Base Camp Abitibi Canyon's Bucket List Tour to Moosonee

From Abitibi Canyon to James Bay and back—this is a bucket list trip to check off more than once.

One of my favourite things about snowmobiling is that it can take you to places you normally couldn’t get to—whether it’s solely for transportation, adventure, or just to take in an incredible view. A snowmobile opens up a whole new world for discovery.

In January 2017, I stayed at the Base Camp Abitibi Canyon and rode the Abitibi Canyon with my friends Shelby Mahon and Ryan Tarrant. It was there where I found out from one of the Base Camp owners, Mike Lobb about a multi-day tour they wanted to run from Abitibi Canyon along the hydro lines to Moosonee.

As soon as I heard about this trip, I knew I wanted to do it and added it to my “bucket list.” Flash forward to this past fall when I saw a posting on their Facebook page that they were launching these tours with select dates—I was in!

I knew I wanted to be in the first group on this tour so I could be first to the fresh snow. So my husband Ted and I, along with a couple of friends, Robert and Tracy Roth, signed up for the first tour date offered, the weekend of February 14 to 16.  It’s always a gamble planning a trip north of Cochrane in mid-February because you don’t want it to be too cold, but we knew we wanted that fresh snow. And boy did we luck out, with excellent conditions and manageable temperatures.

Because the tour from Base Camp Abitibi Canyon doesn’t depart first thing in the morning, you can snowmobile directly in on the A103 trail north from Cochrane. We drove up a couple days earlier, staying at the Best Western Swan Castle Inn so we could spend some time snowmobiling around the Cochrane area.

After arriving at Base Camp with our truck and sled deck, we unloaded the sleds and loaded them with all our gear and necessities—you can only take what you can carry on your sled, and we tried to keep the weight down. On my sled, I had packed a full fuel caddie, oil, octane booster (there in no premium fuel at Camp Onakawana or in Moosonee), select tools, first-aid kit, change of clothes, extra goggles and gloves, toiletries, and drinks and snacks.

Day 1 - To Moosonee

There were 17 people in our group, led by our guide Bill Froud of Dunn Right Outfitters. We left the Base Camp at around 12:30 pm on the Friday and rode the trail to the canyon. There was some road running to do at the beginning to get to the hydro lines we were riding from—nothing too bad as the roads are nicely snow-covered and not salted, and we had our scratchers down. Once we got to our hydro line entrance, Bill told us we could ride wherever we wanted. There is a “trail” on one side of the hydro line, but it’s not staked or groomed—this is backcountry riding along the hydro lines.

The reason we chose to ride on the first weekend was so the “trail” wasn’t packed down, and the other open areas to ride along weren’t tracked out too much. Bill tail-led our group, noting to stop when you get to the really big hill, the eagle’s nest, or the tower—this way we could regroup and make sure everyone was accounted for. We made a stop at the Otter Rapids Generating Station, where the furthest driveable road north goes. You can ride at your own pace, follow the tracks of the people on the “trail,” or carve in the powder along the power line, avoiding the guy-wires and any creek crossings. My husband Ted called these powerlines “powder drag strips” as they’re long and mostly flat!

On the first day, you ride 80 miles north of Abitibi Canyon on the west side of the Abitibi River along the hydro line that also runs parallel with the Ontario Northland Railway line. At mile marker 131 we crossed over the railway track and headed into Camp Onakawana—this is where the Onakawana River meets the Abitibi River.

Here we were graciously hosted by William and Pam Tozer and their son Ben—they’re members of the Moose Cree First Nation of Northern Ontario. This camp has been visited by the likes of Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, Canadian author Joseph Boyden, and Les Stroud (Survivorman), to name a few.

Upon arriving at the camp you can refuel—they have fuel for purchase, but it’s not premium—or you can fuel up with your fuel caddie. The inside of the camp is beautiful and very clean; there’s a large living area with couches and tables and a chef’s kitchen with the largest island I’ve ever seen! There are eight bedrooms, with two sets of bunk beds in each, and two bathrooms. Even with the large group we had, it never felt crowded in their space. You’re served a home-cooked meal for supper by the Tozers and you’re able to relax, watch TV, and get to know everyone in your group. They have four of the friendliest and well-behaved dogs to keep you entertained as well. There is no cell service or internet—a good way to disconnect. I will note that there is drinkable water provided at the camp, but there is no running water. 

Day 2 - Onakawana to Moosonee and James Bay

Saturday was the 80-mile ride to James Bay. We started the day with breakfast at the Tozers’ and then headed out around 9 am. Since we were coming back for the night, there was no need to load up with all of our gear. Ben Tozer led our group that day and Bill tail-led. We rode the power lines for a little while with a few river crossings, then jumped on the Moose River and rode that all the way to Moosonee. The Moose River and the Abitibi River run pretty much parallel with each other.

Unfortunately for us, this was the only day that wasn’t blue skies and sunny, although it wasn’t too cold. It was snowing and blowing our whole way to Moosonee with low visibility. While on the Moose River, we needed to stay close together and follow Ben’s tracks as there were many harmful ice chunks, and since it was so windy, our tracks would disappear in under 30 minutes. Luckily for our group, there was a lot of snow on the ice and there were no worries about the sleds overheating.

We arrived in Moosonee before noon, fueled up in town, then headed back on to the ice to James Bay. Ben took us out on to the bay, but not too far out because we could hardly see; everything was white from the blowing snow. I’ve heard that they like to take you out to where the fresh water and the salt water meet on James Bay, but I’ll have to save that for next time to see that!

We rode back into Moosonee for a great lunch at The Sky Ranch Restaurant, then Ben led us across the ice road to Moose Factory and toured around the island town. We road back to Moosonee, fueled up, and made any last stops we wanted in the town before heading back to Camp Onakawana with our group.

Since the visibility was poor, we rode the powerlines back the whole way instead of taking the river. Hydro workers had been working on clearing the brush from under the lines south of Moosonee, so they had plowed a rough road. We made it back to powder snow and rode until trail mile marker 131, the turn off for the camp. At camp, we had another delicious home-cooked meal and talked about the awesome day we had!

Day 3 - Back to Base

Sunday was the day we headed back to Base Camp Abitibi Canyon. We loaded up our sleds after breakfast and rode the powerlines back the same way we came—and after all the snow the day before, we had fresh snow for the ride back! Bill led us to the canyon to go in and ride the hilly powerlines, while others continued back to Base Camp. I rode my 154 2.5” Summit, but a short track would have no problem doing this trip, especially into March when a trail is more packed down.

We regrouped back at Base Camp, and said our goodbyes to the group we just spent three amazing days with. We really lucked out—the group we had on tour were such great people, ranging from ages 30 to 70. A lot of the group carried on sledding from Abitibi south, some to Cochrane, others to Chapleau.

All in all, we had the best time! It was the trip of a lifetime and a tour to add to your bucket list for sure. Some say they’ve done it once and can check it off their bucket list, but I’d go back in a heartbeat and stay at Camp Onakawana and ride with the Bill and the Tozer family.

About Katie Harris (Erb)

Having travelled 34 countries around the world, Katie is most at home riding snowmobiles in Northern Ontario. She's also passionate about trucking, travel, geography, and other motorsports.  

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