By Jim Baird
With rocky cliffs of Precambrian granite, riverside caves, roaring waterfalls, jagged canyons, and numerous runnable rapids, the remote Porcupine River in Northern Saskatchewan is a wilderness paddler’s serene dream. Starting at the massive Selwyn Lake on the Northwest Territories border, the Porcupine flows southwest into the Fon Du Lac River, passing through many lakes in its course. At times, it even feels like a lake circuit trip, but with the portages in-between swapped out for stretches of swift current and fun rapids, giving you the best of both worlds. The Porcupine is not, however, a trip for the inexperienced. Though portages around the falls are not overly arduous, they can be treacherous due to the jagged landscape, and slippery rocks. And the river has many challenging rapids to contend with; in fact, its lower canyon was dubbed Dead Man’s River by native Dene paddlers in days of yore.
Churchhill River Canoe Outfitters rents canoes out of Points North Landing, a supply depot along gravel Highway 901 that stretches from La Ronge, SK to Stony Rapids, SK. It’s about a 13-hour drive each way, so make sure you have a reliable four-wheel-drive vehicle with a full-sized spare if you take this option. Stony Rapids is the closest place to the put-in from where paddlers can charter a floatplane; since the river lies well off of the road system, you’ll need one. The only other summer access option is to paddle and portage to Selwyn via the Chipman Portage Route from Black Lake — a tough expedition in and of it self.
Though more expensive, another option is to skip the long drive on Highway 901, and take one of Transwest Air’s scheduled flights to Stony Rapids from Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert, or La Ronge Saskatchewan, and arrange to have rental canoes shipped from Points North to Stony Rapids. North to Stony Rapids.
Once in Stony Rapids, Transwest Air will fly you to the put-in on Selwyn Lake, and you can leave your vehicle at their floatplane base. For drop-off points on Selwyn, Porcupine Bay at the river’s mouth is the shortest option, but you may want to arrange to use Selwyn Lodge’s dock on Common Island. The fly-in fishing lodge may also be able to facilitate floatplane charters, and canoe rentals.
From there, you’ll need to arrange a 20-minute taxi drive back to your vehicle in Stony Rapids.. And, if you want to skip the 22miles of exposed flat water paddling on Black Lake all together, arrange for a floatplane pick-up where the Fon Du Lac enters Black Lake.
In all, it’s a 122-mile paddle from Common Island to the community of Black Lake. 14 days is a good amount of time to allot for this trip. It can be done faster, but the country is too beautiful to rush through. For detailed information on the river’s rapids and portages, reference Northern Saskatchewan Canoe Trips by Laurel Archer.
—Read Jim Baird’s Lessons from the Trail