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.


  1. You have a very entertaining writing style that makes for an interesting and delightful read. You really make me want to visit the vastness of beautiful Saskatchewan!
    (Sorry I removed my last post due to a spelling error).

  2. Thanks for the complement!

    Saskatchewan is a great place to visit. I have a handful of friends from elsewhere that have chosen to make their lives here rather than with their families in Ontario, the Netherlands, etc.

  3. I have been eyeing the Sturgeon-Weir River trip for some time, and hope in the (likely distant) future to try it sometime. The Saskatchewan canoe trip guide suggests that "This trip can be recommended for canoeists of intermediate experience, or for novices with expert leadership".

    Not sure if I would fall into that category. I have done few overnight routes (Missi Island Loop on Amisk Lake, Churchill River to Nistowiak Falls, and Kingsmere-Bagwa loop in PA Nat'l Park), many day lake outings and one overnight river trip on the South Sask river.

    I have been wanting to try some more river trips but not necessarily to learn anything more than novice river running techniques (I don't paddle often enough to advance much in this area, and don't plan to spend the time at it).

    I am wondering if the Sturgeon-Weir would be a good "next step" for someone like me with no white water experience, assuming I would portage the rapids (4 to 5 portages listed), but wanting some variety and moderate new challenge from lake paddling?

    Based on my experience level, would more than the 4-5 portages be required? This likely depends on water levels of course. How many portages did you make on this trip? Did you take the optional 5th portage to Muskeg Bay? How was the Amisk Lake crossing (wind/waves)?

    How strongly would you recommend using a spray deck for this route (I have not yet canoed with a spray deck, but we've been fortunate with nice weather and minimal wind & waves so far)? How did you arrange to have your car ferried from start to end point?

  4. Hi,
    The Sturgeon-Weir River is divided into two sections, the upper Sturgeon-Wer, and the Lower Sturgeon-Weir, meaning that section that is above Amisk Lake and below the lake, respectively. I've only done the Upper Sturgeon Weir. In that section we did, all rapids are portageable and the river between rapids is flatwater. This stretch of the river, from the highway down to Amisk (as described in my trip report) is suitable for the intermediate paddler. Whitewater skills are not necessary (if I recall correctly).

    Below Amisk Lake, the river gets into a different geological region (limestone?) and becomes a series of frequent rocky rapids. From everything I've read about that section, it is a lot more technical. It sounds like this section would be quite beyond your current skills. If you were travelling with others that were more skilled in whitewater, that may change things.

    Learning a few whitewater or moving water skills can be a real boon, even if you have no intentions of running whitewater. For instance, can you safely land at the portage above the rapids which often means landing in swiftly moving water? Can you do it in a high water year when the portage may be hard to find, and located in very fast water? Knowing something as simple as an eddy turn will open the door to more trips, and mean you can run through some of the easier stuff (class I+) without having to portage or line your canoe down.

    Regarding the spray deck, I don't think it is necessary, though they can be helpful. I do not use one myself, though I hope to make or buy one soon. Obviously they can be helpful for paddling big whitewater, but they are also helpful to decrease the effect of wind on a canoe, something that can be an issue while crossing Amisk Lake.

    The best resource for the Sturgeon-Weir trip is Laurel Archer's book, Northern Saskatchewan Canoe Trips: A Guide to 15 Wilderness Rivers.

    I hope this helps,

  5. I forgot to answer your question about the shuttle. There are a couple of options. You can arrange to have the shuttle done by either Pawistik Lodge where the highway crosses the River, or through Angel's (?) Marina in Denare Beach. There may be others as well. These places will drive your veh vehicle to the end of your trip so it is waiting for you when you are done.

    We had 4 people on this trip that were driving up in two cars. So, we dropped off our stuff at the start, then two people drove two cars to Denare Beach and parked one of the cars there. The second car was used to return back to the start point and we set off. Once the trip was completed, we again had to run back to the start to pick up the second vehicle. It's a lot of driving, but not nearly so much as doing the full Sturgeon-Weir River.