Porcupine River Trip
The Porcupine is Saskatchewan’s most northerly river, starting from Selwyn Lake on the border of the Northwest Territories. It is considered the #1 river trip in Saskatchewan. It’s a clear, wild river, rushing 150 km south from its headwaters to join the Fond du Lac River just before it cascades into Black Lake. Large falls and rapids drop through black gorges and over large granite boulders and smooth, gray gneiss. Called ‘Dead Man’s River’ by the Dene for its rugged lower canyon, the trip is not for the faint of heart. It has incredible scenery and some very picturesque waterfalls. There are quite a few rapids that you can't run, and numerous that you can. It is an excellent river for photography, from exciting whitewater shots of canoes crashing through large waves, to fantastic landscapes. This ‘Land of Little Sticks’ will always surprise you; around the next corner you may find a perfect crescent beach, a massive rock slide or the quintessential taiga. Its as close to a mountain setting as you will find in Saskatchewan! As few people paddle the river, it is unlikely that you'll see others on the river. Bald eagles, bear, moose and possibly caribou can be seen. The trip begins/ends with charter flights from Points North. This trip is run in co-operation with Black Feather.
Trip at a Glance
Whitewater wilderness canoe trip
Length: 12 days
Skill Level: Intermediate
Dates: July 19 to 30
Trip Fees: $5195 CAD
Trip Rendezvous: Points
The Porcupine River trip meets at Points North Landing, Saskatchewan. We will overnight there, before heading by charter flight to our headwaters, Selwyn Lake. The guides will review paddling strokes, canoe maneuvers and safety before we head downstream. At the first rapids we’ll go over river reading and route planning. From here on it is a mix of swifts, rapids and lakes. Expect a number of portages each day at waterfalls, canyons or rapids that we cannot, or you would prefer not to, paddle. The longest portage is approximately 600m. On our last day, we’ll be picked up in the morning by our charter aircraft for our flight back to Points North, to connect with late afternoon flights to Saskatoon.
Day 1 Monday, July 19th, 2021 - Travel to Points North, SK
- Flights from Saskatoon to Points North
- Pre trip meeting, gear check, dinner, overnight at Points North (own expense)
Day 2 - Breakfast, charter flight to Selwyn Lake
- Set up camp, canoe skills review
Day 3 to Day 11 - Paddle the Porcupine River
- The unspoiled clear waters of the Porcupine flow over a number of waterfalls and through several picturesque canyons. There are many fun runnable rapids, and a few falls that we will have to portage. Each night, we will camp at a new site, surrounded by ruggedly beautiful scenery.
Day 12 Friday, July 30th, 2021
- Charter Flights from the Porcupine River back to Points North
- Optional Group Dinner and overnight in Points North (own expense) or mid-afternoon departure from Points North to Saskatoon
- Overnight in Saskatoon (own expense) or flights home
What is Included in the Trip Price
•Guides - 5:1 ratio
• Excellent meals from Day 2 lunch to Day 12 breakfast
• 17’ Prospector expedition canoes
• Paddles, PFD, helmets (you may bring your own)
• Throw lines and other safety accessories
• Camping Equipment:
• Tents - free standing custom expedition dome tents - 2 per tent
• ‘Kitchen’ - tarp, fire box, cooking stoves, utensils, dishes, etc
• First aid and repair kits, communications equipment (satellite phone)
• Canoe rescue gear
• Return charter flight to Porcupine River from Points North Saskatchewan
• Transportation of guides, group gear, canoe etc to and from trip
What is not Included in the Trip Price
• Saskatchewan tax: 11% of the trip fee
• Personal clothing and gear - a recommended clothing & equipment list will be provided
• Travel between your home and the trip rendezvous - Points North, Saskatchewan
• Accommodation in Points North, SK (approx $150 per person based on double occupancy)
• Any meals in Points North before or after the trip
• Any additional expenses or costs incurred as a result of delays to the trip caused by factors beyond our control - i.e. wind, waves, unsafe paddling conditions, forest fire, pandemic, etc
• Any costs associated with your emergency evacuation from the trip - please contact us at CRCO for more information
The Porcupine is a river that typifies the Selwyn Lake Upland ecoregion of the Taiga Shield. This is the transitional area of stunted trees and innumerable lakes between the tundra and boreal forest. Its rolling terrain, lichen woodland and rock lichen reflect its unique subarctic nature. Precambrian basement rocks, which were once mountains like the Himalayas, have eroded to a peneplain. The erosion is reflected in a series of broad, smooth uplands and intervening lowlands, with very irregular local relief. Elevations range from 350 - 600 meters, with steep ridges of bedrock dominating. In some places, glacial till covers the bedrock, adding eskers and drumlins to the mix of soaring granite cliffs. The Porcupine’s taiga has a forest of predominantly open spruce with yellow and white lichen beneath. Jack pine is found in the drier areas and birch in old burns. Lowland areas often have stunted black spruce or tamarack.
In general, the Porcupine’s flow peaks in June, so we do not have to worry about water levels, as the medium-plus size volume river always has sufficient water to make the paddling challenging and fun. The gradient of the river is about 0.75 m/km. The average difficulty of the rapids is grade II - III. The rapids are not overly long, but they are steep and larger volume makes swamping an issue. The rapids are often drops with large chutes, including boulders and irregular waves to avoid. Hydraulics are also a factor as the river gains volume. The river bed is generally made up of rocks and boulders, football to bus-sized. Ledges and pour-overs are common. At times the river bank is all rocks or trees right to the water’s edge, making lining difficult or impossible. Portages around the rapids are in poor condition or non-existent. There are at least 6 mandatory portages.
The river starts in low black spruce country, then gets sandy with jack pines starting to dominate. The granite outcroppings start after Offset Lake and you get a good mix of bench, esker and rock campsites through the middle section of the river. Once past the last canyon, the sand appears again, along with rocky outcroppings.
Selwyn and Black Lakes are the territory of the descendants of a group of Dene once referred to as “the Caribou Eaters”. They carried on a traditional way of life during the fur trade, following the barren ground caribou throughout the year as their ancestors had. Most went north in the summer, and wintered in the Selwyn Lake area. Traditionally, the Dene did not travel the rough sections of the Porcupine River, but had always hunted the bounty of the river and surrounding forests from lake routes. These lake routes allowed the Dene to access the river to hunt, fish and trap in the area, but avoid the gorges and canyon of the river.
The Dene say the river gained its name from the large population of porcupines that once inhabited the area, until a fire swept through the region in the 1940’s. However, another local elder said that there may have been some error in the translation of the river’s name, from Dene to English. The word ‘porcupine’ in Dene is much like the word ‘canoe’, so, it might have been called the Canoe River by the Dene. Regardless, it seems that porcupines are a delicacy much enjoyed by the Dene and Cree, who boil and roast them.
Today, the Porcupine is seldom travelled and there are few signs of human presence on the river. Seeing other canoeists on the river is a very remote possibility - there may be 3 or 4 parties on the river in a season.
Overall there are fewer species reflecting the harsh climate and lack of diversity in the vegetation. Although the barren ground caribou sometimes come this far south in the winter, you will not see them in the summer. Moose and black bear are the most common ‘large’ mammals. Golden eagles are a typical bird, fairly unique in this taiga area. There is also a healthy population of bald eagles and a number of osprey. Selwyn Lake is a trout hotspot, and on the river you can find northern pike and arctic grayling. Walleye (pickerel) can be found further downstream. Blackflies can be voracious this time of year, so make sure to bring a bug jacket, bug hat and repellant.
Your Black Feather and CRCO guides are exceptionally qualified. Each principal guide has an extensive outdoor background, formal training and leadership experience. On most expeditions there will be an assistant guide. The guides are always ready to provide coaching and helpful advice on any aspect of the trip and will attempt to maximize the spirit of adventure for each individual. Your safety is their prime concern and your guide will make decisions with this in mind. We must stress that listening carefully to instructions given by the guide is your responsibility and in the best interest of you and the group. Each group member is encouraged to contribute to the tasks of the canoe trip and your guides will act as helpful resource people. Lastly, as this is your holiday, the Black Feather and CRCO guides have a real sense of fun and excitement, and will help to make this your trip of a lifetime!
Our menus are delicious and nutritious. Everyone helps out cooking meals over a wood fire or camping stove from a combination of fresh, dried and freeze-dried products. Breakfasts consist of cereal, fruit and a main course such as blueberry pancakes or eggs and bacon. At lunch you will enjoy a selection of breads (rye bread, bagels, tortillas) with cheeses, sliced meats or veggies ... and of course, good old peanut butter and jam, followed up by cookies or fruit. Dinner consists of hors d’oeuvers, a main course then dessert. Entrees include chicken stir fry and pesto / pine nut / red pepper pasta. Perhaps we’ll have a salad and finish up with brownies or a lemon desert. On cooler days, a hearty mug of steaming soup is always available, along with tea, coffee, hot chocolate or cold drinks. If you have food allergies or dietary restrictions you should contact our office. You will be required to assist in your menu preparation. We don’t want anyone going hungry or reduced to eating boring food!
The Porcupine region is cooler than most of northern Saskatchewan. The weather is affected by its proximity to Hudson Bay, and the area gets most of its annual precipitation in July. Expect temperatures to range from 5 C to 30C, but averaging from 15 - 20 C. A good rain suit is recommended, along with a thermal protection: paddling suit, drysuit or wet suit.
Frequently Asked Questions
The Porcupine River trip meets in the ‘community’ of Points North, Saskatchewan (YNL). There are daily flights from Saskatoon (YXE) to Points North via Transwest Air. You should arrive in Points North on Monday, July 19th and can depart on or after Friday, July 30th, 2021. Points North is not really a town, just a jump off for exploration and mining. It has a small ‘hotel’, restaurant, small convenience store and float plane base. We will reserve a bed for you for Night 1 - the cost will be approximately $150.00 per person and the price includes dinner and breakfast.
This Trip is rated Intermediate Skill Level - Previous experience is expected
This trip is best for paddlers with previous whitewater canoeing experience. You do not need to be an expert, yet you should be familiar with all whitewater maneuvers and safety. Those with limited whitewater canoeing experience might consider the Fond du Lac River. The rapids range from easy swifts and short rapids to more challenging sustained whitewater with rocks, ledges, drops and large waves. The water level in July should be optimal for this river. There are some mandatory portages. These can be in poor condition, and will undoubtably have poor footing and mud. You should be prepared to carry your share of the group’s load. The pace will be fairly brisk but we will have time for instruction and coaching along the way. At the campsite everyone pitches in with setting up tents, collecting firewood, preparing meals, telling stories etc. The guides coordinate things and are always ready to assist you in any tasks. On the river they will provide expert coaching and lots of personal attention.
YES, we highly recommend you to purchase 1) Emergency Medical/Evacuation Insurance, 2) Trip Interruption Insurance and 3) Trip Cancellation Insurance. Many credit card companies offer limited interruption/cancellation insurance, so please consult with yours before you book your trip to ensure you are adequately covered. Please also note that some types of insurance are only valid if they are purchased within a short time of making a non-refundable payment towards a trip. More information about these can be obtained through your preferred insurance provider. Prior to confirming your trip’s departure, we will ask you to sign a waiver stating you have either purchased adequate insurance or that you will be personally responsible and financially liable for any costs incurred as the result of any delays/cancellations/evacuations to you on your trip.