Started the day off by cleaning up the remnants of last night’s peanut butter devastation. The time was 4:00 AM. We pranced into our boats and set off toward Twin Falls. The falls are sizeable and spill out aggressively into a small channel. Our plan was to attain the bottom of the falls into a bay portage named Stoney Mountain Portage. After gaining a visual of the twisted mess the sister currents make, we opted for the longer portage on the left. The decision was fortuitous because the trail is maintained and settled by a fishing outpost. The employees were friendly and invited us into their lodge for coffee. The place smelled amazing. That is safe to say. We swapped stories with Randy and Lorrene, laughed heartily and enjoyed a few candy sweets. (I love candy – Not that meh, I prefer fresh fruit.) I was excited to hop back in the boats after leaving. We portaged another portage with grass on it. and arrived at Missinipe shortly after lunch.
We all (except Paul) entered the corner store and purchased soft serve ice cream. I was floating on a cloud of deliciousness; we all were. Quinn, Axel and I walked to Churchill River Outfitters and met Rick (not Ricky) and looked at his highly detailed maps of the Churchill. He has marked several camping sites, rapid classes and pictographs. We had plans of going to a nearby campground, but ended up finding a campground on Missinipe. Quinn prepared a delicious pesto dish. I enjoyed a shower. We all met for space camp tonight. Space is so fascinating, right? I love space camp. We live on the spaceship Earth.
Woke up at 3:30 AM and had oatmeal and got on the water by 5 AM. We did a short stretch across Keg Lake and portaged a set of rapids into Drinking. We did a stretch across Drinking to the next rapids and portaged. We stopped for nuts/pemmican afterwards. We continued across another lake and got turned around for a second. We saw our first paddlers of the trip and some members wanted to paddle over and say hello. I did not! We continued to Drope Lake and ran into Stanley Rapids which had a boat ramp you could drag your boat over.
We did PB&J there and talked about slowing down or continuing at our own pace. We chose to slow down…for now. We did a stretch to a cool church in Stanley Mission in hopes they had a LCBO – they did not. Sad. We did another stretch up a lake and camped at 4:00 PM. We had our Mac for dinner. Quinn and Ax had to repack the lunch after a massive PB explosion. Paul then checked his and he, as well, found one. It took us about an hour to repack it. We did a small map session to reconsider going slower or making a decision tomorrow. We hit the tents around 9 PM.
This morning we rose at 4:00 AM, a little later than “usual” since we had traveled farther/longer than expected the day before. We had a nice campsite on a small island on Lindstrom Lake. The primary reason it was nice can be attributed to the lack of bugs. Outstanding wash by the dragonflies. Granola with PB for breakfast and the always pleasant coffee. Safe to say without coffee and caffeine pills I would not have made it this far. We pushed off at 5:30ish paddling north through some islands on the lake and then beaver streams (thankfully with no dams) until we hit Froy Portage.
Frog Portage is a voyager trade route portage and marks the change in watersheds. We are no longer on the Sturgeon-Weir but now on the Churchill River! The portage holds great historical significance…wish I could say more on the matter, but I am not a doctor. It was, however outfitted with a trolley that although looked super sketchy, turned out to be operable and neat. We loaded all our gear on the trolley and pushed it, uphill at times, over old busted boards lined with metal bearings. There were numerous moments when I thought the whole damn thing was going down, likely taking someone with it…thankfully that did not happen and we made it all the way to the end. The boats were much wider than the trolley but it was worth it just for the memory. Out of Frog Portage we came to Trade Lake, which was glassy and beautiful. We stopped for morning nuts/pemmican and the welcome addition of dehydrated cherries.
We continued on toward Grand Rapids where we struggled for an hour to find the portage trail. If that wasn’t enough, the portage was half mile long with a few treacherous deadfalls and steep inclines to start. We ate hot salami with parm at the end of the trail. Last day of salami for lunch…it was wonderful…and fine.
We pressed on, everyone was tired and it was a very hot afternoon. Caffeine pills were popped and water chugged. Pulled over a ledge, attained some rapids, crushed one more portage then found ourselves on Key Lake. Bourbon Street for afternoon nuts. Paddled til 5:00ish – most people were spent.
It took a little while to find a campsite but we came across a small tight one loaded with cushy moose moss. Thai noodles for dinner. Most people bathed, discussed etiquette and possibly implementing a rule regarding the acquisitions of tent sites. Chocolate and Cheerios is now a thing. People are tired and dehydration makes us cranky. Long days. Morale is high. Plans for Fort Mac on the 9th of July. It stays bright very long now…
Another good day today, 28 miles and much shorter as well. We woke up at 5:00 AM, getting an extra hour of beauty sleep to recuperate from the 40 plus mile upriver day. We got on the water at 6:30 AM and Quinn and I chose to try to attain the rapid beneath the road rather than pullover it as we had all done yesterday. The current ripped past our boat, pushing us toward the more shallow right shore. I told Quinn we might need to bail and he thought I wanted him out right then. He tried to get out but it was too deep. We lost the lunch sack off the top of the wannigan and were lucky not to swamp. Everything worked out, but it could have gone south. We saw Dave on his lawn and bid him farewell one final time.
We knocked out some long morning stretches through burnout between the hillsides that cupped the river, making for a rugged aesthetic on the drone footage we captured. We continued along the river following this pattern of long, upriver stretches followed by short, well-groomed portages. We attained one more rapid with a couple of fishing boats hollering support and portaged into Morand Lake. We knocked off about 60% of the lake and camped at 4:00 PM, tired from the previous day and not wanting to push closer to Pelican Narrows. We bathed, ate and were able to connect on our phones. I called Wiper and we pivoted to a live drop on the 10th, as it is a much more attainable date for us to reach him by. Hit the tents early to wake up early.
Huge day today. We paddled 42.5 miles. We woke up at 3:00 AM and were on the water at 4:30 AM. We had a decently long morning paddle across Amisk Lake, a beautiful body of water featuring red, rocky cliffs and vibrant spruce trees growing above the stone. We saw a fishing boat at the beginning of the second section of the Sturgeon-Weir, and we paddled by to say hello. One man on the boat had a very impressive, gray beard, and he asked up about the trip. He was ebulliently enthusiastic when he heard the route.
“Outstanding, Gentlemen! Simply outstanding! Keep it up.”
It made all of our mornings. It illustrates how important and gratifying enthusiastic individuals are to anyone they meet. We paddled beneath a cloudy sky, rain only falling for a half hour. We had a couple of pullovers and portages, but other than that, it was all paddling. The current was not too fast and we made good time. We were shooting for a marked campsite just beyond a road that went over the river, but found only cottages. Quinn and I spoke to a man mowing his lawn about any public camping in the area. He pointed us in the right direction (we had just passed it), but also invited us over for a beer. He introduced his wife Kareen and told us his name was Dave Knutson. While sipping our beers around their fire pit we ended up cooking dinner. The entire experience left us cheerful and gratified. We gave them our trip info and got their email to add them to the update mailing chain. I look forward to meeting all the wonderful people who will have surely touched our lives through their kindness and graciousness as we complete this journey.
After dinner, we paddled to the campsite and were in the tents by 10:00 PM.
Paul awoke to the sound of his alarm at 4:00 AM this morning. He made his way over to the kitchen, ignited the burner, and prepared oatmeal for the group. At 4:30 AM he called the trip to breakfast. Many crows called our campsite home and delighted our group with their cawing.
Our first river stretch consisted of a long western stretch with very few rocks to be pulled over. The first stretch totaled 2 hours. We made another stretch, attaining a rapid set and treated ourselves to a longer-than-normal nut break. The pemmican batch was delectable. After another stretch, we found ourselves up a long, fast-flowing rapid set. We pulled up the right side, captured some drone footage and eventually found ourselves in a tricky predicament. A snapped, overhanging tree obstructed our way forward. Bram and Paul were the first boat, and they gingerly maneuvered the boat around the tree. However, after seeing their struggle, Quinn, Axel, James and I rerouted and ferried across the rapids into the left eddy. Examining all the ways to pull up river is a fun activity.
We continued up to the mouth of Amisk Lake and pulled over at a campground. There was a wooden pavilion and picnic table and a scrupulously maintained crapper. Although we arrived at this site at noon, we decided to camp and knockout trip upkeep – tuning boats, charging A/V equipment and drying out gear.
Axel invited me to try his portable shower. It was a wonderful experience until a car rolled onto the site. Since I was nude, I hid behind a tree while Axel chatted with some curious locals. Unfortunately, I was devastated by mosquitos until the conversation ended 15 minutes later.
The talk of the town tonight is the classic olive oil/hand sanitizer mix-up. Quinn had prepared dinner tonight, and in his effort to lubricate our meal with olive oil, he grabbed the hand sanitizer and squeezed it into the cooked spaghetti. James realized the error, but too late. The problem is in the identical containers – powerade bottle, cherry flavor.
We woke up before 4:00 AM to the sound of an annoying bird. We would like to know the type of bird it is, but it stops making noises once we exit the tent.
Paul made us oatmeal and we got on the water around 6:30 AM. We did a 12-mile stretch to the beginning of the Sturgeon-Weir. It was an awesome sight. It began with almost the first 5K being nothing but rapids. It was an awesome time and it felt like I was a camper again.
We stopped for lunch at a nice campsite and had salami and cheese. Then we pulled up a rapid set and paddled some flat water but not as quickly as I hoped. We pulled up another set and realized our bridles are slowing us down a lot. We undid the bridles and moved much faster.
We did a quick nut break and set off to the next set of rapids where we saw a deal of pelican in the rapids. We pulled and paddled up a few more sets and eventually found a campsite that was able to fit 3 tents. We had Thai ramen for dinner and it was great. This river is very cool and challenging because the rapid sets are endless. This river should definitely be looked at by Kooch to send trips down.
P.S. At the beginning of the Sturgeon-Weir a boat full of fishermen looked at us and said, “That’s badass.”
Today we awoke for the last time on the Saskatchewan River! Everything was soaking wet and it was pretty cold. As nice as the river looked it was still muddy as hell and we were all eager to put it behind us. Oatmeal with banana and coffee for breakfast – the bananas are a welcome addition to our diet. Fresh fruit has not been a common occurrence.
We pushed off around 6:00 AM immediately entering the tearing river. Small set of fast water at the start set the tone for the morning. We were in and out of the boats often pulling up rocky sets of fast water on this small muddy river until 11:00 AM when we saw a deer on the last set which was nice…anything but birds is a welcome sight.
Cumberland Lake is large and pretty but we did not see much of it. Immediately heading east, we entered Cross Lake, having sailed for most of the stretch with a nice western wind. Floating/sailing and a PB&J lunch.
Out of Cross Lake, we flew through Whitey Narrows for a stretch then busted out the sails again at the start of Amew Lake. We were flying on Amew – clocked in an 8 minute mile only for the winds to pick up even more and gave us a scare. Frantically we all took down the sails and urgently got to share a ripping tailwind. Conditions went from fun to dangerous quickly. We pulled over and a short lightning storm passed us. After the minor delay we got back onto calm waters with the intention of pushing 10 miles to Sturgeon Point. We turned north and after a 1/2 hour to 45 minutes of paddling the winds picked up in an instant again. We pulled over and made camp while the stallions galloped off in the distance.
A Mexican burrito with cheddar cheese fiesta, followed by monkey munch for dinner, followed by lots of bathing and drying gear and repairs. We set the clocks back an hour thus we must wake up earlier to utilize the abundance of daylight.
Today was a very good day. Nice warm-up for Sturgeon-Weir tomorrow. Time to pull up some rivers!
Woke up to clear skies and cold temps. Breakfast turned out to be a mix of “yogurt nuts” and oatmeal. We bobsledded our boats down the muddy bank, leading them down to the log bridge to avoid stepping in the oppressive mud. The initially calm morning turned into another windy disaster. By mid-morning we were battling both current and headwind once again. I cannot believe this water is low and the current at points looks ironically fast. We ended up making it 17 miles by lunch but, unfortunately, fell asleep for 2 hours afterwards. We woke up and decided to push further, but made it only three miles until camping next to an outcrop of rocks. We were moving up the shore at points right before the rivers delta. I took some ibuprofen to battle the swelling in my fingers from this morning, possibly the result of paddling mostly on one side. There is currently a gull, making some annoying noise…
Wow, this trip has flown by. Hard to believe we have been out here for 31 days. Remember how yesterday felt like summer had finally arrived? Today was the opposite of that. It was warmer at 4:30 AM than it would be for the most of our day paddling. The morning started out well, the wind was warm and we had a small tailwind at our back as we moved north. That changed an hour into our paddle. The clouds came in and they never left us. We rounded a big bend, changing our trajectory to more S/SW and the headwinds blew in. It felt like we were walking the wrong way down an airport luggage conveyor belt all day. The air temp was cold and the wind was even colder. We crawled along the muddy banks all morning. There is so much mud. When you want a break, you can only hope to ram your bow into the banks and stick there like a magnet to a refrigerator. It isn’t that easy though. When we broke for lunch, Quinn had to step into the sludge and plant himself on the bow plate to anchor the whole squad. While the river is beautiful, it is only beautiful because it is a river. The campsites are few and far between and a man cannot even get into the woods to answer nature’s call. We pushed against more headwinds after lunch until we saw the first flat grass we had seen since our campsite on a long island in the middle of the river. We voted, and decided to take the sure thing even though we could have kept going. It felt like the right call to me. This day was difficult. A headwind, upstream combo along mud-banks is about as oppressive as it gets. We rolled into camp at 4:15 PM after paddling 5 miles. Hopefully we can get off the Sasketchy tomorrow.
P.S. The boat switch experiment seems to be working. The boats are now: Quinn & Ax, Zach & James, and Bram & Paul. We are in the same tent group as our boat-mate and will switch again after 14 days. We talked about it in The Pas and decided it would be a shame if we all did not paddle together at some point over a 120 day trip. It was not a unanimous decision, but the majority felt it was at least worth trying. The largest concern was in the potential gear loss after switching up the system we had used for so long.