Length of Trip: 270 kilometres (168 miles), 140 kilometres
(87 miles) on the Foster River
Time Required to Complete Trip: 8 to 10 days
Number of Portages: 27 - 32
Accommodation, air charter, food, gasoline and telephone services are available at Missinipe.
For the 140 kilometres (87 miles) from Foster Lake to Black Bear Island Lake, this is almost exclusively a river trip, with only Fiest and Eulas Lakes offering limited amounts of exposed open water. Over this distance, the river has a vertical descent of about 128 metres (420 feet).
Apart from several families of local trappers living on the river, the Foster is currently little travelled and can be considered to be truly a wilderness river. One fly-in camp is located on Eulas Lake (Grid location 612983 - Map 73-P/13).
While the upper reaches of the river are narrow and relatively shallow, the lower sections offer some interesting fast water runs and necessitate traversing some hazardous sections to reach or leave portages. Consequently, this should be considered a trip for experienced canoeists only. One advantage is that most of the difficult rapids can be viewed easily from shore before deciding to run, or not to run. The more cautious canoeist always has the option of making a portage if he/she considers the rapids too difficult.
At the foot of any rapid, it is far better to be sorry one did not run the rapid than to be sorry one did!!
The variation in topography, and the number of very scenic rapids and waterfalls on the Foster River, make it an interesting trip which affords many opportunities to the avid photographer.
The Foster Lakes and the Foster River were named after The Honourable G.E. Foster, Finance Minister of Canada in the early 1890s.
Although contributing furs to the trade that flourished on the Churchill River, the Foster River was not a direct link in the fur trade route. Probably the first man to write specifically about the river was geologist J. Burr Tyrrell following his travel for the Geological Survey of Canada in 1892.
When taking the longer alternate, be certain to avoid a turn to the right near the start of the portage. This trail offers better footing, but it leads to a small pond which is not connected directly to the river. In the next seven kilometres (4 1/3 miles) prior to Lewis Rapids, there are several shallow rapids known as Fraser Rapids, which present no real problem. Lewis Rapids itself is a fast but navigable stretch.
Immediately following a small pocket-like bay in the river (Grid location 554405 - Map 74-A/5) is a fast rocky stretch of water which can be run by following the main flow of the current.
For the next two and one half kilometres (1 1/2 mile) the river alternately widens and narrows to Jones Rapids which, again, should present no problem to the alert canoeist.
Below Jones Rapids, in a protected bay on the right (Grid location 536328 - Map 74-A/4), several new trappers' cabins will be noted.
Two kilometres (1 1/4 mile) beyond this, below a large hill on the right, the river narrows abruptly into an s-shaped curve which is fast and deep, followed by a straight chute that offers a good run. Within one half kilometre (1/3 mile) the canoeist reaches Mackenzie Rapids which must be portaged.
This portage starts on the left, or east, side at a grassy area just prior to entering the fast water in a wide shallow part of the river at the head of the rapid (Grid location 540301 - Map 74-A/4). The portage ends at a good campsite in a grove of Jack Pine.
Several stretches of fast water will be encountered in the next nine kilometres (5 2/3 miles). At the end of this stretch of river, the flow narrows into a short steep rapids which must be portaged.
This portage starts on the right, or west, side at a noticeable break in the vegetation near a beaver lodge.
One half kilometre (1/3 mile) downstream the canoeist approaches another rapid which, in times of higher water, may be run by experienced canoeists after careful survey from shore. At low water levels a portage is recommended because of a number of bad ledges.
This portage starts on the left, or north, side about 15 metres (16 yards) above the rapid. The indistinct trail is through willows along the river bank.
Approximately four kilometres downstream, just after passing a sharp westerly curve, or U-turn, the canoeist encounters the next rapid where the river narrows between steep banks. It is recommended that this rapid be portaged.
This portage starts at a break in the alders on the left, or east, side about 20 metres (22 yards) above the rapid. It follows the river closely at first then climbs abruptly and is then steep and rocky, ending just below the fast water.
For the next six kilometres (3 3/4 miles), the river runs extremely straight and good campsites can be found in the level sandy Jack Pine benches above the river.
Four kilometres below portage number 5, a picturesque falls which must be portaged is encountered.
This portage starts at a rock shelf about five metres (5 1/2 yards) above the start of the fast water. It follows bare open rock prior to descending steeply into willows at the end. There remains some fast water to run after the end of this portage, and the more cautious canoeists can either line their canoe(s) past this or make a rough portage through willows to the quieter water below.
This is a very pretty 3 metre (10 foot) fall over a rock shelf which extends across the river at a 45 degree angle. Two kilometres beyond these falls, the river makes an abrupt right turn and within about 300 metres (328 yards) arrives at the next rapids which must be portaged.
This portage starts at a small clearing on the left, or south, shore about 75 metres (80 yards) above the start of the rapid. It ends at a small sand beach in willows, in a small bay below the rapid. A good campsite exists at this location.
Fast water in the narrows about 45 metres (49 yards) below this portage should present no problem, however, careful watch should be made for the start of portage number 8 which starts on the left about 70 metres (76 yards) beyond the fast water.
Experienced canoeists might run this rapid after careful survey from shore. Others should make this short portage.
This portage starts on the left, or south, shore about 15 metres (16 yards) above the start of the rapid. It starts from a small break in the shoreline willows and ends in quiet water below the rapid. The entire portage is through muskeg.
For the next ten kilometres (6 1/4 miles), the river meanders through a low marshy area with few, if any, suitable campsites. At the end of this stretch, the river narrows abruptly to a rapid that must be portaged.
This portage starts on the left, or south, shore about 10 metres (11 yards) above the rapid and ends in a low grassy area at a small lakelet in the river.
Within about 200 metres (219 yards), portage number 10 begins on the left side.
This portage starts on the left, or south, bank beside a large blazed Jack Pine about 75 metres (82 yards) above the rapids. It ends in a grove of beautiful spruce trees at a grassy area of a bay well below the end of the rapids.
One kilometre below this portage, the Little Whitefish River enters the Foster from the west. The remains of an old trapper's cabin can be seen on the right bank just past the river mouth. The area back from the river bank appears to offer good sandy campsites.
About 600 metres (656 yards) past the mouth of the Little Whitefish River, after the river turns sharply eastward, the canoeist approaches Spiral or, as it is locally known, Cascade Falls. This beautiful 16 metre (52 foot) fall, which tumbles in a spiral course over smoothly rounded rock, warrants the time to fully view and photograph it.
It is recommended that canoeists hug the RIGHT shore as they descend the fast water above the falls.
This portage starts beside a flat rock which extends out into the water on the right, or south, shore about 25 metres (27 yards) above the fall. The start of the portage is not well defined, but the trail soon becomes more distinct as it meanders over a sandy ridge.
Caution: Do not take the trail that forks to the right about three quarters of the way across, as this leads out into a large muskeg area.
Two kilometres (1 1/4 mile) below portage number 11, another rapid occurs which most canoeists will elect to run after careful survey from shore.
This portage starts on the right, or south, side at a rocky approach to a break in the shoreline vegetation about 20 metres (22 yards) above the rapid.
For the next 16 kilometres (10 miles) the river meanders through a generally low marshy area. Some good campsites exist on sandy Jack Pine covered benches along the left, or north, shore but a fringe of willows along the shore conceals these and makes landing somewhat difficult.
Two kilometres (1 1/4 mile) before the end of the meanders, the river turns north and shortly enters Fiest Lake, and beyond it through a wide channel, a smaller un-named lake. Below this latter lake, two brief sets of rapids are encountered.
This portage starts at a break in the shoreline vegetation to the left of a large rocky outcrop on the left, or north, shore about 15 metres (16 yards) above the start of the rapids.
An alternate to making this portage is to line the canoes past the first set of rapids and to run the second set after careful survey. Watch for an eagle's nest on the steep cliff adjacent to this rapid.
About 450 metres (492 yards) below the end of portage number 13, canoeists encounter Scott Rapids which must be portaged.
This portage starts on the right, or south, bank about 80 metres (87 yards) above the start of the rapid at a break in the shoreline willows. CAUTION: The large rock outcrop with the word 'PORT" scraped in the lichen IS NOT the start of the portage, it is located approximately halfway between the head of the rapid and the actual portage.
When leaving the foot of this portage, the canoeists must cross a dense mat of tall stiff water plants to reach the open water. No opening was found through this bed of horsetails in 1987.
Below Scott Rapids is a small crooked lake at the outlet of which Sandy Creek enters from the north.
Immediately below the mouth of Sandy Creek, there is a class 2 rapid which most canoeists will run after careful survey. The more cautious will line down the side of the rapid.
About 350 metres (383 yards) past this rapid, another short class 2 rapid is encountered which should present no problem to most canoeists.
A further 750 metres (820 yards) of paddling brings the canoeist to a challenging rapid which the more experienced canoeist might run after careful survey.
This portage starts as a distinct opening in the trees on the right, or south, shore about 25 metres (27 yards) above the start of the rapid, and after descending some preliminary fast water. About one kilometre (2/3 mile) below portage number 15, at a bend in the river, the canoeist comes to a short stretch of fast water which can usually be run down the centre.
Two and one half kilometres (1 1/2 mile) further, the river makes a final abrupt turn to the south and, in about one and three quarter kilometre (1 1/10 mile) the canoeist encounters a heavy rapid at a small island. This rapid must be portaged.
This portage starts at a grassy clearing beside a large Jack Pine on the right, or west, side about 20 metres (22 yards) above the rapid. The portage ends in fast water in a narrow channel to the right of the main river flow. Below this, in the main channel, is a chute of fast water which can be run down the middle.
One and three quarter kilometre (1 1/10 mile) beyond this chute is another short rapid which must be portaged.
This portage starts on left, or east, bank about 15 metres (16 yards) above the rapid.
The river continues southward for seven kilometres (4 1/3) to empty into a long narrow nameless lake. There are few good campsites along this section of the river. But, approximately half way down the southeast shore of this lake, there are extensive rocky shelves which offer good camping.
The next rapids, and portage, occur at the outlet of this nameless lake. Experienced canoeists may run this narrow, steep curling chute after careful survey.
This portage starts on the lake shore, at an indistinct break in the vegetation, about 25 metres (27 yards) to the left, or south, side of the river outlet.
The next rapid and portage are encountered approximately 550 metres (601 yards) downstream from the end of portage number 18.
This portage starts at a barely discernable break in the alders on the left, or west, bank about 30 metres (33 yards) above the rapids.
About one and two third kilometre (1 mile) below portage number 19, in a deep narrow valley, another set of rapids is reached which should be portaged. At lower water levels, wading may be an alternate to portaging.
This portage starts at a distinct opening on the right, or west, side of the river immediately above the rapid and ends in a small grove of spruce and pine. The first 140 metres (153 yards) is a steep climb over rock. Some fast water must be descended for about 500 metres (547 yards) below the portage. This stretch is fairly deep, except for one ledge shortly below the portage.
The river now opens up into Eulas Lake, at 15 1/2 kilometres (9 2/3 miles) in length, the largest lake on the Foster River between Lower Foster Lake and the Churchill River.
Eulas Lake has a number of sandy beaches. A outfitter's camp is situated at a sandy beach on the island about four kilometres (2 1/2 miles) into the lake (Foster River Camps).
Canoeists may wish to contact the outfitter beforehand to obtain permission for an overnight stop at this fly-in fishing camp.
The river flows out of the extreme southwest corner of the lake and a rapid which must be portaged is encountered immediately.
This portage starts on the left, or east, side below a brief stretch of rapids which should present no problem. The portage approach is rocky, and a small channel has been cleared by local trappers. The portage trail is through a stand of poplar, spruce and fir, and it is steep at the lower end.
A good campsite is located on the high point situated about 750 metres (820 yards) below the end of the portage (Grid location 538903 - Map 73-P/13).
Five and one half kilometre below portage number 21, at the end of an irregular shaped lake, a short stretch of class 2 rapids occurs in the narrow lake outlet. Most canoeists will elect to run this rapid after careful survey.
The next portage, which by-passes two sets of rapids, starts about 250 metres (273 yards) below this small rapid in tall spruce trees to the right (or north) side of the outflowing stream.
This portage starts about 100 metres (109 yards) to the right, or north, of the outflowing stream in tall spruce trees.
A Water Surveys of Canada recording station is located just above the rapids. Two kilometres (1 1/4 mile) below the end of portage number 22, a short class 2 rapid is encountered. This rapid should present no problem to most canoeists as it is fast and deep. Under low water conditions, ledges at the bottom could present some problem.
Three kilometres below this fast stretch, after passing through a narrow channel beside a steep rocky slope, the Foster River ends in an arm of the Churchill River nine kilometres (5 6/10 miles) above, or north of, Silent Rapids.
These are not difficult rapids to run. It is, however, advisable to land on the rocks above the rapids and study them. Generally, in running these rapids, it is advisable to stay on the left side and to swing into quiet water as soon as possible to avoid the big whirlpools below the rapids.
Black Bear Island Lake:
It is easy to get lost on this very complex lake. Frequent reference to map and compass to check one's position and progress is essential.
If the canoeist is interested in Indian pictographs, several such pictographs occur on the rocks and cliffs of Black Bear Island Lake.
There are three basic ways to cross Black Bear Island Lake. Each route involves descending a different set of rapids. The route described in this guide is the central one which takes the canoeist to rapids located at Grid location 535675 on Map 73-P/12.
These central class 1 rapids are not difficult, they should however be surveyed from shore prior to running.
Proceed east to the outlet of Black Bear Island Lake at Birch Rapids. These rapids are divided by a fairly large island. Birch Portage is on the south shore of the southerly part of this divided set of dangerous rapids. (Grid location 752602 - Map 73-P/11).
This portage starts as a break in the shoreline vegetation on the south, or right, shore about 45 metres (49 yards) above the more southerly set of rapids.
Approximately one and two third kilometre (one mile) below Birch Portage there are more rapids of a less severe nature divided by an island. There are three options open to the canoeist: 1) Run the main chute to the right, or south, of the dividing island after carefully surveying it; 2) Follow down the left-hand shoreline where some wading may be necessary at times of low water. This is the easiest and safest alternate; 3) Make optional portage number 24.
There is a longer version of this portage which is 280 metres (306 yards) long and goes completely around the entire rapid.
This portage starts about 40 metres (44 yards) above the rapid on the right shore at an inconspicuous break in the alders and willows. The shorter version ends in fast water at the base of the rapid. The longer version ends in quiet water.
The canoeist should now proceed northeast to the outlet of Trout Lake. There are three sets of rapids between Trout Lake and Stack Lake.
This portage starts on the east, or right, side of the outlet about 60 metres (66 yards) above dangerous rapids (Grid location 870726 - Map 73-P/11).
Within about 300 metres (328 yards) the next set of rapids is encountered. Most canoeists will run these rapids which should however first be surveyed from shore. If in doubt, the canoeist should take optional portage number 26.
This portage starts at a poor landing on a big flattish rock on the right shore immediately above the rapid. The trail improves back of the landing.
The next set of rapids occurs in about 600 metres (656 yards).
This set of rapids is divided into two channels by a small island.
This portage starts about 60 metres (66 yards) above the rapids on the right shore of the right, and larger, rapids.
The left channel has a Class 2 and a Class 1 rapid in it. These two rapids can usually be run after careful survey from shore.
The outlet of Stack Lake is divided by a number of small islands. The right hand choice involves descending through moderate fast water which should present no problems to alert canoeists. If in doubt, canoeists can wade down the shallower channels on the left.
500 metres (547 yards) below this rapid, the canoeist approaches Rock Trout Portage.
This portage starts on the right, or east, shore at a sandy landing 15 metres (16 yards) above the start of the rapid.
500 metres (547 yards) below this portage, the canoeist encounters another set of rapids split by an island 140 metres (153 yards) wide. The right, or southern, course is the deepest and most easily run. Most canoeists will elect to run this rapid. An alternate is to make a short carry of a few metres (yards) over bare rock on the left channel.
At the outlet of Mountney Lake there are several minor rapids which, under most conditions, should present no problem to the alert canoeist.
This portage starts on the northeast, or left, shore in a cove 125 metres (136 yards) above the main rapid. A shorter 100 metre (109 yard) alternate starts immediately at the head of the rapid and, after climbing a steep embankment, joins up with the longer alternate.
There are intermittent minor rapids below the end of portage number 29 which are not dangerous, and which can be run by the alert canoeist. Some wading may be necessary at times of very low water. Going upstream, wading would most likely be required.
After entering the west end of Nipew Lake, travel in a generally northeasterly direction to the narrows leading to Hayman Lake. There is considerable current in these narrows, leading to a class 1+ rapid (Grid location 058720 - Map 73-P10). Wading would most likely be required for upstream travel.
Be sure to select the most easterly outlet from Burgess Bay of Hayman Lake.
N.B. The first obvious trail on the east side of Burgess Bay IS NOT the portage trail, rather it is a five kilometre (three mile) winter road which by-passes both Great and Little Devil Rapids. This portage starts in a cove on the north, or left, side 60 metres (66 yards) above the rapid.
This portage starts in a small cove on the north, or left, side 70 metres (77 yards) above the rapid.
A shorter version of Little Devil Portage exists on the right, or south, shore. This involves two shorter portages as shown on map 73-P/10, but these have not been surveyed.
There is a Saskatchewan Government campground on the east shore of Devil Lake (Grid location 170680 - Map 73-P/10), and road access to Otter Rapids and Missinipe.
This portage starts on the east, or left, shore just after passing a prominent rock, and immediately to the west of the Water Surveys building located at the head of the rapid.
Canoeists planning to end their trip at the bridge across Otter Rapids need only portage 350 metres (382 yards). Others will complete the portage and paddle on to Missinipe Townsite on Walker Bay at the west end of Otter Lake.
At Missinipe, the end point of this trip, there is a Saskatchewan Government campground. There are also several fishing camps, an air charter service and a small general store. Radio, airplane, telephone and highway communications are possible with La Ronge which is situated 80 kilometres (50 miles) to the south.
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