Friday, October 30, 2009

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hit the Road With James Raffan

It's only a few more days until canoe guru James Raffan comes to Saskatoon! A blog is being posted of Raffan's travelling adventures on the Canadian Canoe Museum website. Click the top tab that says "Hit the Road With Raffan". And don't miss the presentation on Wednesday!

Friday, October 23, 2009


This likely to be the final instalment in my series of posts moving material off of my about to be deleted Geocities site (Geocities is schduled to shut down permanently on October 26th). Some of the text has been edited & updated from the original.

A Greenland Paddle

I started building a Greenland-style kayak paddle several years ago and it was shelved shortly after gluing up the central part of the blank. Years later I came back to the project to finally complete it. The paddle is made of cedar and poplar laminated together such that the poplar forms the outer part of the shaft area (loom) and extends through the length of the blades. The blades are made from additional pieces of cedar glued to the central shaft and each of the four blades should have been made from the same piece of wood. Unfortunately, I forgot why I had been hanging onto those pieces of cedar and at some point I turned one of them into a toy canoe (shown in an earlier post). Since I no longer had a piece of cedar long enough, I glued together two shorter pieces. I should have used a scarf joint and glued them up properly, but instead I simply butted them together and glued them to the shaft. The result is a weak point in terms of aesthetics and possibly also in terms of structural strength. However, lack of strength has yet to become a problem witht the finished paddle. The excellent and free plans used for this paddle were those by Chuck Holst. The picture below was taken after carving. I waited to try it on the water before adding a finish.

The first thing you will notice when you look at the picture is that it doesn't look like most kayak paddles you may have seen. It is such a different style and that is one reason I wanted to build one - just to see what they are like to paddle with. The following is quoted from the introduction in Chuck Holst's plans:
Apart from its romantic association with the people who taught Europeans to kayak and to roll, the narrow-bladed Greenland paddle is popular because it is easy to brace and roll with and is not very susceptible to strong winds. Also, because it slips a little at the beginning of a stroke, it is easier on the muscles, and thus less fatiguing on day-long trips than wide-bladed “Euro”-style paddles. A further benefit for northern kayakers is that the Greenland paddle is adapted for paddling in freezing conditions. The shoulders where the blades and loom meet make an ice-coated loom easier to grip, while the narrow ends of the blades, which are immersed in water while paddling, offer an ice-free grip for emergency braces and rolls. The Greenland paddle is also popular because it is very easy and inexpensive to make with simple tools in a home workshop, which is the subject of this article. Working entirely with hand tools, it is possible to make a Greenland paddle with less than $10 worth of materials and 24 hours of labor.
I spent more than $10 on materials and more than 24 hours in the construction, but it was fairly inexpensive and once I got around to actually doing it, the project went fairly quick. Those who paddle with these "sticks" get pretty passionate about it. I haven't put a huge number of miles on the paddle, but I have used it a fair bit and really like it. The first impression was that it really wasn't all that different from the more familiar modern paddle. It still catches a fair bit of water, I can accelerate quickly and can paddle in a "normal" manner just fine. I like the long reach I have with it when I want to do a sweep stroke. Although I've attempted rolls with it, I can't say that it works any better, or any worse, in that department. So far, my rolling has not been terrible effective (one of these days I'll take some lessons on that). I should probably build a couple more greenland paddles and reduce the weight as well as possibly trying out different lengths.

Kids Paddles

I have made two small beaver-tail style paddles scaled down to be suitable for small children. The plans I used were scaled down from those in the book Canoe Paddles - A Complete Guide to Making Your Own by Graham Warren & David Gidmark. These paddles are very easy to carve out of cedar and one can be made quite quickly. The latest one that I have finished was for my daughter & I completed that shortly before we went on a canoe trip when she was 3. The graphic with the seal is just clip-art printed with an ink-jet printer onto a plastic overhead sheet. I cut out the graphic and used epoxy to glue it onto the face of the paddle. I then fibre-glassed over top and the graphic is now entombed on the paddle blade. This method may not be suitable for something which may flex since any flexing could possibly result in separation of the layers above and/or below the plastic. However, it has stood up to 4 years of abuse from two kids just fine. On the other side I practiced my wood burning technique to draw a flower & my daughter's name. With the whole blade covered in fibreglass, it is quite strong and has withstood much abuse. (These pictures were taken after a season worth of use and therefore there are numerous cosmetic scratches.)

Canoe Paddle

This is a "voyageur"-style paddle I built several years ago based on plans from the book Canoe Paddles - A Complete Guide to Making Your Ownby Graham Warren & David Gidmark. The paddle is laminated from maple and ash gleaned from the scrap bins of the local Habitat Re-Store. Both woods are strong and able to flex without breaking. Due to the strength inherent in the woods used, I was able to make the blade and shaft both quite thin and as a result the weight of this paddle is very reasonable. The tip has a mahogany insert running across the width in order to protect the tip from abuse and to prevent the laminations from splitting.

This paddle is LONG. The blade alone is approximately 30" long and as a result, this paddle is for use in deep water only. I think I also made the handle a bit too long for me. Unfortunately, it is tough to use in the shallow South Saskatchewan River and I have never really gotten the hang of using this paddle effectively. It sure looks nice though. (I need to take a better picture where the minor imperfections aren't magnified such that they seem far more prominent than they do in real life.)

2009 Update: I never really got the hang of using this paddle, it simply seemed too long. However, in 2007 my wife & I did an 7 or 8 day trip on Lac La Ronge & the Churchill River and I forgot my usual touring paddle (a basic Grey Owl bent-shaft) at home. Thus I was "forced" to use my voyageur paddle (we still had one more spare with us - on of those awful plastic & aluminum things). After several hours I started to finally develop a relationship with this paddle. Before long, I came to love it. It's light weight, thin edge, generous flex are endearing features. With such a long blade, it does best when the blade remains underwater, being knifed forward in and underwater recover stroke such as the "Indian" or "Canadian" strokes. I slowed down my paddle stroke, but put more power behind them, and the recovery becomes part of the correction to maintain a course.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Canoe & A Kayak

Another in the ongoing saga of moving things off of my very soon-to-be-deleted Geocities site. Originally published online 3 or 4 years ago.

I built two boats in my garage in the spring of 2005. First was a Chesapeake 17 stitch & glue kayak based on the plans in the book The New Kayak Shop by Chris Kulczyki of Chesapeake Light Craft. The kayak was constructed of 1/32" birch plywood, "stitched" together with cyanoacrylate glue (aka slow-drying crazy glue). The hull was covered with a single layer of ~6 oz. fibreglass and the deck and cockpit sealed with epoxy. The second boat was a 17/6 Redbird canoe based on plans from the book "CanoeCraft" by Ted Moores. The canoe as I've built it is some sort of cross between cedar strip & dugout canoe construction. The hull was first made of cedar "strips" and the interior of the hull subsequently carved out. Again, the outside of the hull was covered with one layer of fibreglass and the interior sealed with epoxy.

OK, if you haven't yet looked at the pictures below you're probably wondering what the heck I'm talking about. The boats were 1:12 scale models. Barbie can paddle them, but that's about it. (Actually I was disappointed to find that Barbie doesn't fit in the kayak - her hips are too wide. Maybe I should steal one of my daughter's barbies and use various power tools to administer some cosmetic surgery to make her fit - all in the name of getting a nice photo.) I made these boats as toys for my daughters and as "fun" little projects. Another reason for building these boats was to practice techniques (stitch & glue construction for the kayak, carving was used for the canoe). The kayak was a PITA and I'm not sure I would attempt another (at least with a normal size boat your pieces are big enough to hold properly). It was very tedious to get the thin plywood panels (cut with a scissors) to line up just right and to stay in precisely the right orientation until the glue dried (clamped with binder clips, tape and my fingers - which often became a structural part of the hull thanks to the glue). There are bulkheads in place so that the bow and stern compartments are fully sealed so it won't fill with water and sink. The kayak is very strong and should stand up to a fair bit of abuse.

As alluded to above, the canoe was made by first gluing together some scraps of cedar. I then pasted onto this block outline drawings of the canoe copied to the correct scale from the book CanoeCraft. I then used the drawings as a guideline to cut the general canoe shape out of the block using a band saw. With the rough blank cut, I used a spokeshave to carve away anything that didn't look like a canoe. This was very easy and went well. I'm sure it doesn't share the same lines as the original canoe design it is based on, but it still looks pretty fair and it is just a toy. I once tried the band saw to remove a bit more material, but ended up slicing into the canoe and had a patch I had to repair. I find that often I don't save any time by using the power tools, I just create a mess to repair. With the outside of the hull carved, I used a gouge to hollow out the inside. Carving the interior of the canoe was much more work and I never did get it perfect (it's just a toy after all). There are three reasons this portion of the carving did not go well: 1) I had only one gouge to use with a fairly narrow width (I opted to purchase one good tool rather than a set of multiple mediocre tools); 2) I did not sharpen the gouge after purchasing it (though it was still plenty sharp to cut me very easily when I slipped); and 3) I don't know what I'm doing. All three of those factors can only improve with time.

The picture below shows the plywood panels of which the kayak is constructed. The hull (bottom) is composed of 4 panels and the angle where they meet at the side is called a "hard chine." The presence of a chine gives particular handling characteristics to this style of boat with it's own pros & cons. The deck is curved over a masik or deck beam located just ahead of the cockpit opening. I constructed the curved deck beam by steam bending strips of 1/32" plywood and forming them around a spray can. Once dried, I glued the strips together, again using the can as a form. This laminated beam was then sanded smooth on the sides and cut to fit and glued to the shear clamps (strips of wood where the hull and deck meet, not visible in these photos).

As a sad conclusion and 2009 update, my kids have lost the very tedious to build kayak. I really hope it turns up again sometime, but it's been missing for a year or two now so I don't expect to see it again.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bacon Explosion

Bacon Explosion: The BBQ Sausage Recipe of all Recipes

Oh my.... I think that I'll have to try that on the new smoker this weekend!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

So much to do, so little time

Winter seems to be on the doorstep and pushing it's way in (we have received a few inches of snow over the past several days) so it seems like a good time to evaluate all the things I want to get done in the coming season.

The Short-Term List
  1. Clean the garage - Somehow my garage has developed some rather bad personal hygiene issues. Time to put stuff away for the winter and generally tidy up the place.
  2. Oil the canoe - The wood components of our new canoe need a coat of oil to maintain their good condition. This should be a simple wipe down then the canoe can be put away.
  3. Build a canoe hoist - In order to store our new canoe out of the way and protected from the elements, I want to build another hoist similar to what I did for the kayak. The hoist I built was inspired by the nifty but expensive Harken Hoister. However, my version used too small of pulleys combined with too small of rope. The small rope is hard to pull on, and the small cheap pulleys eat up a lot of energy through friction. So, Mk II will have to use better pulleys and better rope. Getting the canoe up out of the way will go a long way toward helping out with the #1 item listed above.
  4. Varnish snowshoes - My snowshoes should get a coat of varnish before the season to keep them in good shape and to preserve the babiche. The earlier I get this done, the better in order to give the varnish time to better cure (and harden).
  5. Fix the foot brace on our fiberglass canoe - A metal bar with ends cut & squashed to attach to a bracket, one of the ends has broken.
The Mid-Term List
  1. Repair wear & tear on guillemot kayak - There are a couple of spots underneath the kayak that could use some repair.
  2. Varnish kayak - I've not re-varnished the kayak since I finished it a couple of years ago. The sooner these two items are complete, the more time the epoxy and varnish will have to cure before the paddling season starts again next spring.
  3. Repair wear & tear on the kid's kayak - The girls' kayak received a lot of use this summer. With all that use, came some wear & tear. The fabric has worn through at one spot on the bow and other spots show some wear. Interestingly, aside from that spot on the bow, most of the wear seems to have occurred during transport where straps would rub.
  4. Build a portable wood stove - I purchased a used canvas "hot tent" recently. Now that I have the tent, I need a stove to go with it. Commercially made stoves range in price from $80 to $800 depending on size, materials, construction style, etc. However, there are DIY plans out there so I might as well give it a go. See here for Dave Hadfield's version and here for a good discussion on some improvements or variations.
  5. Fix paddles - My wife's bent-shaft paddle developed a curve and crack on the blade during the last trip so that has to be fixed. I also have a kayak paddle from the canoe club that I volunteered to repair some months ago. My ulterior motive for fixing the kayak paddle was to use it as a template to make make my own version.
  6. Varnish the kayak moby latches. (Not to mention to write the promised follow-up post on how to build the mobies.)
  7. Build a crooked knife - Murat recently completed a similar project. I've started the process of turning an old file into a knife blade by removing the temper from the file and have started to grind it down. When completed, this knife would come in handy for the next item on my list.
  8. Carve some paddles - I want to carve some paddles for my kids and some for friends too, plus I'd like to build one or two for myself. I was recently in the store at Classic Outdoors and saw some absolutely gorgeous one-piece cherry paddles from Badger Paddles. They were light with a fine edge and flexed beautifully - it re-kindled the fire to build paddles again.
The Long-Term List
  1. Carve more paddles.
  2. Build a knife handle - A few months ago I bought a blade because I want to build my own camping knife. I have various pieces of wood that might be good for the project, but have not yet gotten around to taking it on.
  3. Build a toboggan - I want to build a long plastic toboggan that will be able to haul my new tent & stove over the snow into the bush. If it doesn't fit with my current arrangement then this item will get bumped up in priority.
  4. Build a canoe - But which one?
  5. Build a shaving horse - Useful for paddle carving.
Of course this is really just a sampling of some of what I have in mind. There are various projects on the "honey-do" list that should be cleared off before I undertake some of those listed above. I should also make some effort to finish the kids' playhouse before the snow really arrives.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

James Raffan in Saskatoon

The Saskatoon Canoe Club, Recreation Division, will be hosting Dr. James Raffan, author and Executive Director of the Canadian Canoe Museum (, as part of his National Treasure tour. Dr. Raffan will be presenting an entertaining multi-media event celebrating canoes, Canada, and the wonders of the Canadian Canoe Museum. The presentation is all about canoes in popular culture, canoes in Canada (voted in 2007 as one of Canada's Seven Wonders), and will feature just a few of the many amazing stories attached to craft in the museum's collection of canoes and kayaks.

One of the newest acquisitions that Dr. Raffan is excited to talk about is a canoe that once belonged to Farley Mowat's family. Raffan writes "one of the newest canoes in our collection is one that was purchased and paddled in and around Saskatoon by Angus Mowat, Farley's father, when he was the Chief bookminder at the Saskatoon Public Library back in the 1930s. Farley claims that this canoe (a 1921 Peterborough sailing canoe) was the vessel that first took him into nature on the mighty South Saskatchewan and in the sloughs around Saskatoon--he also claims that this canoe is actually the reincarnation of the original canoe in which he was conceived on the Bay of Quinte ... and therein lies a bit of a tale."

This event is open to everyone. Admission is by donation with all money collected going to the Canadian Canoe Museum.

What: James Raffan, "National Treasure" Presentation
When: Wednesday, October 28th, 7:00 pm
Where: Castle Theatre at Aden Bowman Collegiate, 1904 Clarence Ave South, Saskatoon

Castle Theatre is a large venue so pass along this information to anyone who you think may be interested! Word of mouth/e-mail is the best advertising.

View Gateway Players in a larger map

Monday, October 05, 2009

Trip Archives: 2005

May 22-23, 2005 - North Saskatchewan River - After first planning on doing the Red Deer River, then the Montreal, then the Torch, my wife & I opted to spend the weekend on the North Saskatchewan River. We had originally planned on leaving Saturday morning but my wife wasn't into starting out in the steady rain that persisted most of the day so we put it off until Sunday. Sunday morning we put-in at the regional park north of Langham (~40 km from Saskatoon) and paddled about 40 km downriver, about 8 km past the Petrofka Bridge (Hwy 12 to Blaine Lake). We camped along the shore in the least muddy dry spot we could find. Monday we continued the remaining 30 km to Fort Carlton where my in-law’s were supposed to meet us with our car. Unfortunately there was a mix-up regarding what we thought was pre-arranged to meet at 4 pm at Ft. Carlton unless we call and tell them otherwise. Earlier Monday we hiked up out of the river valley to a hilltop in order to get cell coverage and tried to call just to confirm the time/place for our pick-up but only got a message manager. We eventually arrived at the Ft at 3 pm but when we tried to call them again just got the message machine again. It wasn't until 4:45 that we were starting to wonder where the heck they were that my wife got through to her grandma who told us that they were sitting at our house awaiting our call! Turns out something wasn't working with their cell and the messages weren't being recorded either. Oh well, they found us eventually.

We saw a lot of wildlife on the river, more than I'm accustomed to seeing on the South Saskatchewan River in the area around Saskatoon. There were Pelicans, tons of ducks, lots of geese (and a few goslings), a bald eagle, 4 turkey vultures, an osprey, a variety of hawks, a deer, beaver, muskrats, a coyote, plus countless shore birds, terns, bank swallows, etc. We were in a narrow passage between a couple of islands when we came past a little clump of willows hanging into the river. As we came past the bush we startled a beaver, two ducks and a coyote from exactly the same spot. Either they were having a wildlife association meeting or we spared the ducks from becoming lunch, and spared the beaver from witnessing the event (of course we probably doomed the eggs if there was a nest). At another point we passed some pelicans resting on a sandbar. We stayed a respectful distance of maybe 100 yards or so away across the channel. Once we had drifted past them and were clearly moving away, the 6 pelicans took off then circled around behind and passed in formation a few feet above our heads, maybe 15 feet to our left before heading off down the river ahead of us. It seems they were just as curious about us as we were of them. That certainly is the closest I've been to a pelican in flight before, let alone 6 of them.

The river itself is much muddier than the S. Sask., which is very sandy in this region, and our gear and canoe were all covered in a sticky mud. It wasn't bad on shore but at the waters edge it was a gooey mess and every time we got in the canoe we brought more mud in with us. Having our dog with us made it worse as she’s not too good at washing off her paws before bringing them inboard. At one point I had gotten out of the canoe to go ashore and sunk in mud to within a few inches of my knees. I thought I was going to be stuck permanently but I did manage to free myself after a lengthy struggle.

Hayman Lake, Churchill River Trip - June 2nd-5th, 2005 - Annual NorthStar Expeditions guys trip. You can find Rob's pictures from the trip at the link. Things to note when we eventually do a write-up:
  • The bloody Devil Portages
  • The portages had been trashed by wet weather and the Sask Centennial Canoe Quest that spring.
  • The collapsing pack-frame
  • I had used an old external frame backpack, stripped down, to carry a food barrel or maybe the super-heavy duffel bags. Unfortunately, it fell apart part-way across one of the Bloody Devil Portages.
  • The hot-tub
  • We brought a hot tub with us on this trip. Across 2km or more of portage. Muddy, long portages. And, we did it without Jay even noticing we had a hot tub along.
  • OK, so the hot tub turned out to be not so hot. Mk II will be better!
  • The engineering genius that is Rod
  • Submersible stoves and other incredible feats of ingenuity.
  • Our buddy who visited & creeped us out
  • Don't worry, we confused him more than a little too.
  • Our bushwhacking adventure
  • We bushwhacked in to one of the lakes on Twolake Island. It was a grand adventure, full of thorn bushes, hordes of mosquitoes, a scenic little lake, but no fish.
  • Butter-flavoured Crisco shortening stays firm in warm temperatures and goes much farther than margarine does.
  • The wave-train of Sluice Falls that extended so far out across the small lake below the falls and above Farside Rapids that we had to paddle over half way across it in order to safely cross over to the carry spot beside Ric's Falls.

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Sturgeon Weir River - Amisk Lake - July 2nd - August 6th, 2005 - My wife & I chose the "West Weir" for my 3 year old daughter's first extended wilderness canoe trip. We arrived at Maligne Lake (pronounced locally as Maleen, rather than the way I was saying it) near Pawistik Lodge where the Sturgeon-Weir River crosses the Hanson Lake Road (Hwy 106), about 50km East of Flin Flon & Creighton, around noon on Saturday. When we approached the river crossing, things were a zoo with hundreds of people and many dozens of vehicles everywhere. We had arrived at our start point just prior to the expected arrival of the 29 canoes participating in the Saskatchewan Centennial Canoe Quest, a race across the province in 25' 6 person canoes. We spent some time watching the leaders race across the finish line before unloading and preparing to embark on our journey. Unfortunately, during this time the threat of storms were moving in. We covered the canoes with tarps and headed off to do the shuttle and get a bite to eat, all the while hoping that the storms would pass. We were granted our wish and by the time we were back at the put-in things were looking up.

Trip highlights:
  • Seeing the big canoes of the Sask Centennial Canoe Quest Racing straight through Leaf Rapids
    o The race started at 6 am from near the provincial campground on the Hanson Lake Road, about 2km away. A shotgun blast re-started the race and a couple minutes later they were at our rapids campsite.
    o The best canoes shot straight through the rapids without breaking a stroke, no draws pries or braces, just that 70 stroke per minute marathon pace, straight down the center. The canoes that got forced towards the sides lost a LOT of time when they hit the bottom and found they were no longer in the fast current. The fastest canoes were already at the other side of small lake below the rapids 1 km ahead while others floundered in the back-current below the rapids.
    o The big canoes made Denare Beach that same day by 3 pm, taking 9 hours for what took us days to do.
    o For pictures from Team Kisseynew, click here.
  • The Pelicans at Scoop Rapids
    o Scoop is famous for its pelicans. It was here that I saw a Pelican catch a fish (the only time I've seen it). The Pelican dipped its beak in the water and came up with what looked like a 4lb walleye cross-wise in the beak. It threw its head upward and the fish slipped into the large distendable beak and you could see the fish shape in the beak. The pelican kept its beak straight up in the air and shook its head causing the fish to go down its neck. You could see the fish slide down the neck and the neck distended to accommodate the fish. The thing was, this was still a living and valiantly fighting fish! At one point the sides of the neck came way outward as the fish flipped crosswise in the throat. The pelican just kept shaking its head and in a couple of seconds the fish was in the bird's crop where, presumably, the battle came to an end.
  • Our travelling day.
    o No matter how hard we tried to get away earlier, every single day we left camp within 10 minutes of 12 noon.
    o We paddled about 4 hours each day before making camp.
    o K's main role in the bow was to entertain our daughter A. We all sang songs, K. & A. cuddled, and A. played with toys.
    o Usually, A. travelled in the bow which of course interfered with K.'s paddling. Eventually A. would tire and K. would create a bed at her feet. There A. would nap for a couple of hours and K. was able to paddle once again.
  • K. was nearly 8 months pregnant with our second daughter.
    o The main problem that K. described was that everything while camping was usually at ground level. The frequent bending was difficult for her.
  • Maple
    o Laurie & Mike’s dog Maple is a tad high strung. While paddling, it liked to be perched in the extreme bow of the canoe like some sort of living figurehead. I’m sure it didn’t spend the entire trip in that position, but I seem to recall that it was up there a lot.
    o Maple is territorial and having our dog along seem to upset Maple. While paddling Maple would bark incessantly if ever the two canoes came within 1oo yards of each other. This is the only time I have ever been on a canoe trip where we only rarely spoke with the people in the other canoe while paddling.
    o Mike is very close to his dog and is very willing to share. One day while sharing supper from his fork with Maple, I asked if he knew that dogs were copraphagic (I don’t think I used that word but was probably more explicit) and lick themselves. This of course stopped Mike from letting the dog eat food off of his fork.....for about 10 minutes.

  • A’s birthday party.
    o A’s 3rd birthday was celebrated on an island on Amisk Lake. We had fantastic weather and a beautiful setting.
    o We baked a small cake in the campfire and iced it with a tub of store-bought icing brought along for the occasion. Of course there were candles too.
  • After the trip, the Limestone Crevices near the southeast shore of Amisk Lake.
    o About 10km South of Denare Beach are narrow but deep crevasses in the limestone rock that makes up the ground. It is very strange to walk along, stepping over a crack in the earth that goes down 40 feet.
    o At the bottom of the deeper crevices ice remains year-round.
  • Some links relevant to the Sturgeon-Weir:
    o Robin & Arlene Karpan feature the Sturgeon-Weir in their book, Northern Saskatchewan, Canoe Country. You can find some photos from the river, including the pelicans at Scoop, in their stock photography gallery.
    o Here is the SERM trip description, #44.
    o Some history & perspective.
    o This link takes you to a Google Earth kmz file for the portion of the river we travelled.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Trip Archives: 2004 (Part 2)

Churchill River, Missinipe to Robertson Falls - September 9-13, 2004 - Annual NorthStar Expeditions guys trip with Bryan, Rob, Jay, & Rod. For Rob's photos, follow the link. After replacing the motor for the windshield wipers in Rod's Range Rover, we loaded up and headed off with abandon into ... a blizzard. Yup, that's right, a blizzard on the night of September 8th and we were heading straight into it at 1:00 am with 2 canoes strapped to the roof.

We got away late, much later than we expected. Let's blame Rob for not anticipating that it was going to take several hours to fix Rod's vehicle (we anticipated that the weather might be bad enough that we would need his windshield wipers) and for not getting Jay there sooner so we could have had more hands getting in the way, and for not having Rod's vehicle loaded with the canoes and ready to go earlier. So, at the crack of 9 pm we headed over to Rod's house to deliberate and reconsider our options, and maybe have a rum to ease the thought process. The forecast wasn't looking good - cold, wet, & maybe even white. A similar amount of driving in the opposite direction would have landed us in Montana and a land with a forecast of near 30C temperatures. We scoffed at cold with only a minimal amount of whimpering and hit the road heading North at around 10pm. Fill her up with gas & onto the open highway. By midnight we were in PA, filling up with gas again (ummm..... is this a bad sign guys?). Back on the road we were peacefully enjoying the ride up when one of us noticed that the rain seemed to have gotten harder, and whiter. Shit. It's snowing. Rod casually points out that it had been doing so for a while and we hadn't gone too much farther before it turned into a full snowstorm. Once we arrived at the Waskesiu turn-off we decided to pull in, go over the map and reconsider our options and have a beer in the closest bar to keep us perky. After only a little whimpering (mostly from Jay) we decided there was nothing for it but to keep heading North. By now the snow had accumulated and the roads were getting worse. We eventually reached Weyakwin Lake around 2 am and decided to call it quits for the night so we pulled into the winter wonderland looking for a place to set up our tents for the night, wondering if they would handle the snow load. Things were not looking particularly good at this point with about 6" of heavy wet snow everywhere. We found a gazebo near the community centre and after moving aside some tables and a couple of garbage bags full of beer cans we set up one of our tents in this tiny parcel of snow-free ground. Some rum, brandy, & rye was consumed while we considered our current situation and the prospects for the morning.

Day 1- Friday, September 9th - The next morning in the daylight we were finally able to take in our winter wonderland. We packed up and hit the road bright and early (9 am?). Driving the gravel road back out to the highway we saw thousands of trees broken under the weight of the snow. Back at the highway, we again deliberated and considered our options - North or South? After 10 minutes parked at the intersection we eventually decided to throw caution and all sense of reason to the snowy wind and continue North. Part of the reason for this decision may have been the amount of money we put into fuelling the vehicle thus far. Our decision made, we headed across the road to fill up with gas ... again. In the gas station/general store we heard tales of the power outages and line fires that had occurred. It seems that the snow weighed the trees down so much that they would touch the power lines and start fires. Back on the road we noticed after about 10 miles of driving that the snow was no longer quite so deep. Soon, there was no sign of the blizzard we had just been through. Things were looking up!

We made a short stop in Air Ronge for gas (of course) and a visit to the local hardware store to stock up on whatever items had been forgotten, as well as adding a bunch more cold-weather gear to our arsenal. My personal addition was a pair of insulated rubber boots. It would prove to be a wise selection. With lunch of greasy La Ronge A&W burgers under our belts, we were off on our final leg of the journey. Thankfully, we didn't see any dead guys in the ditch this time around. We parked and put-in at the provincial campground at Missinipe and after only a minimal amount of confusion we were underway on Otter Lake.

We headed generally East across Otter Lake, navigating our way through the network of islands and bays. A couple hours of paddling in calm conditions brought us to Naheyow Island which we went to the south of. There is a channel to the south of this island which seems to see less traffic than the MacDonald Channel to the north. There is a riffle to pass through at the western end of the channel and a couple of campsites were indicated on our maps for this area. We found our campsite in this channel just beyond where it takes a 90 degree turn to the northeast. The campsite is well used but in decent condition with a good supply of firewood not too far back into the bush. It proved to be a much nicer campsite than the one located right at Robertson Falls, and much less traffic is seen in this part of the channel. There are enough tent spots for a fair size group (room for at least 4 tents, probably a few more). With our camp set up, we finally got around to having lunch, at what was probably 5 pm by that time.

Day 2 - Saturday, September 10th - We took a tour over to Robertson Falls (2 km direct, 2.75 km by water around Reid Island) to do some fishing and to check out the neighbourhood. We fished from the portage east of the falls without success before heading out on the unnamed lake below the falls. We went to the west, upriver into the area of the confluence of the channels around Reid Island. This is a very nice area that looked like it should be home to some great fishing. As I recall though, we had moderate success here at best. We then landed our canoes on the island at the head of Twin Falls. After bushwhacking across this island (236 m straight across, more like 400 m after zig-zagging around obstacles and looking for a passable route), we were so impressed by the spectacle of Twin Falls that we bushwhacked twice more to bring back our rods and gear. There is no real path and it's not an easy trek, but it was very much worth the trip. Not only was the view great, but the fishing there was decent too. We pulled a few pickerel out of the fast turbulent waters at the foot of the multi-channel falls. We then headed home to enjoy our fresh fish for supper. We got back to camp under threatening skies and got the tarps up just as the rain started to fall. With tarps up and a fire going, Rob & Jay got supper preparations while Rod & I donned rain gear and headed out into the darkness and rain to fillet our supper.

Day 3 - Sunday, September 11th - We started the day with a great debate regarding where to go. We had 3 options: 1) Head north into Rattler Bay and Rattler Creek. There is a pictograph there that we would like to have checked out. 2) Head northeast to First North & Second North Falls at the other end of Eyinew Island where the remainder of the Churchill River flows out of Otter Lake and into Mountain Lake. 3) Portage below Twin Falls to fish below the falls and explore a bit of Mountain Lake. Being ready to go, we realised Rod had left his fishing rod at the island above Twin Falls. We eventually decided to head to Mountain Lake by a route that would allow us to pick up the misplaced rod. Rod and Jay took the route which had them portage past Robertson then after picking up the rod, traverse into Mountain Lake via Mountain portage. Rob & I decided to take the single portage (350m) directly into Mountain Lake that cuts across a peninsula on Eyinew Lake. This single portage was steep at the Mountain Lake end and we had a time to get the canoe and ourselves down the slope given the damp conditions. Once in the small bay Rob & I paddled below Twin Falls through some waters that could accurately be described as turbulent and confused. The water comes straight off the falls, hitting the wall along which we were paddling. A lot of that water makes it's way into the bay then flows back out to Mountain Lake. Water in that area is going every single direction which makes negotiating it in a canoe tricky and it should not be attempted by novice paddlers. If you do venture though here, keep steady and stay a safe distance (10 feet?) away from the rock face. You may be tempted to stay tight to the rock since there are standing waves further out, but in my opinion the smoother water along the rock is a wolf in sheep's clothing. The waves are at least a bit more predictable and indicate water flowing towards Mountain Lake instead of water that is going downwards. Of course the nature of this area may be very different at a different level of river flow so your experience may be markedly different. Once through this area, we met Jay & Rod at the dock of the nearby fishing camp. After checking out Mountain Portage, Jay & Rod opted to take the shorter route through the fishing camp which was closed for the season. After lunch on the dock, we headed back to the Twin Falls area to fish. We picked up a few walleye and a couple of sauger here, though the sauger were too small to keep for supper. This was the first time any of us had seen a sauger and there was some some discussion about whether it was simply a small dark walleye or something else. Sunset came while we were on the rocks facing Twin Falls and we were treated to an incredible display as the sun peeked through the clouds and shining on us from directly above the falls, through the opening in the trees created by the channel. It was an incredible sight in a beautiful area, such that even though we knew we'd better get back to camp quick, we were slow to drag ourselves away. Plus one of us was away down the rocks in another area and couldn't be found by the others. When we tried to regroup Rob, Jay & Rod headed to where they thought I was. Meanwhile I headed back to where I thought they were and back to the canoes. In so doing, we managed to unknowingly cross paths just a few meters apart with me in the bush and the other three on the rocks. As a result we were all very confused about where the others were. We didn't get to tour as much of Mountain Lake as we had wanted but we had a great afternoon at Twin Falls. It was very dark by the time we had made it back into our home channel so it's a good thing we knew where we going.

Day 4- Monday, September 12th - We packed up and headed home across Otter Lake in a moderate wind. Due to the SW wind we opted for take a more northerly route through the islands in order to seek as much wind protection as possible. This made for a nice variation on the route so that we covered some new ground and saw some new sights. Back at Missinipe we quickly loaded up Rod’s vehicle and headed south. As usual it was late at night by the time we got back to the city, unloaded the Range Rover, and got everyone home.

Follow-up comments: The most adventurous part of this trip may have been the drive North. We seriously considered turning with our tails between our legs and heading for a cabin. If we had, we would have missed Robertson & Twin Falls and some beautiful country we all want to go back to another year. We had cool but mostly dry weather which turned out OK. It was another example of a decent trip despite a horrible forecast. If it had been raining the whole time, or there had been 6" of snow on the ground as we expected, it might have been quite a different story.

Note in the above graph that there was no snow on the ground recorded. That would have been a much different situation had the weather station been in the Thunder Hills near Weyakwin.

September 2009 Addendum: We (NSE) went back to the same campsite at the east end of Otter Lake once again. This year we toured the North Falls route, visited Robertson & Twin again, and did some fishing. We also started off the trip by paddling the Montreal River before continuing our drive north. I'll post a report on that trip sometime in the coming months.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Trip Archives: 2004 (Part 1)

Hickson Lake, Maribelli Lake, Paull River, Churchill River - June 18th to 27th, 2004 - My wife and I did our first ever fly-in trip by being flown to Hickson Lake in North Central Saskatchewan and paddling back to the community of Missinipe via several lakes and the Paull & Churchill Rivers.
The trip participants: Bryan Sarauer, K., Dave Bober, John Bober, Ralph Zaffran, Lloyd Beazely, Arlene Karpan and Robin Karpan.

Click on the above map for a larger overview of the trip.

Day 0: On Friday, June 18th, the group of us met in the campground in Missinipe prior to our departure in order to go over our equipment lists and consolidate some of the gear and food into the available packs. This was the first time several members of the group had met. After lunch and getting the gear and food sorted out and stowed away, we headed over to Horizon's Unlimited where we had two canoes rented (Royalex Trailhead Prospectors, 17' & 16'). We had planned to attempt to fit 4 canoes, 8 people and gear inside a twin otter (we were told it might just fit) and so the 17' Prospector was outfitted with removable yoke, seats, thwarts and endcaps so that the 16' canoe could be nested inside. We then trucked the gear a short ways down the road over to Osprey Wings. The Twin Otter we had planned to take wasn't back to the base yet, so we tied the canoes to the outside of a beaver and a single otter and flew to Hickson with those two planes instead of the one larger one. As a result, we never did get to see if it was possible to fit 4 canoes, 8 people and stuff for 9 days into a twin Otter (in retrospect it was probably just as well since Lloyd's packs would surely have prevented us getting into the air ;). Once loaded onto the planes it was a bumpy ride for the 80km or so to Hickson Lake. Some of us in the plane were starting to get a bit queasy after a while and getting anxious to be back on the water, especially after circling the lake about 5 times at a sharp bank while the pilot ensured a clear landing spot and we looked for potential camp sites. The planes put down in a big bay at the South end of Hickson Lake and we untied the canoes and loaded our gear directly into them and paddled off, without the plane going to shore. We thought the nearby island had looked good from the air as a potential camp spot. However, on closer inspection it was a poor site with piles of litter that included stubby beer bottles (meaning fishermen have been dumping their garbage at the site for quite some time). We headed instead towards the channel between Hickson and Maribelli Lakes and camped at a place where it appeared a cabin was about to be built (grid ref 350377). After setting up camp we headed down the channel to check out the pictographs which proved to be a pretty impressive display. Some were very faded, faint red smudges on the rocks, others were bright in colour and very clear. The difference probably had much to do with how exposed each was (as well as age of course). Supper the first night included steaks (beef and elk) courtesy of Dave and John, fresh veggies and baked potatoes all cooked over the fire.

The map below shows the channel between Hickson & Maribelli Lakes where the pictographs are located.

View Larger Map

Day 1 - Hickson Lake to Jewett Lake.
The next day we were up early and on our way under grey skies and strong North winds, a weather pattern that would stick with us for the next 7 days. We paddled through Maribelli Lake and on into Jewett Lake via a short portage. We camped that night near the eastern tip of Laturnus Island on Jewett Lake (grid ref 241232). Rain appeared imminent so we erected Lloyd’s giant tarp in our crowded campsite. The tarp was too large for the area so that it was hard to rig such that it was tight and properly sloped and as a result it flapped incessantly. (In my opinion, two tarps half the size would be better – maybe 12’ x 20’ each - being more versatile and easier to set up.)

Day 2 - Jewett Lake to Paull Lake.
Portage Day! Another windy grey day. We had to cross some bays (~500 m deep?) and the wind coming out of those bays was enough to make the crossing tough going. We made our way to the first of 3 portages that stood between us and the Paull River system. The first portage was a b*tch! Although only about 1 km on the map, it was probably over 1.5 km through some fairly rough terrain. It seems that whoever first made the route went over every rock outcropping and through every swampy section they could find. John made the best use of the Royalex his canoe was constructed of by dragging it the whole way (as he did for every portage in the trip). As a result it was easy for the rest of us to find the route simply by following trail of little curly pieces of plastic scraped off on every rock. Dave temporarily lost one of his rubber boots to the muck on one of the softer sections of the trail. On section of rock required the canoes to be unloaded from the shoulders and passed down to lower ground below. (At least this would have been the reasonable thing to do - however I chose instead to work my down the 8'+ rock while still carrying the canoe. It worked but only because I didn't slip and am tall.) Later in the trip I asked Dave how he would rate this portage on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst. He gave it an 8, reserving his highest rating for those portages that have been burned over resulting in a near impassable stand of young black spruce.

After crossing a small bay, we were onto the second portage of the day - a short carry of 100 - 200m. One of these first two portages was the height of land and once over, it was all downhill to Missinipe. After a lunch stop and crossing another small lake, we began the third and final portage of the day. This portage was a steep descent, dropping about 50m over a few hundred meters into Paull Lake. The trail was in pretty good condition with the exception of some large fallen trees across the trail creating a waist high barrier that had to be crossed while loaded. Again, most took the sensible route of setting down the canoe in order to cross but I managed to cross the obstacles while carrying the canoe and did not kill myself. Due to the incline of the trail, the return trip for the second load of gear was almost as much work as the trip when loaded. There was a scenic little creek and falls which follow the trail and provided some photographic opportunities. Once on Paull Lake, we camped near the north end less than 1.5 km from the portage (grid ref 163264). This was an excellent camp spot, able to accommodate a large group with sandy beaches, open flat tent spots, and some wind protection. One interesting aspect of this campsite was that a short distance back into the bush was a strange level cleared area ringed by standing flat rocks. The area was about 6' x 2.5', oval, and had the general appearance of a grave without the headstone. If anybody can shed some light on this, please let me know. (I think we've since decided that it was in fact a grave.)

This night Lloyd treated us to a buffalo stew feast featuring a buffalo roast, fresh rutabaga, potatoes, and various other fresh veggies. The buffalo earned the nickname of "Steve" since it was being carried over the portages in a barrel with the name Steve written on the outside. Lugging this beast of a barrel in and out of the canoes at each portage, we were all left to wonder why it was so heavy and decided that the barrel actually contained someone named Steve. Therefore, later that day when Lloyd began to cut up the roast for the stew, we surmised that it wasn't actually buffalo, but some poor sap named Steve. Regardless, Steve tasted pretty damn good after 3 portages.

Day 3 - Paull Lake to Paull River:
The morning was initially calm and overcast and it began to rain almost immediately once we were on the water. It continued to rain intermittently for the next hour or more, but it wasn't too cold and it was calm so it made for pleasant paddling weather as we travelled South on Paull Lake. I didn't bother putting on my rain pants (I thought the rain would miss us, then once it started I thought it would be too brief to bother) so my lower half became quite soaked. Once the rain quit it became quite a nice day with a moderate tail wind, a good day for travelling the long narrow Paull Lake. We stopped for a lunch break in the sunshine on an island toward the South end of Paull Lake. This island was the home to a family of eagles with a nest a few meters back into the bush from the rocks where we sat. From there it was a short paddle before we entered the Paull River for the first time. The Paull at this location is a meandering channel which would have been prime moose habitat. I kept hoping we would come around the bend to see a moose munching on the grass and weeds along the river. However, birds were the only wildlife spotted. ..... (I have to write the rest of the story - sorry.)

Day 4 - Paull River to Tuck Falls:
At some point on the trip I broke my fishing rod and repaired it with wire and duct tape. You can find a picture of me fishing with my broken rod at Tuck Falls in Robin and Arlene's book, Northern Saskatchewan, Canoe Country.

Day 5: Tuck Falls to McIntosh Lake:.
We had intended to run a lot of rapids on this trip. As it turned out high water combined with very cold conditions meant that we portaged almost everything, prudence being the course we opted for. There were a couple of fun rapids that we did run, but they were the exception rather than the rule. Even though the rapids may have been quite runnable, the high water meant that we would surely have gotten soaked by waves breaking across the bow. With the cold weather (+10 to +12C daytime highs) getting soaked in the waves could have posed some problems. At best, it would have been uncomfortable.

Day 6: McIntosh Lake to Mountney Lake, Churchill River:.
We had strong tail-winds southward on McIntosh Lake which allowed K. & I to put up a sail and let the wind do the work. If I recall correctly, we used a tarp wrapped around the spare paddles. K. held the sail while I ruddered in the stern. This was the impetus for the sail I would build later where an old tent fly was recycled by sewing sleeves for the paddles into the sides. That version of the sail worked reasonably well, but was hard to hold and spilled a lot of wind from the top. It broke this past September ('09) and therefore I'll soon be applying the field-acquired knowledge into the design and manufacture of Mk II.

Day 7: Mountney Lake to Clark Falls, Hayman Lake:.
After paddling the fast water to the North of Twolake Island we camped on a small island at the foot of Clark Falls on Hayman Lake. Clark Falls is where the Weaver River joins the Churchill. The fishing and scenery are both good at this spot and we have been back there several times since our first visit on the Paull River trip.

Day 8: Clark Falls to Corner Rapids.
K. & I decided to continue on to nearby Missinipe in order to get home sooner (to see our 2-year old daughter). We ran the next portion in a few hours while the rest of the group enjoyed our first beautiful weather day of the trip, lounging at the foot of Corner Rapids and playing in the area. Hence, for us the next portion was Day 8 but Day 9 for the others.

Day 8/9: Corner Rapids to Missinipe.
We bid farewell to our tripmates and headed off downriver, taking the route through Dieter Rapids onto Barker Lake, and the Three Sisters channel to Devil Lake. After portaging the gear we ran Otter Rapids in the canoe. We chose the "sneak" route down tight on river left. This route was very easy, we could have done it loaded at the water level at the time.

**This write-up was a work in progress, but I've pretty much given up on ever completing it. I've filled in a few blanks but the gaps are rather large at this point after a 5 year hiatus in the report-writing.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Trip Archives: 2003

Part Three in the ongoing saga of moving things off of my soon-to-be-deleted Geocities site.

Red Deer River - May 3rd, 2003 - Day trip near Hudson Bay, Saskatchewan. We drove to Hudson Bay on Friday evening, arriving at the regional park campgrounds just prior to the gates being locked up at 10 pm. Camp was set up in the dark which went reasonably well, especially since it was the first time for setting up our new "family-size" tent, a MEC Wanderer 4 (purchased used through After the tent was set up, we visited around the fire with some of the other trip participants (Adrian, Robin, Arlene, Gerry, and later Steve, Andrew and Bruce). It rained briefly during the night but there was no evidence of any dampness by morning. I awoke early on Saturday morning and took the opportunity to walk with the dog along the Fir River to it's confluence with the Red Deer, then on to the confluence with the Etomami River, a distance of perhaps 2 km. Several vehicles were shuttled to the end point of the trip while the rest of us got the boats ready.

There were 19 participants on the trip, including Dave Bober, a Hudson Bay area farmer who was accompanying us. Dave was practicing his characteristic paddling style with a double-bladed paddle and a large tree trunk in the bow for ballast. When he wanted to get a better view of the rapids ahead, or wanted to move at a quicker pace, Dave would paddle from the standing position.

This stretch of river is 18 miles and ends near Erwood, a small town East of Hudson Bay. It is a spring runoff trip, i.e. it must be done when meltwater is running off. It was fairly fast, shallow and rocky with lots of class 1 whitewater. According to the water metering station near Erwood, the water level was recorded as 1.6 while we were on the river. There were lots of rock gardens that had to be negotiated through. The avoidance of rocks was complicated by the murky tea coloured water. It was about 9:15 am by the time we set off from the regional park just upriver of the highway bridge. It soon became evident that several in the group were quite inexperienced and I was a bit concerned that some would end up swimming (though none did). There were lots of opportunities on this stretch of river to scratch up the bottom of my canoe but as bad as things seemed on the river, little damage was done to the boat (what's a few scratches). In the future, I'd probably recommend a Royalex plastic canoe which is more suited to sliding over the unavoidable rocks.

The weather can best be described as variable. For the most part, it was partly cloudy with blustery winds, though the river valley largely protected us from the winds. The temperatures were not bad, probably ranging from 10C in the morning to 17C in the afternoon. After lunch a thunder storm brewed and as the river changed directions, we either were paddling directly into it, or away from it. At one point near the end of the trip the storm was quite close with lightning about 1 mile away. We were no longer dawdling at that point. At about this time it started to rain, though it was warm enough that I was comfortable in just a t-shirt, shorts and PFD even when wet. Upon arriving at the egress point (about 3 pm), the storm set in in earnest. We were loading up the canoes and equipment into the vehicles in the midst of a downpour! Fortunately this weather came at the end of the trip and failed to dampen our spirits (though it did preclude us from extending the route downstream).

All told, this proved to be a very enjoyable and fairly easy river trip. It's not a bad introduction to moving water for those with good flatwater skills. There is a sense of wilderness on this river, though I expect there were many farms close by. Although there is a high moose population in the area, we were not lucky enough to see any. I did see an osprey, a cormorant, lots of kingfishers, and a few beavers.

Churchill River. September 2003. Four of us (Jay, Rod, Rob and Bryan) went up to Corner Rapids on the Churchill River for 4 days on the weekend of September 4-7 as the third annual NorthStar Expeditions trip. The weather was fantastic, the fishing periodically very good, the water very warm, the northern lights briefly amazing. For Rob's pictures, follow the link.

The adventures started on Thursday morning while driving North on the gravel. We crested the top of a hill to see a blazer overturned in the ditch, a semi stopped on the side of the road, and a guy named Joe lying at the side of the road looking dead. We stopped and the semi had already radioed for help and one other vehicle had started the drive back to La Ronge looking for help (the semi couldn't reach La Ronge directly but was trying to relay the message by radioing other trucks). Joe was in fairly rough shape and crawled to the side of the road after having been thrown from the vehicle (we think). He was conscious though and of course I decided to put to use the remnant of 1st aid I could remember and felt him up looking for sore spots and protruding things. Only later did I figure out that the other guy on the scene had already done that. It turned out that the other guy was a fire fighter from La Ronge. It didn't take too long after that before we figured out that we were just going to be in the way when the ambulance arrived.

We eventually got to Devil Lake and underway without further mishap. We portaged around Mosquito Rapids, paddled across Barker Lake, then paddled, dragged, carried, lined and portaged our way up the Rapid City channel towards Corner Rapids. While the 4 of us were trying to line Rod's loaded canoe up one short but large rapid, the canoe got swung out into the current and yanked downstream after having filled 1/2 full with water. This was not entirely unexpected and wouldn't have been much of a problem except that Jay had the rope wrapped around his hand so got yanked off the rock and unceremoniously launched into the water. The canoe by that point was completely swamped but stayed upright so kept most of the gear contained. Rod and I ran to my canoe, hopped in and started the recovery process (abandoning Rob on the other side of the river). A couple of 'merican fishermen watching the whole misadventure went around picking up the few loose items that had floated off (the jug of golf balls, a food pail). All told the only thing lost was Jay's sunglasses (free from the Air Ronge Mohawk with a fishing licence), which we suspect are on the rock near where Rob picked up Jay's hat - he was yanked off the rock so fast that his hat fell where he once was standing.

Having decided to portage around that rapid, we were able to line/paddle the rest of the way to Corner without further mishap. We camped at the bottom of Corner Rapids which turned out to be a very nice spot and the day was topped off by a steak supper with Rod's special marinade (a can of coke, mustard, garlic, and various other spices). That night we were sitting around the campfire when Rob pointed up to the northern lights and said "holy shit, look at that". As a result I was stumbling around in a circle looking up at the sky when I stubbed my toe. I didn't think much of it at the time but after it still hurt about 15 minutes later I checked my toe and it was bright blue. It only got worse as the weekend went on and by Saturday morning it was very swollen. I eventually decided to take Rod's advice and release the pressure. I took a fish hook, bent it straight and cut off the point, then heated it over the stove until it was red hot. I then used it to melt a hole through my toenail. I was rather apprehensive but it didn't hurt at all and it did feel at least somewhat better afterwards.*

Friday we spent the day touring around the area below Sluice Falls and fishing. After a few small pike in the morning we were skunked for the rest of the day. We were starting to wish we had kept those first pike since it was looking like a supper of fish batter patties fried in butter. That's about when I caught a 10 lb pike. None of us had a net so I had to wrestle it into the boat. 10 lbs might not sound like much but that was a big fish. It fed the 4 of us quite well and we did not have to go hungry.

Saturday we decided to play in the whitewater and decided Farside Rapid was the best one to start on. Farside is on the far side from Corner (i.e. river right) and is a big rapid that we played on when we were up there on previous trips. The water level was fairly high so the waves were nice and big. Rob and I went first while Jay and Rod watched from above. The first wave we hit sent Rob way up in the air, then hit the canoe at an angle, knocking us a bit and causing us to take in some water. We then rode out a few more of the waves but started to get knocked around a lot and took on more and more water. We eventually capsized and went for a swim. The current does some funny things there and Rob says he was pulled under for a bit. After floating in the current for a while the eddy nicely deposited us on the rocks on the right side. The canoe continued upriver in the eddy back-current before coming back for another loop. I jumped in after it and grabbed the rope and once I was standing on shore I was able to pull the canoe onto the rocks as it passed us for the second time. This time the only thing lost was Rob's hat (he also lost a sandal and a paddle but we picked those up in the bay around the corner thanks to Jay's swimming efforts and in spite of my efforts) and the canoe suffered not a scratch. After watching us, Jay and Rod quickly and wisely decided to carry over the rocks rather than suffer our fate in the water. After that episode Rob was somewhat nervous and I was less anxious to continue running rapids that afternoon. While paddling back across the current near where the Farside current and the Ric's Falls current come together, a big swirling hole opened up right in front of Rob and I. It was probably 20 feet across and 2 or 3 feet deep and seemed like it was about to swallow us whole though we were able to skirt it's edge. One second the water was fairly flat and moving in a straight, predictable manner; the next this giant swirling chasm was opening immediately in front of us. I had never seen anything quite like it before, at least not from so close up and it was pretty freaky especially given what Rob and I had just gone through.** Instead of playing in more rapids we fished from the point off our campsite and found a whole bunch of tasty pickerel (figures, we spent the previous day touring all over the place trying to find fish only to have them on our doorstep). It was beautiful fishing, standing up to our knees in the warm water and casting into the current with the sun shining.

From a previous trip, here is my brother and I on the wave where Rob and I wiped out:

Thankfully, Sunday was free of misadventures. We packed up and ran the rapids all the way back to Devil Lake. Jay even introduced me to the Three Sisters Rapids and Staircase Falls, none of which I had seen before. This side channel allowed us to bypass Mosquito Rapids to the South and instead do just a short carry around Staircase Falls to get back to Devil Lake. Once back at the campgrounds we loaded all the gear into the van and paddled over to Otter Rapids to run through. Rob, still a bit gun shy from the previous day, chose instead to record the event on film. When I went through with my canoe and Rod in the bow, Jay insisted on kneeling in the center and bailing for us. He said it's the only way to get down without swamping. I'm still not convinced. The boat was much more tippy with the extra weight and higher center of gravity. We took on a lot of water and Jay bailed a lot out, but I'm not sure we would've taken on so much without him there in the first place. I guess we'll just have to set up a whole series of randomized, replicated trials next year to figure it out for certain.***

The table below summarizes the weather as recorded in LaRonge, about 80km away to the South. It was pretty great.
The chart below shows the water levels for '03. Levels were pretty low, that's probably the lowest water I've seen on the Churchill (the last several years have had predominantly high water with records being set in '09 and a few years ago).

Things I haven't mentioned: 1.) Butter, not enough about the butter. 2.) Bear poop: No mention of the mountain of relatively fresh bear poop in the middle of our camp site. 3.) No mention of the road grading schedule that we confirmed (but have since forgotten the answer to). 4.) No mention of the longest drive competition that I won.

*Footnote: (pun intended) Once I was back home the swelling in my toe returned and I went to a doctor to have a professional look at it this time. He confirmed that what we did in the bush was the right thing to do, and he repeated it in his office, this time using a fine electric soldering iron instead of a fish hook heated over a camp stove. The toenail fell off two weeks later and took over 6 months to fully re-grow.

** Here's what Laurel Archer has to say about Farside Rapids in her excellent book, Northern Saskatchewan Canoe Trips, A Guide to Fifteen Wilderness Rivers: "The [river right] rapids are the Far Side.... This class 2+/3 chute is fast with a long, large wave train to follow. There is a violent current, making boils and whirlpools. Again, good walleye fishing from the island." We could've drowned but at least the walleye would've picked our bones clean.

*** Jay's response "You didn't see the water in the canoe when Rod and I went down, I'm convinced that we need about 20 trials next year to confirm."