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NUNAVUT’S BEST: Our Quoich River (west Branch) Canoe Adventure offers some of the best northern barrenland scenery, paddling, hiking and fishing anywhere and we are the only people paddling this route. Archeological evidence of past Inuit and Tule use of the land is dramatic.
If you like the idea of paddling (or fishing) where other people do not, this is definitely the trip for you. Rising in Nunavut’s eastern barrenlands, near the arctic circle about 250 km North of Rankin Inlet, this river gives a new meaning to the words remote and rarely traveled. You’ll start in an environment that is akin to the arctic islands of the far north. As you travel south the river gradually changes as one approaches the ocean. We travel the Snow Bunting (west) branch begining about 50km south of Snow Bunting Lake and paddling down to just before Chesterfield Inlet. Only a few private groups have ever paddled this route, and as far as we can determine our EXPLORITORY trip on the Lunan was the first trip on the east branch.
The Snow Bunting branch flows swiftly south through rugged terrain, joining the Laughlin Branch about 100km down and then the Lunan Branch down another 100+km and eventually and on to Chesterfield Inlet, off Hudson Bay. Our trip begins and ends in the Inuit town of Baker Lake. From here we fly in and out of the river by charter bush plane. The flight over the tundra will help you begin to appreciate the unbelievable expanse of the spectacular barren lands. We’ll land in the upper reaches of the river on one of the many eskers, the ancient sandy beds of streams that once ran under glaciers, that occur in this area.
At the start the West Quoich is only a moderate sized river flowing between boulder covered ridges. As we descend the river gains width and volume. The upper rapids consist of boulder gardens with fun waves and small ledges, lower down they gain in volume, 70%are runable, with only a minimum of portaging and lining. The number of portages will depend on water levels and group skill level and will vary from 3 to 6 over the 2 weeks. Rapids range in class from 1 to 3. There are also a couple of class 4 rapids which must be linned or portaged. Birdlife is abundant along the whole route and in the lower reaches of the river we will hope to see caribou , arctic wolves , fox, hare, bear and musk ox, . FISHING IS EXCELLENT. In fact this is the best fishing river on our schedule, perhaps the best we have ever done.(provided you like lots of 5 to 25lb trout).
Some trips in the barrens make it a daily ritual to do short hikes from almost all campsites. Spectacular walking and hiking options on the Snow Bunting-Quoich are endless. In July we should also be traveling at the height of the arctic wildflower season. Although barren from an airplane the ground at this time of year should be ablaze with brilliant colours. As we proceed downriver the river valley becomes more pronounced and we will begin to see evidence of the thousands of years of Inuit presence on the land in the way of numerous ancient tent rings of stone, and piles of rocks likely used as food caches. Below the confluence with the east branch we will also begin to see inukshuk on many prominent ridges and points along the way.
Our trip will likely end near St. Clair Falls, long an important area for the Inuit. You’ll see numerous food caches and burial cairns. The area is known as “kiguit”, which means “the place of starvation”. We’ll fly back to the Inuit village of Rankin Inlet on Hudson Bay from here.
(Note: this is a suggested itinerary only, conditions on each trip may vary)
Day 0: Meet in Baker Lake, Nunavut, (Scheduled commercial airlines to Baker Lake almost Daily). .
Day 1: Flight by charter single otter into the west branch of the Quoich. If all goes well we would hope to be on the Quoich by mid day. We’ll set up camp at a nearby camp and explore this incredible area
Day 2: We’ll spend this day exploring the stunning barrenland landscape in the area of our esker landing strip.
Day 3-6: Our first paddling day we will get right out onto the river and into small technical rapids. It’s about 50km down to the Laughlin Branch. We’d plan spend a relaxing time on this small upper river The upper reaches are medium sized, with rocky technical class 2 rapids.
Day 7) We’ll spend a layover day around this area. The exact timing of this will depend on weather and wind. The day will be spent exploring the rugged landscape and unique hills in this area.
Day 8. -13: It’s 190km from Laughlan to the confluence with the Lunan branch of the Quoich. We’ll spend 5 days making this descent. The valley broadens and deepens and the river becomes larger in volume. Most whitewater is still runable, mostly class 1& 2. There are some small lakes to cross. Hiking opportunities abound. We’ll try and arrive early at the confluence to allow time for hiking and fishing. (possibly we’ll arrive on Day 10 and spend another layover day in this spectacular valley)
Day 14-15 It’s 50km from the confluence down to St. Clair falls (basically the mouth of the Quoich in a deep bay off Chesterfeild Inlet). The fast current will allow us to easily cover this in two days.
Day 16: Charter flight from river back to Baker Lake.
Start: Meet at least one day prior to start of trip. Scheduled commercial airlines daily, not on weekends).
End: Fly home one day after end of trip (or later). You are responsible for booking your own flights home.
Merrilyn Lindsay business owner
David Wilkie, DVM professor and veterinarian
Peter Milliken, PC lawyer and politician
Didier Maclaine Pont invester/paddler
James Gardner vp – marketing
Chris Cunningham author