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.