camp for the day right at the landing spot. The afternoon was spent assembling our Pak boats, which took about 1.5hrs to get them all set up. The afternoon weather continued to improve although the wind did not drop until evening. We relaxed the afternoon away. Some people strolled and explored inland, others fished, Mark caught a couple of trout. Popadoms and Lentil Soup for dinner. To bed at 10:50, the sun is still up, but low in the horizon.
July 13, Day 3: Misery Day, 40km winds from the north, 5C and driving rain, (all day)
Needless to say we stayed put. Many stayed in their tents only coming out for hot tea and meals. By days end 5 out of 7 tents are leaking, one or two quite badly. (7 types of name brand tents and only two do not leak, does this tell us something about quality these days).
July 14, Day 4 (1st paddling day): The wind dropped somewhat overnight and the ceiling lifted. There were occasional light showers but it was mostly just grey and breezy. After a slow breakfast (and installing our spray decks which we now wished we had done on day 1) we headed out onto the water about noon. We paddled about 1km down the lake and into a small rapid (class 1) leading to the next larger lake. Here we were lucky to have a light tailwind and made good time down the lake for about 1hr. We then turned west and continued another hr down the lake before stopping for lunch having covered about 10km. Warm soup for lunch cheered everyone up but did take some time. It was around 4pm before we were moving on. The afternoon brought more of the same. The lake was eerily beautiful under the cool grey skies. For the last 4km as we turned north toward the outlet we had to battle headwinds which slowed our progress. Finally around 8pm we reached the end of the Lake and set up camp. A beautiful site despite the weather and long day. Dinner of Chicken & Broccoli Frittata. Late night and everyone tired.
July 15, Day 5: The late long day yesterday slowed us down in the morning. Everyone was feeling tired and slept in a little. Movement around the campsite was also slow and we got a late start (a habit we had a hard time breaking – with the almost full daylight it didn’t seem critical). The day was still overcast but the temperature seemed to have warmed a bit. We were on the water about 11:45. Down about 1km we were into some moving water. Nothing really more than a large swift but surprisingly powerful, (the high volume indicative of some of the larger rapids to come). Swifts continued on and off for the next km or so, with decent current most of the time. We lunched on the shore around 2pm having covered about 15km. Dave pulled in a small trout. After lunch the marked rapids Gr299979 proved to be enjoyable class 1+ verging on class 2. All were runable and scouted from the boats. We spied 2 caribou while crossing one of the small lakes. We stopped below the final one of these rapids about 5pm for a stretch break Gr279981. Mark caught a nice trout. We continued on for another hr under sunny skies as we paddled along the edge of a series of long eskers. Out across the west end of a long lake to a beautiful sandy beach with great camping behind, 6:30pm. A beautiful sunny evening ensued. At one point 2 caribou wandered thru the campsite. We could see and hear the next rapids of the river, just downstream. Dinner consisted of Jambalaya and Cornbread. Once again another late but enjoyable evening.
July 16, Day 6: Ok, yes another slow morning. The late nights seemed to be affecting everyone (the wine perhaps has some impact too). We enjoyed fish and cous cous for breakfast. It was a beautiful, sunny and warm morning. 11:30 on the water today, (just as the wind started to pick up a bit – in our face from the S-SW). The ensuing rapids were great. A Class 1, a class 1+ and a Class 2 all in short succession. All fairly large volume with good sized waves in the R2. We then crossed the lake and traveled south several km to an unmarked R1+ (Gr223945). Down 2km to the marked set (Gr202948) a big wavy R3 with an R2 sneak route down the RL. We spent about an hour scouting this before all electing to take the RL sneak route without incident (well one lost mug)! We proceeded out thru the island and then lunched 2pm RL. After a brief nap we headed back onto the water around 3:30pm. We made slow progress across the lake due to the strong headwinds. We encountered some swifts and R1st as we headed W and NW back in to the river (Gr200895ish). Five and a half km down the river narrowed dramatically and does a dog leg north, then west (Gr156925). Bedrock and low cliffs appear and mark the approach to a large rapids. At our water levels (high) this one was big. Class 3 at the top and 4 farther down, a beautiful small canyon. We lined down about 200m RL approaching the main section of rapids. Here we pulled out at the start of our 1st portage. It being 5:30pm we elected to set up camp. This was a stunning location A+, although tenting was only “B”. It was still sunny and windy as we set up camp, but clouds moved in during the evening. Mark and Dave both caught trout, Ned annoyed a pair of peregrine falcons. No doubt it was another late night.
July 17, Day 7: Up around 7:30 to a beautiful sunny morning but with a good wind blowing from the S/SE. Granola and fresh fish for breakfast and then off onto the portage. This being our first portage of the trip most had to regain their portage legs, many complained that their legs didn’t seem to be getting any younger. In other words the portage took us quite some time. By the time camp was broken, everything was across the 500m and the boats were loaded it was close to noon. (note: a closer inspection of the rapids revealed it to be a wavy R3+) in theory runable but we were not interested. The 500m RL portage right from the site seemed the best option. On the water, paddling toward the next set 1km down we experienced strong crosswinds which were a pain. This next set (Gr145922), a wavy R2 we ran with boat scouting, the wind added a challenge. The next 4km were a slog with the strong S. wind causing us some challenges and forcing us to wind ferry across the widenings. Finally a reprieve as the river bent NW and we got a tailwind for several km. As we rounded the bend before Lunan Lake we again had to battle cross and headwinds. We paddled into a sandy bay for lunch at 1:30 and decided to sit out the wind for a while rather than attempt paddling on Lunan Lake. Some relaxed others hiked off over the hills to see the sights. Great views out over the lake from behind the site. At 5pm with the wind still blowing we set up camp. It was still sunny and warm and the wind seemed to be keeping the bugs at bay. In fact to date we really had experienced virtually no bugs.
July 18, Day 8: Rain in the early hours of the morning. Mark up at 5:30 P.I.A. The rest up at 7-7:30 and away by 9:30. Very low clouds with light misty rain, visibility poor. The current moved us quickly out onto the lake and soon we were battling quite strong crosswinds from the south with wavy conditions. (given how much stronger the winds were yesterday it was likely a good thing we had stayed put). We wind ferried and slogged our way to the north side of a series of small islands attempting to gain protection from the waves. Navigation was at times quite a challenge because of the poor visibility. While we never ‘lost ourselves’ we did have to double check on the GPS. All in all it was a hard slog crossing the first section of the lake, rain continued on and off. We lunched at 12:45 (Gr980884), it was cold and wet. Despite this the lake was stunningly beautiful, with numerous islands appearing out of the mist, and rugged hills along the west side. A quick 45 minute stop and on the water again by 1:30. The last bit of the lake was much better, but by this point everyone was quite tired as a result of the wind, cold and wet. We encountered a powerful R1 at the exit (Gr 932879). Two km down the next set was a powerful R2-3. We scouted from the boats. The waves were large. One more km and the next set was getting even bigger (Gr908870) the increased volume below Lunan Lake is very noticeable. This one is another R2+-3. We (mostly) found sneak routes but it was still powerful and wavy. Some found more waves than others. Some bailing ensued despite the spray decks. Dave and Jim did an unplanned pirouettes in an eddy. Below this set 500m down we could see the river narrow between rock walls and the waves looked big. A walk down the shore ensued. This is an R4. We cautiously bumped our way along the RR to near the top of the main set before unloading. A bit of a slog up the hill to a so so camp spot at the top of the hill. An early camp for a change, but the cold, wet conditions and general state of tiredness meant we didn’t want to go farther. There were some lining possibilities for the set, but conditions decided us against this. As we set up camp others set about getting the boats across the 500m portage. Footing was mediocre at best as part of the route involved traversing a bit of a massive boulder garden. Dinner of pasta under increasingly clearing skies. Mark and Dave caught so many trout they themselves started to look like fish, all but a few were catch and release.
July 19, Day 9: Everyone was apparently tired again and no one moved til 8am. We had fish and things for breakfast. It was again grey in the morning but this time warm with no wind…here come the bugs. The first bad ones of the trip! We were all moving across the portage by 10:30 but the going was slow. Although short it was a bit of a brute due to the bad footing in the middle section. We were not on the water until 11:45 and could already see what turned out to be our next and longest portage, Lunan/Quoich Canyon just downstream. Not of course knowing what lay ahead we scouted the whole canyon, (probably about 2km by river), before scouting out the portage route (1.2km). The canyon is stunning. Perhaps in lower water levels one might be able to run sections of it. Portaging the whole thing seemed prudent to us as much of it was class 4. The shortest route ran almost straight across well back from the canyon and was just over 1km in length. There is a climb at the start and then the rest was fairly even going, although the wind did make the canoes more difficult. Gyre falcons were nesting in the lower section of the canyon and took to the air screeching at us every time someone came near. All in all it took us from 1pm until 3:30 to get all of us and the gear across. Some did many trips. As we enjoyed a late lunch at the bottom a beautiful healthy arctic wolf wandered right up to our gear, apparently unaware that we were a mere 40ft away down the bank. He sauntered off after we spotted him and then he spotted us. We got a great close up look at this beautiful creature. The set right below the canyon/portage is a powerful R2-3. Really no bigger than others we had run, but no one wanted to jump right into it, so we all carried the stuff another 100m down the shore to below this set and put in there. Powerful class 1 & 2 rapids continue down for the next km. We ran all from the boat. The river then narrows between cliffs and a larger wavy R2 occurs. A quick look showed it to be runable so we all ran down thru the wave train, a good fun ride. The current continues for another km or two with the next two marked sets being wavy R1s. It being 6pm we pulled into a bay RR at GR853882. As we set up camp the skies cleared, the sun came out, a light breeze picked up and it turned into a beautiful mostly bugless evening. Artur and Mark each caught a number of trout. Most were thrown back but we did keep a few for breakfast.
July 20, Day 10: We had a planned sleep in and slow morning. It was overcast, buggy and warm. We hit the water around 12:45. Strong current sped us along quickly, the 3km to the small lake seemed to pass in a mater of minutes. A light tailwind and some current meant easy going in this section as well. The rapids just onto the next map Gr 760897 are more significant. First an R2 which we ran followed by an impressive R4 (Gr750894), which we did not. We lined RR down the first bit and then did a short easy portage 100m RR along the shore. We cooked a hot lunch here on the rocks beside the rapids. On the water again at 4:30 and around the corner to an impressive mini canyon, but this one with no rapids, simply strong current between the cliffs and falcons circling above (Gr750894). The next 10km contain a variety of rapids all of which we easily ran from the boats. These were moderate to large sized R1s. We camped at 7pm next to the final and largest one of these rapids. Spaghetti for dinner. Moderately buggy. Artur caught a 20-25lb trout. Mark and Dave also caught numerous trout 5-10lbs. All were thrown back.
July 21, Day 10: RR Day. A well deserved day off, (we had hoped to have more).
Sunny and warm. Buggy in the morning! The breeze picked up in the afternoon and kept the bugs at bay. Most simply relaxed around the site. Some went for long walks. More fishing ensued. Many more trout 5-20lbs caught, most again put back but we did keep enough to make sushi for dinner along with Miso soup.
July 22, Day 11: Awoke to a sunny breezy morning. Biscuits, sausage and gravy with banana bread for breakfast. Departed the site around 10:30. Current and swifts for the next 5km and then out into a good sized lake. Wind from the SE, a bit of a slog across the lake with wind and waves. One swift in the middle of the Lake (narrows). Lunched in the lee of the wind right after this. The final 3km were better but still work and then into the river again. R1s and good current moved us over the next 10-12km quickly despite the wind. The weather started to look threatening late in the day as we entered a section of larger (R2) rapids. We ran a few of these and then set up camp high on the RR bank (Gr540713). Windy and light rain as we set up. Beautiful location but not the best weather and tenting was only mediocre and a ways back from the river.
July 23, Day 12: We left the site around noon right into the R2 at the campsite which continued down for about 2km. Where the river narrows at Gr522699 an R2 rapids begins ending in an R3 (Gr521695) We lined the bottom RL, during which we put a slice in the side of Dave’s Pak boat. A quick 45 minute stop had the rip repaired and we were on the way again. 1km down is the next marked set (Gr520685) We sneaked down RR and then lined the main drop RR. We continued around the corner (R2) and on to another larger R2 section. Some lined and some ran RR at this location. Those who ran took the same sneak route RR. More R2s continued on and off over the next several km. At this point we began what would turn out to be a long search for a suitable landing spot. Our original plan had been to travel right to St. Claire Falls, but the weather delays and river character had us re thinking this. We decided we would rather stop early at a suitable location to enjoy the environment as opposed to pushing (and we felt it would be a push) all the way to St. Clair Falls, have to portage the falls and then still search for a suitable landing spot. The maps indicated a number of eskers in the next section of river which we hoped might deliver us a good landing strip. (The pilots request 900-1000m, although they appear not need nearly this distance). Numerous stops and short walks up the bank to possible landing strips occurred slowing our progress considerably. Our search it turned out took us all that afternoon and the next morning, eventually putting us within half days distance of St. Claire Falls. During this time we encountered another R2 at 490670, also a short R3 which we snuck down RL (Gr480635). Another R2 (Gr 485620) after a small river confluence where we found an air fuel drum high on the bank (must be a helicopter refuel). Strong current continued all the way down to the confluence with the main branch of the Quoich. During this time we saw another curious arctic wolf who turned and followed us along the shore, then within 30seconds an ambling wolverine likewise became curious and turned and followed. Another R2 at Gr494576 and then a final good sized R2 as one literally drops into the main branch of the Quoich. The sight that greets one here is truly breathtaking. The main Quoich thunders down a huge rapids into a cauldron like widening where the two rivers meet. Strong currents occur throughout. The whole shoreline in all directions is scoured of any and all plant life. Nothing but boulders and scoured rock as far as the eye can see. We continued on for several km now looking for a possible campsite, which we located about 2km downstream RL opposite where a small river flows in. It turned out to be a lovely site. Great views downriver, high hills behind, Inukshuks across the river. It was sunny and warm and some even contemplated swimming. The bugs were out. It was almost 8pm by the time we set up. A beautiful evening.
July 24, Day 13: We awoke to a mostly clear and sunny morning with a light breeze in our face. We were again set to continue our search for a landing strip but wondered if we might have to make the long paddle to St. Claire Falls and then the portage…a prospect that did not delight us. We prayed for low wind as the farther we moved toward Chesterfield Inlet the wider and slower the river would get, by the end being more like a lake than river. We were on the water and 9:30 and moved down thru the R1 that we had seen from the campsite. Current continued through this section and we found we were traveling close to 8km an hr. No landing strips materialized. We encountered one large swift and one small R1 (Gr501428). Around mid day we passed to the north of a large sandy island, looking ahead at what looked like a promising spot. We lunched here. Likely it would have worked as a landing spot but we decided to explore the area including going back to the sand island. This previous location proved to be too good to be true. As the pilots later said they could have landed a 747 on this spot, in both directions. We proceeded to set up camp here, some on the sand near the shore, some on the grass beside. Our pak boats began quickly to disappear as we dismantled and cleaned them. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon. The light wind kept any bugs at bay. Some went walking, some even ventured into the water. All enjoyed the beautiful evening and reminisces about the trip. We called Ken Borek Air with our location. Things looked good for a mid morning pick up.
July 25, Day 14: We awoke to what appeared to be descent flying weather. High ceiling, light cloud, light wind. Called the airlines, Yes things looked good, but they would be delayed (another flight ahead of us). We enjoyed breakfast and twiddled our thumbs. Another check in and yes they were coming. More hurry up and wait, then the drone of the twin otter. They circled a few times did one close inspection and then were on the ground. Loading happened fast and before we knew it we were air bound. The pilots were nice enough to fly us down to St. Claire Falls, where they circled back and forth for a good 10minutes to give us a good view of the falls. A musk ox and a Grizzly were seen from the plane. About 50minutes of flying and we were all back in Rankin Inlet. Brian was reunited with his gear. His trip ‘supplies’ helped us enjoy a great pre and post dinner evening. Dinner was a bit more problematic as little seemed to be open, but we made due.
Lunan Quoich Trip 2009, all in all an excellent trip, one worth repeating!
Quoich & Lunan River “Exploratory Trip”, July 11-24, 2009
Shawn Hodgins, David Plante, Mark Chmielewicz, Brian Dawson, Ned Franks, Jim Kent, Christine Rennhard, Artur Völkl