|I had paddled nearly 16000kms in North America which included the entire Mississippi, the Missouri, the Yukon, the Athabasca, the Slave and the Mckenzie Rivers, now it was time to paddle across Canada from the Rocky Mountains to the east paddling down rivers, across lakes, up rivers, portaging from lake to lake and then across some of the biggest lakes in Canada.I started the solo part of the journey in the Rocky Mountains and I paddled the entire North Saskatchewan River. I then crossed Cedar Lake, crossed the large Lake Winnipeg before paddling up the Winnipeg River for several hundred kilometres against the current to the town of Kenora, a distance of 2600kms.At Kenora I met two friends who I had paddled with on the Mckenzie River. Here we paddled across the Lake of the Woods, up the Rainy River to Fort Francis/International Falls. Leaving Fort Francis we paddled across Rainy Lake and dozens of other lakes following the Canadian/USA border through Voyageurs/Quetico National Parks. We had to do up to 40 portages to finally arrive at the Grand Portage on the Lake Superior. On Lake Superior we paddled 220kms across the lake to Rossport, where we had to stop because we ran out of time. This is the story:
North Saskatchewan River above the Saskatchewan River Crossing
My solo part of the journey started in the Rocky Mountains.
Stage 1: North Saskatchewan River
Tuesday 14th June: Day 1
Although I really wanted to start at the North Saskatchewan River Crossing in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, Brett who dropped me off and who was one of the most experienced paddler and outdoorsman in the region advised me to start below the Bighorn Dam and lake instead of above it near the crossing. With bad weather due in the next day or so and with the freezing lake always rough and dangerous, I decided to take his advice.
Brett backed his Chevrolet truck close to the river’s edge a few hundred meters below the dam wall and we started unloading my gear onto the rounded rocks. The sun was out, snow clad mountains were only a few kilometres away, so it was a perfect place and perfect weather to start my journey. I was however disappointed that I hadn’t started further upstream at the Saskatchewan River Crossing but I just had to get over that. I was here and I was going. Heavy rain was forecast, so to start my journey in the sunshine was brilliant.
North Saskatchewan River Crossing
Down there is my put-in point
Within minutes of unloading, and after taking a few photographs Brett left leaving me alone with just the clear water of the river and the mountains and the hills around me. It took me quite a while to load and squeeze all my gear into the kayak so everything fitted in, so I was extremely lucky the weather was fine. I must admit I didn’t want to be wet and cold on my first day.
It’s time to pack the kayak and go
By 5.15pm I was ready to take off. I was at 4100 meters above sea level and in theory it should have been colder but all I needed today to keep warm was to wear a thermal and my lightweight cag. Even then I was soon feeling too warm. I moved away from shore and the Rocky Mountains started to appear in a big semi-circle as I got further away from the hills of the immediate shoreline. Within minutes I had an amphitheatre of high mountains staring down at me. I just kept thinking to myself how lucky I was to be able to look at such a beautiful vista on my departure and that it wasn’t raining like it forecast. The days ahead didn’t matter like today. Today was special. Today I was in the Rocky Mountains and I just needed to see the mountains in all their glory. How perfect. I was happy.
The river soon broke up into several channels. Sometimes it was obvious to which channel I should take, other times it was guess work. I continued to look behind to view the row of mountains that started to grow. The further I paddled from my start point the more mountains I could see.
Downstream the Bighorn Dam
Just before turning a blind sharp left hand bend I started to get too warm. Suddenly I had other things to think about when I saw several trees, which had been washed down the river now blocking my way. Oh shit, I instantly thought of Brett as he had said, you have to watch out for the trees on this section. I did a really tight turn and aimed for a small gap and avoided going broadside into the mass of trees. It wouldn’t have looked good if my trip ended there. It hadn’t, so I was able continue dodging other trees and floating debris.
As the river widened, I could see another set of mountains appear which had glaciers between them. I stopped and looked on and just drifted for a few moments as I knew I probably wouldn’t see such a view again as I was leaving the mountain areas.
Easy scenic paddling going with the current
Back on track my GPS showed me I was doing 15kms an hour. It was great to feel the speed. Islands split up the river continuously, the current eased in places and got faster in other places. Often the fast current I was in one minute, was gone across to the other side the next and then my speed stalled.
I saw no bear or moose. The clouds moved in and it suddenly got cold, but not cold enough to put another layer on. The wildlife consisted of a few birds, and a few ducks but it didn’t matter as today the scenery kept me more than amused. I was making good time and I was wondering when to stop to camp. Then I saw a few people on shore making camp and a big voyager canoe on the bank. They had a great view of the mountains so I knew it was time for me to stop as well and before the mountains faded from my view.
A few minutes later I found a flat place to camp on an island with a few low straggly bushes, long sun burnt grass and driftwood logs. A storm was brewing in the distance and seemingly heading my way. I pulled ashore and dragged the kayak from the water and erected my tent before it had a chance to rain. With the sun now blocked out by the black threatening clouds the chill set in. I was a little damp so I soon changed into dry clothes to warm up. I was happy to be camped in such a beautiful place with the mountains as a backdrop. How perfect.
A large beaver den lay on the other side of the river. A beaver was swimming around often disappearing as it dived under the water. I watched it, as well as watching the continuous thunder and lightning that was displaying to the north. The mountains in places were wiped out by the falling rain that swept around me in a semicircle.
I felt extremely happy as I cooked dinner with the storm and the mountains revealing such beauty. I sat on the kayak’s bow eating my way through my pasta dish, but within minutes of finishing my dinner the rain pelted down. I wasn’t ready to retire but it felt so nice to be snuggled up in my orange Wilderness Expedition tent listening to the thunder and the rain falling on the fly. It wasn’t long before the wolves started to howl and if you have never heard wolves singing in the night you have missed an amazing experience.
My first camp
Wednesday 15th June: Day 2
It was light early, but I didn’t get up until 7.00am. The sun was shining which was a surprise because the weather forecast was for severe rain. I took my time getting ready as I was trying to savour the mountain scene as it would be my last camp that I would see the high mountains. It was quite sad.
I left at 9.25am and within minutes I was paddling under a minor road bridge. Getting closer to the Gap, where the river narrowed and cut through a mountain range, the current quickened and several rapids, mainly big waves were scattered along the way. There was quite a lot of water, so it made it easy to skirt them and take an easier route across the smaller waves. The shores started to get steeper and the speed of the water even faster. The river was soon lined with steep cliffs, although 2 deer ran up a near vertical shale slope as if it was flat. The scenery was quite spectacular, not like the high mountains of the Rockies, but still stunning.
Leaving the mountains and into the hills
The current helps me make good progress
The sheer cliffs are impressive
I was soon through the gap and heading downstream skirting several more rapids before stopping at a canoeists put-in point which were very few along this section. Here I had lunch walking along the shore and under the trees passing several camping spots that were all vacant.
I moved off just before the rain started. The rain wasn’t so bad as it was coming from behind and I was well wrapped up in my goretex jacket with the hood shielding me from the stinging rain. I saw my first house on a cliff, so I knew I was getting close to the Devil’s Rapid, which I soon skirted. The current was strong and I was whisk away with the swift current soon passing a couple of good rapids before finding a quality campsite next to a stream. It was a great little spot with many deer footprints edged into the soil. It was cold, but the rain held off at least until I had erected my tent and cooked my pasta.
The near perfect campsite
Thursday 16th June: Day 3
Heavy rain kept me in bed long after it was time to get up. It was just too cold and wet outside to try to pack up, so I thought, why bother. I eventually got out at 10.30am. The rain eased for a while, but it soon returned. My tent was wet but I was able to pack up and take the inner-tent down without getting the gear and the inner-tent wet, by leaving the outer flysheet up. It was just one more of the good points I liked about this tent.
I managed to get off by 12.30pm. There were several rapids along the way to Rocky Mountain House, some quite big, but because the river was quite wide I could always skirt the worse of the big waves. I saw my first wolf or it could have been a coyote running away into the forest.
The cliffs at Rocky Mountain House.
It continued to be cold and very wet. I arrived at the Rocky Mountain House Bridge but the town was a long way off so I didn’t bother getting out, I just kept going passing high cliffs and some beautiful big houses on top of them. The rain was still heavy and streams of water was running out of big pipes on the top of the cliffs to my right and creating several man-made waterfalls. Looking at them at the right angle they looked quite natural.
I had thought of stopping at the camping ground at the second bridge about 4kms from the first but the landing spot was on the left behind a few islands and by the time I realised it was there and tried to get to shore I was beyond it and the current was too swift for me to paddle back up. I tried, but it was too shallow and fast and after scrapping my paddle on the rocks I gave up as it wasn’t worth breaking it. Apart from that landing spot the rest of the shoreline was cliff and impossible to get out so I moved on.
I carried on against the cold Arctic wind and rain. I was now heading north right into the wild weather. It wasn’t pleasant, but with two thermals and my goretex Kokatat paddling jacket I felt warm enough. When the rain stopped, I stopped and although it was cold and it started sprinkling again I managed to get my iPad out and send a few photos to Alaine so she could put them on my blog. I knew that once I got past Rocky Mountain House I wouldn’t get any reception for at least 3 days, as there were no towns ahead.
The water continued to be fast, cliffs were at times lining the river and the valley opened up and made for some interesting scenery. I spotted a real wolf I think, it stood there and watched me pass by but by the time I had my camera out it skipped off. I also saw a dear and a fawn and several other mule deer, but I was yet to see a moose. We saw so many moose on the Athabasca River on my last trip in Canada and it wasn’t that far away from here, so where were they hiding on this river?
It was too cold to rest so I kept paddling and eventually came to the Abraham Gates where the river narrowed and the cliffs lined each side. It was quite spectacular although a thunderstorm and heavy rain prevented me from getting any pictures. Waterfalls were cascading from the top of the cliffs all over the place. It was really raining and this stunning piece of country was even more majestic and impressive with all the waterfalls. The storm hit another level and the thunder and lightning made it a more dangerous place to be.
Despite my late start I had paddled over 70 kms by this time, and with the storm in mind I started to look for a camp spot. They were either too rocky, too muddy, too low or too wet. At last I came across a great spot with green lush grass and dandelions, but when I got out and checked, it was waterlogged. I was now cold, the rain still poured and when I attempted to get back into the kayak I put one leg in but the other foot became stuck fast in the mud and refused to budge. The kayak started to ease away from the bank and I started to do the splits the kayak toppled to one side and half filled up with water. By now my legs were stretched and my bum was firmly sitting in the water. I felt like a stranded whale, but I managed to stand up and start the difficult task of pumping the water out of the cockpit. I was embarrassed to be in such a compromising position, but at least there was no-one to see me in such a position. It was however a warning that my life in this cold and wet environment was teetering and I had to take special care and not become too complacent.
With a cold waterlogged lower body I moved on checking other sights which were only just above the water level, but if it wasn’t for the mud and the wet some of the spots would have been ideal for camping. About 7.30pm I spotted a place in the woods. I didn’t know if it was going to be level but I just had to check it out as every other place had been too muddy or too low. I pulled up next to a gravel bar and pulled the kayak along a pool of water until level with a gap in the tree line. I took my paddle and checked it out and yes there was enough dry level ground to put my tent and it was 2 metres higher than the river. It did mean however I had to climb the 2 metre slope with all my gear which required a little care as the bank was steep and slippery.
I soon had my gear up into the forest and tent erected and although it had stopped raining for a short time, water was dripping off the pine trees. With all my gear packed into the tent or kayak I then realised one of the many trees above me was dead and it may at any time shed a big branch or two, but I was too cold to think about moving. I had a quick pasta meal and crept inside the tent and into the warmth.
I had only used my GPS a few times, yet the rechargeable batteries were already flat. I replaced them with lithium batteries, so I just hoped they last longer.
Friday 17th June: Day 4
It was raining yet again, so I just stayed in my sleeping bag until it eased. I was camped in a pine forest and as well as the rain, water was dripping from the trees and onto the tent. When I crawled out and checked my surrounds I was surprised to see the river had risen at least 2 metres, even more. The previous night I was able to walk along the stony river bed carrying the kayak to the forest, but now there was only water from one high bank to the other. The water had nearly crept above the banks and was only inches from spilling onto the forest floor.
The river rose several metres in the night
Not only was the river swollen but there were a large number of huge trees, large logs and debris floating by. It was like a highway for floating trees. I was easy to believe that the river level could rise in such a short time, but it was much harder to believe that so many huge trees would be floating by. Seeing them I couldn’t imagine what my paddling day was going to be like.
I packed as fast as I could which was pretty slow. When I was ready to leave I said goodbye to the old dead pine tree that I thought may have fallen on me in the night. As you can imagine I was pretty pleased it hadn’t. My problems though were just starting as I realised that it was going to be difficult task to get the kayak in the water and safely away. There was only a metre gap between the trees, and with the water flowing swiftly through them, I was wondering how I would get my 5 metre kayak positioned parallel to the shore with only a one metre gap and a swift current, and then get in it and paddle away. It looked impossible. I tried lowering the kayak down the bank between the small gap but the current grabbed the bow, whipped it downstream onto a tree and nearly from my grasp. Well that wasn’t going to work so I immediately pulled it out.
I saw a very narrow gap a few metres away between some scrubby trees. It looked near impossible but more feasible so I dragged the kayak along the ground and wedged it between some small trees and the bank. There wasn’t much room to squeeze into the cockpit but I managed to fight through the branches and get in. That was the easy bit, now I had to paddle away from the bank through the immediate bushes in the hope I wouldn’t get jammed in the other branches, which the current was flowing through, further downstream. I knew if I capsized at that point I could get tangled in the branches. If I capsized further out, I would have to deal with the cold icy melt water, and as there were no eddies along the bank and the likelihood of getting out of the river would be very slim, I didn’t want to capsize to prove a point.
I always carried my Epirb distress beacon and my Spot Locator in my PFD but today I decided to carry my satellite phone on me as well, just in case I did get separated from my kayak! The thing about risks is that you have to prepare for them in advance so if anything did happened you had the means to save yourself. I’m not sure if I could have saved myself from the freezing water but you have to have confidence in yourself. Although the satellite phone was bulky having it on me would be much more useful to get help straight away.
As soon as I paddled through the trees and away from the bank and into the main flow I was joined by a large number of big trees, lots of branches and a multitude of smaller pieces of timber. I was happy though and what an amazing sight it was. Some of the trees were going faster than I was. They must have been in a faster current or just fitter than me. The water was running quick, real quick and at the bends where there were waves, standing waves, boils and swirls, the logs were travelling even quicker. I tried skirting the bigger waves, but it was near impossible. I had thought this section was going to be easy!
The heavy rain caused flash floods washing down huge logs and trees
I soon found myself dodging a big tree, I missed it, but I hit a few minor branches as there were too many of them to avoid. The floating branches and logs seemed to be in the same part of the river where I wanted to be.
Brett who shuttled me to the start said it had been a big snow year and the snow was still melting and with all the rain, the river is higher than normal. So with the storm we had the previous day it was now in flood.
I could hear the rumblings of the rapids from a long way off. It was always a sign to get ready for some big waves, although some times the sound was created by the water rushing through branches or the water hitting rock ledges along the shoreline. It was still a scary sound. Moments later I saw a mass of waves ahead with several trees bobbing up and down. It was certainly time for me to give it my full concentration. I managed to skirt the worst of the waves and move around the bend into less turbulent water where it felt much safer.
It was a little dangerous at times trying to avoid the logs
Some of the faster water appeared to be closer to the shoreline, especially on the bends and it was where I wanted to be to gain the fastest speed, but it wasn’t the safest place to be as I had to contend with the floating debris as well as landslides and trees falling into the river. To make matters worse, it was raining hard and was extremely cold and the only way to keep warm was to keep paddling.
So my day was somewhat different from my normal day of paddling but I soon became accustomed to the continual swerving to miss the trees. I couldn’t miss all the smaller bits of timber and branches as there were too many of them. Sometimes it was as if I was running over a mine field. As I moved over them I listened and felt the timbers and branches scrape underneath along my hull and eventually hit my rudder.
The branches, trees and driftwood were just like me floating down the river having a good ride. They had probably been jammed up somewhere for years and now they had a chance to go places. For just being pieces of timber they were actually quite bright as sometimes they would take a different route around an island to myself and beat me to the bottom.
I tried to keep my distance from the bigger logs, especially near the bank and in the shallows as the trees could hit the bank rebound and get pushed out or get turned quickly and hit me. Other trees and branches often hit the shallows then they would spring up into the air, which was quite spectacular, but dangerous. Some went underwater and played hide and seek for a while, and then popped up in places downstream where I wasn’t expecting them to appear.
At some spots where the river was divided by an island the logs would jam up against the island and create one big mess of tangled logs and a mass of whitewater. If I was to get tangled up in a log jam with the swift current pushing against them I would certainly die, it was as simple as that. Thank god I could read whitewater and had the knowledge and skills to recognize the best route and keep away from such dangerous places. So it was a day of high drama. It was so different from any other day. At times it had been quite frightening, but really it was quite fun.
I had a late start so I started looking for a camp at 7.00pm but I needed a spot that was high enough to keep me well away from the rising water. It was too dangerous to camp on a lower elevation. Eventually after scouring the bank on both sides I managed to find a suitable place which was over 2 metres higher than the water level, although I still didn’t know if that was high enough.
A beaver greeted me to my new campsite. It happily allowed me to get very close to it before it moved away. It later nibbled at the young tree shoots which were lined along the bank. I watched on. With the rising water level I was concerned that I just might have selected a spot that might get swamped in the night, so having mobile phone reception I texted Alaine and asked her to ring me at 3.00am in the morning my time. I didn’t tell her why I wanted her to call me at that time, as I didn’t want to concern her, but it was so I would wake up and be able to check the water level. If need be I could pack up quickly and get back on the river.
It was interesting watching all the trees and logs float by
Saturday 18 June: Day 5
At 3.00am the phone rang. I fumbled in the dark and hit the wrong button and switched it off instead of answering it. I sent Alaine a text to tell her that I had received it. With torch in hand I climbed out of the tent and checked the water level. The river had risen quite a lot and although it was getting close I was confident it wouldn’t reach me before 6.00am when I would check it again. With little cloud I could see the moon for the first time since arriving in Canada.
With nothing to fear, except maybe being washed off my island, I went back to sleep pretty quickly. When I woke at 6.00am it was raining yet again so I stayed in bed a little longer as I didn’t see the sense in getting wet. By the time I was up and ready to leave, the water was within half a metre of my tent. I had judged my departure perfectly.
There didn’t seem as many logs for the first hour but then I started catching up with them. The river was raging and not too far downstream, encircled by a small forest of trees I noticed a caravan besieged by rushing flood waters. An elderly couple was standing anxiously in knee deep water waiting for a rubber duck rescue boat to rescue them. There was fear on their face but the rescue boat was on hand trying to manoeuvrer between the rocks and trees towards them. It looked a tricky task as the swift flood waters played havoc. The crew was all decked out in rescue gear and helmets, but they had a tough job working the current and trying to get around the trees and avoid the flooded rocky shallows as well as trying to find a safe place to land to pick up the couple. I couldn’t help as the current was too strong, even for my skill and fitness level. I was soon swept away.
I was catching up with some pretty big trees
The stranded caravan and 4×4 vehicle had no chance of surviving such an onslaught of wild rising water. If not today, tomorrow they would be swept away. The people were in a remote place and they were lucky that they somehow managed to contact help when they did as the caravan was now a long way from the nearest dry riverbank. The cold, swift current would have surely swept them away and their chances of surviving would have been slim.
The already foul weather turned even more so and as I pulled my hood up over my helmet and cap to keep the rain from running down my neck and back, I thanked my lucky stars that I had my Kokatat Gore-Tex jacket. It wasn’t letting in one drop of water and with the latex wrist I wasn’t getting any water up my arms either. Though I had used this jacket on my last Canadian trip I hadn’t realised until now, just how good it was.
Sometime later a powerful jet boat sped up the river as if there was no current at all. I thought it was most likely going upstream to help with the rescue or at least help ferry the people back with speed. I seemed to be correct as 30 minutes later it returned with two rubber duck rescue boats lagging behind.
Peering through the heavy rain I noticed the bank on fire. I didn’t think a fire could be raging after days of solid rain, but it was. As I got closer it appeared to be a coal seam that was burning. It seemed all smoke, but when I looked closer I saw some red embers. It was quite amazing that such a phenomena popped up out of the blue. I had seen something similar on my Mackenzie trip.
A coal seam burning at the side of the river
I approached an island and for some reason I took the right route, but soon after I realised it was the long way round, but it was too late to go back against the current and take the left route. At least I had the river to myself, there were no logs. By the time I got to the main channel again some of the logs I had passed up river were now floating in front of me as they had taken the left channel. I could almost imagine the logs having a chuckle and saying, ‘I beat you.’
A few farms started to appear indicating that I was getting closer to civilization. I stopped at a picnic area at Devon Bridge to find water but I had no luck. I carried on further and passed a camping ground where I asked some ladies when the rain was going to stop. Next week sometime they replied. Another guy said in August. The park was on a high bank so the rising river wouldn’t affect it. A few minutes later I saw my first plane which I assumed had taken off from Edmonton Airport. An eagle soared in the sky and a falcon whistled evocatively, just like in the cowboy movies. The sound touched a place in my heart.
As I started to reach Edmonton city limits I began looking for a camping place. I got out at a golf course which looked promising but on second thoughts I would stand out, camped on the edge of a green fairway, so I continued looking and found a great spot downstream on a the Big Island opposite the golf course and club house.
As I pulled ashore a beaver swam along the shoreline and I nearly hit it. I was pleased with the camp and the fact I had mobile reception.
Sunday 19th June: Day 6
I heard nibbling in the night which awoke me, but after checking I couldn’t see a thing. The water had risen nearly two metres overnight again, but I was much higher up from the flooded water level than the night before, so I didn’t worry. No calls needed in the middle of the night. It was raining but I decided to get up anyway.
The rain made packing a slow process, but I was away by 10.30am heading for the city of Edmonton. A few kilometers from my campsite, up on the high river cliffs were several houses balancing on the cliff edge. It looked as if some of the houses had lost their front sections and fallen over the cliff and several others were just waiting for more erosion for them to slip over as well. I wouldn’t want to be living there. I found out later that some of the houses on the cliff edges have been abandoned as they were too dangerous to live in.
Several of the houses on the cliff edge had been deemed unsafe and abandoned
I paddled up to a neat looking footbridge which had viewing places and just beyond it on the left there was a big long wooden stairway starting close to the river and climbing up onto the hill. Two people were vigorously exercising on it. They ran down the steps, but on the way up they slowed to a walk. I paused near the Edmonton Fort, which was a tourist attraction that I visited when I was here last time, but I couldn’t really see much so I continued on.
I watched several people running along the river path and soon after I past a park where there seemed to be a lot of activity. A little further I stopped at the rowing club to get some water, but the premises were closed, so I was out of luck. As I returned to my kayak I talked to a couple walking by and they gave me the location of a park which had water, so I headed there. It was raining on and off, but it had stopped by the time I reached the park. Being all soggy and with my booties squelching I walked across to a water fountain, but when it came out the water was white. I didn’t think it looked too healthy so I walked further to a toilet and got some from there. It had a much better natural colour so I filled my water bags and bottles and walked back towards the kayak, my thighs chaffing in my wet Kokatat pants. It wasn’t pleasant to be walking in wet soggy gear.
None of the rivers including the North Saskatchewan River were clean enough to drink as they were too silty to purify so I had to rely on water taps that I could find in towns and villages. As I loaded the water in the kayak two couples who were running by stopped to chat. They had seen me earlier paddling by them at a very fast rate. They told me that they hadn’t seen the river so high before. Everyone I had talked to said the same thing.
Collecting drinking water from a park in Edmonton
I paddled on passing under two bridges with part of the city as a backdrop, but it wasn’t until I got around the next corner that the city sky scrapers were visible. It was an impressive sight. The clock on one of the buildings was 12 noon. Apparently Edmonton has more river parks than any other Canadian city.
I stopped paddling and just looked towards the city skyscrapers. I was remembering some of the sights that I had seen when I was in Edmonton three years earlier. I was quite fascinated with the city structures including one looking like a chateau and another being nearly pink. The current was still strong so I was pushed towards a bridge as a heavy rain shower was upon me. It quickly faded.
The Edmonton skyline
I turned a right hand bend and noticed tourist boats jammed along the side of the river in a precarious position as the high water level and strong current had them hanging on for dear life. I stopped paddling again and turned my kayak to take more pictures of the city skyscrapers which were now behind me. I must say there were some impressive buildings.
Leaving the city
The current soon whisked me away and it wasn’t long before the main city centre was gone and I came across yet another pedestrian bridge and a little further several industrial buildings and smoke stacks. Within minutes I was leaving the city and passing under several bridges. I looked back to see the industrial site and the four bridges. It was quite a picture.
I paddled on for another 30 kms and passed Fort Saskatchewan. Pelicans all of a sudden became common with several fishing in a pack and others just flying over. When a thunderstorm hit I caught a group huddled and beaks nestled in their feathers. Later I saw a pelican perched on a log alone, just drifting down the river with the flow. It was a funny sight.
Pelicans take flight
Hitching a ride
The steep cliffs that had been common along the way had now started to get lower. I saw a beaver gnawing at tree saplings and about to take it to its den. Eagles were perched on trees and glided over me when they took to flight.
I finally came to a halt just before a bridge after paddling 115 kms for the day. I was only 150 metres from a road, so I hid behind some trees and bushes to make sure no one saw me, including three guys fishing under the bridge on the other side of the river. I didn’t want any drunks to see me and coming around. The area that I picked to hide however was littered with plant poo or it could have been Canadian geese poo. Whatever it was, it was really slimy but at least it didn’t smell. Sometimes camping by the river did have its drawbacks and with the river being so high, camp spots along the way were getting harder to find.
A beaver was swimming up and down and splashing the water with its tail before diving. It seemed to want my attention. As night fall descended several coyotes along the river valley started to howl and it was quite an incredible chorus. It was a great sound to retire to.
Monday 20th June. Day 7
I slept well despite being close to a highway bridge. It rained in the night but it was fine in the morning so I was able to dry my towel. It is only a little thing, but being able to dry wet clothes and a wet towel makes my life much happier and much more comfortable.
There were a lot less pelicans today and the ones I saw were by themselves. At the highway 855 bridge there were an enormous amount of swallows nesting under the bridge. Swallows also made nests in the vertical cliff banks.
Swallows use the bridge for nesting
Just after the bridge there was an old settlement but by the time I noticed it I was swept passed. Seven kilometers further though I saw a sign to the Victorian settlement. I pulled in and walked about 250 meters up the hill to find an old house, a church, a big wigwam tent and lots of information signs. A few minutes later a man stepped out of the house in period costume. We talked for a while, looked around and returned to my kayak.
For the next hour or two it warmed up and I kept nodding off. I would soon wake up though if I capsized, the water is so cold. An hour later it was cold and raining again so paddling wasn’t so pleasant but at least I kept awake. On my last big trip, which was on the Athabasca River I saw lots of wildlife including a moose nearly every day for several days. So far I hadn’t seen one moose but today was my lucky day, I saw my first moose of my journey.
The rain was hard at times
Today the kilometres seemed hard to cover. The current felt a lot slower, although when I pulled up at bridge 36 I had done 104 kms, so that wasn’t bad for a day when I felt that I had under performed. I dragged my kayaked to a spot when the rain started yet again so having a tent that I can put the outer tent up first and then put the inner part in later sure helps to keep my inner tent dry. I soon had everything piled into the tent and that is where I stayed for the next two hours as the storm overhead was one hell of a storm. The thunder was so loud that at times it made me jump. I couldn’t go outside to get my stove going so I had beef jerky, fruit bar and a muesli choc bar for my dinner. The rain just kept coming but my tent was solid. That’s a good Wilderness Equipment tent for you. The tent had some great features it has done me well in all the wet weather and on two of my other big expeditions.
Tuesday 21st June. Day 8
This morning’s blue skies were the complete polar opposite to last night’s huge thunderstorm. I can’t believe that my tent survived the night as the rain was so hard.
I took my time packing as I wanted to get a few things dry. I only had to do 90kms today so I wasn’t rushing. As I paddled away I noticed there was a tavern less than 100 metres from where I camped. Bugger…….I could have enjoyed a beer last night!
After a wet night it was great to dry things out
An eagle was perched in a dead tree, the birds were singing and the cottonwood tree flowers were dropping and floating through the air. The river was covered with white in places.
There were no pelicans again for 50kms but then they returned and I noticed that some had a lump on the top of their bill. All the big sand cliffs had now gone, although there were rolling hills with grassy sections and intermingled with trees and gullies where horses and cattle roamed.
I came to a sign along the river saying Fort George historical site canoe landing. I pulled in thinking it was close. I walked about 400 metres before the trees opened out. Still no fort, so I followed the road up and up and around for over a kilometre. I nearly turned back but I was too curious. I eventually arrived at a smart museum in my not so smart paddling gear, wet booties and PFD.
The man and women inside ushered me in, but I just couldn’t walk in with my wet booties on so I went in bare feet. I looked around the information museum and couldn’t but feel for the old voyageurs who used to drag these heavy canoes and row boats up rivers and rapids. Before leaving I had a chat to the two workers who weren’t exactly being overrun by customers and then I started my long walk back to the kayak.
With the warmer weather I had strapped my underpants on the top of a deck bag I had behind me and they soon dried, which was pleasing, as now I had dry under pants for tomorrow morning. Nothing worse than putting on wet underpants as your bum stays soggy all day.
It was good to see the pelicans back, I could see their brilliant white bodies for miles. I was warm when I arrived at highway 893 and the small community of Heinsberg. I pulled into an old ferry ramp. The water was well up and the grassed area was hard to get to. There was a truck delivering gravel to repair the ramp area so it wasn’t the best place to make camp but across the river there was a clearing of gently sloping grass where the old ferry crossing used to be. Perfect.
I pitched my tent and readied for dinner when a car pulled in. It was a farmer who now owned the old ferry site, but he was okay for me to camp there. During our conversation, he mentioned that this was the highest he has ever seen the river for a very long time. He also mentioned that all the beef farming is done in the valley hills but all the real farming is done on top and away from the river. We chatted for a while and he then left. The evening was still sunny which was good for drying all my damp things. I was being entertained by the two local beavers which were working busily collecting timbers very close by.
It was nice to hear the locals in the village across the river chatter and make those community noises. The street lights after dark made the community it look cozy. I was very cozy in my Sea to Summit Trek TK 111 sleeping bag. Even on the coldest nights I’m wearing nothing but my dry underpants in the bag as it was so warm.
Wednesday 22nd June. Day 9
Today was fine and sunny with fluffy clouds. I watched a jet boat being put in at the boat ramp across the river, which was only the fourth boat I had seen on the river and the other three were doing a river rescue.
When I got going it was extremely quiet, nothing except for the twittering of birds and the odd cow mooing. It was mainly pasture land on left with some cattle grazing and forest on the right.
I later pulled in at the highway 897 for a spell, but there were workmen working above me on the bridge, so I soon left. The bridge was bright yellow.
Bridge on highway 897
After the bridge the shores were less steep. I even saw a wheat field or two and cattle on both sides. I could also see a farmer with his tractor with a herd of cows around him.
The current suddenly slowed, so I wasn’t so happy as I had to paddle harder to get to my destination. But I still had plenty of time as I was stopping early and visiting friends from Perth who were working at Lloydminster. I arrived at a highway bridge 17 where Michael and Annika were going to pick me up at 1.30pm but it was going to be 3.00pm before they could get to me as they were working. The river had broken its banks and I had to drag the kayak over a waterlogged road to find some dry ground. I portaged about 100 metres to a dry place I could sit at in the sun and relax. Unbelievably it was a really too hot to be sitting in the sun!
Waiting for Michael and Annika
A couple from a community down the road saw all my stuff spread out so they came down to see what was going on and we had a good talk, then Michael and Annika arrived with a reporter in tow. I just finished giving an interview when another reporter arrived with an even bigger camera.
Michael and Annika
When the interviews had finished we loaded the kayak and gear and we were away. The drive was quite scenic and as soon as we arrived at Michael and Annika’s home in Lloydminster there was a cold beer waiting and it was the best beer I have had for a long time. Number two slipped down just as easily.
A shower was just perfect, and then they cooked a dream barbecue meal, steak, sausages, onion, potatoes and salad and finished off with sticky date pudding. How good is that!
Michael cooking dinner
Michael and Annika are in Canada on a year exchange with a Canadian teacher who has gone to a small West Australian town of Harvey. I know Michael and Annika because they are good friends of a friend of mine Pam Riordan.
It was great to have two beers and the most fantastic feed. I didn’t get to bed very early as I had too much to do.
Thursday 23rd June. Day 10
After breakfast I started doing my washing and washed everything and anything that was dirty!
At lunch time Anneka took me out for lunch at Tim Hortons and her next door neighbour and good friend joined us.
I did some shopping but my credit card got put on hold because they thought it was stolen and it took all afternoon to get it back on line so I could use it. Being on the river and in another country the bank thought it suspicious despite me telling them that I was in Canada and had used it in Calgary.
We had a beautiful curry dinner and for some reason and after 36 years of having a beard I decided to shave it off. I looked different from what I thought I would look like, a little funny even if I do say so myself!! It was a mistake. I was late to bed again.
Friday 24th June. Day 11
We were up early at 5.00am because Michael had to take me to the river and then be back in time for school, as he’s a school teacher. It had rained fairly hard in the night and when we reached the bridge we discovered the track down to the river was very wet and very slippery. The track was on a slight sideways slope and as soon as Michael drove on it, it felt as if we were going to slide off the track. Thank god we were in a 4×4!
The track down towards the river was very slippery
We unloaded quickly so Michael could get away but it wasn’t that easy. With the track sloping sideways and also sloping up hill and being very greasy the 4×4 was having trouble getting traction. There was no way Michael was going to get out by using the muddy track so he had to drive on the grass but that wasn’t easy. I helped to push the 4×4 which was crabbing up the rise very precariously but thankfully Michael managed to get out, but it was touch and go for a moment there. It was a relief when he hit the bitumen and on his way back to Lloydminster. I was hoping he was going to make it because I didn’t want him to be rescued and have to be towed out.
Well that was it, I didn’t know anyone else in Canada so from now on I was alone and meeting new people. I carried my gear about 150 metres along the muddy track to the river bank. The mosquitoes kindly kept me company, my feet were filthy walking in the mud but eventually I got going by 8.30am.
There was an odd house, whistling kites, some horses and a few cows on the first part of the river and then oil tanks and oils derricks were scattered along the river on the low hills. It was so warm that I kept nodding off and eventually I had to turn on my iPod to try and keep awake.
Oil tanks and oils derricks
The rolling grassy hills sides were intermingled with trees, gullies and oil tanks but little of the grassy slopes seemed to be used, other than for a little grazing.
It was quiet, there was little life apart from geese with chicks, the odd eagle and a few cows. I put my iPod on again and listened to music to stop myself sleeping and falling in. Just when I wanted to camp I couldn’t find one but then bingo, a lovely grassed area with a bench and table, probably a farmers retreat. A short walk up the hill and a deer grazed and further on it led me to a good crop of wheat or something similar.
At the top of the hill which gave me good views of the surrounding area, the fields and the river I was able to get mobile reception to ring home and the shop. As I crept into my tent an elk came down to the river. I heard a noise and as I looked out of the tent I startled it and it ran up the hill, its hooves thundering as it galloped away.
Saturday 25th June. Day 12
It had rained wildly during the night but fortunately it cleared when I needed to pack up. Elk were roaming the grass paddocks up the hill when I went for a walk. I had been using my Stealth paddle as it is built for white water but I decided to change to my lighter Epic paddle and it felt pretty good, although I was a little worried about the narrower shaft and getting problems with my wrists.
I drifted down to within metres of an eagle. Usually they have eyes like a hawk and fly off well before I get close. This time, it must have been asleep so I was able to see it at very close quarters. A thunderstorm came through and I changed into my Gore Tex jacket just in time. I passed a ferry, I couldn’t see anyone and as it was raining hard so I didn’t stop. I later found out that all ferries were unable to operate because of the unusually high water. Further downstream I moved under some power lines that were so low that I could touch them with my paddle if I wanted to put a spark in my day, but I decided that I didn’t want the day to be that exciting!
An eagle allowed me to get close before taking off
The power lines were so low I could touch them with my paddle
I could hear train horns in the distance. For me I always know that I am in north America because the trains blow their horn at every level crossing and sometimes they drive you crazy. The hills were now more like big bumps, the current slowed and as I approached a railway bridge, a train was moving over it. Seeing it became the highlight of my day, as I had something to watch.
Just seeing a train gave me something to take my mind off the paddling
As I was getting closer to Battleford, I began seeing cars, a few houses, but sadly no good camping spots. The town was not close to the road bridge and I had no reason to stop other than to camp for the night. Even when I approached the old road bridge which has been turned into a walk bridge, there were still no camping spots. I spotted a man on the walk bridge and I asked him, but he didn’t know of any place either.
I moved on, it was cold and wet and I really did need to camp and when I saw a high mound I thought Christmas had come but when I checked it out it was full of rodent holes and I saw an overgrown mouse scurrying around. It wasn’t the place to camp so then I decided to check a place on shore but disappointingly, it wasn’t suitable either. I moved on wondering if I would ever be able to rest my weary body, and have dinner and slip in my warm sleeping bag.
God must have been listening as soon after I found a boat ramp and a grass area to pitch my tent. The ramp was muddy but I was going no further and it actually turned out being a nice camp.
Sunday 26th June. Day 13
It was raining heavily when I woke up but by the time I crawled out of the tent the skies had cleared. Once on the water a violent thunderstorm passed over but when it cleared, the morning was very quiet except for a odd cow mooing, geese cackling and birds twittering, then the sound of a train horn echoed down the valley. Yes, I was reminded again I was in North America! Another thunderstorm hit and the water was erupting with a million tiny volcanoes formed from the heavy rain drops.
When it rains, it rains
After I passed a bridge I saw several eagles and as I made my way down the river there were many flocks of geese with up to twenty goslings following their parents. The parents became quite agitated when I was passing and they tried their best to keep me away. I was really in goose land along with a mixture of gulls and terns on the same part of the river.
Several of the fields were now lower than the river itself and at any time the river could overflow and ruin what looked like a very good cereal crop. Another thunderstorm hit me again. I have to say, I’m extremely pleased with my Gore Tex jacket in fact, I love my Kokatat Gore Tex jacket! Geese and eagles continued to be around in large numbers.
I arrived at a bridge hoping to find a high, dry place to camp, but no such luck so I carried on passed a rail bridge and found a place. It had deep water, a steep bank which was hard to get out at, but it turned out being a good camp.
It’s always a worry finding a suitable camp
A beaver was swimming up and down and giving a big splash with it’s tail every so often. Several coyotes along the valley started howling away and it was quite an incredible chorus. It was a great sound to retire to.
Monday 27th June. Day 14
I had a good sleep. Camping is great, I love camping, it feels clean and fresh, there is nothing more natural.
Launching was a bit tricky as the water was a metre below the bank and I breathed a sigh of relief when I managed to get into my kayak without falling into the deep water. Around the first bend there were horses galloping across the hilly paddocks and what a sight that was. Minutes later I saw a very healthy looking coyote.
Further along I saw a house on the hill not too far in the distance. I sat there eating nuts and hoping someone would see me and bring down some bread and cheese and although I thought I heard voices, I saw no one.
A mule deer looked on as I landed for a pee. Farms with red barns started to appear. There were a big number of silos on the left and abandoned harvesters on a hill.
I later stopped at the Fort Carlton site. I pulled into a fenced off area with the British flag flying. There was no one around and all the tracks were flooded. I paddled up one track as far as I could whilst trying to fight off the mosquitos.
I jumped out when it got too shallow and went walking and found the big fort. Blimey the sides were high! There were several signs full of information along the road so I could read all about the fort. Unfortunately I couldn’t camp there as there was too much water and too many insects which seemed determined to make my life a misery so I paddled back onto the river and paddled on.
Fort Carlton was a Hudson’s Bay Company fur trade post from 1810 until 1885. It was rebuilt by the Saskatchewan government as a provincial park.
Heading out of the flooded park
I slipped away finding it hard to find any suitable high ground to use as a camping spot. I then noticed a ferry crossing further downstream so I headed there. I pulled in about 150 meters before the ferry, got my tent up on a nice grassy spot and then walked over to the ferry site. I talked to who told me that the ferries on both sides, north and south of the Saskatchewan Rivers were not operating. Back at camp the dragon flies were out in force and a beaver was busy doing what beavers do.
Colin the ferry operator
Camped near the ferry crossing
Tuesday 28th June. Day 15
I had another good sleep and then went over to ask Colin for some fresh water and he was happy to oblige. Again the valley was quiet except for the twittering of birds and a few geese with gosling squawking away. I had to give myself rewards of jerky or nuts at certain points along the way to keep my interest up.
About 15kms from Prince Albert I saw a fairly posh house about 50 meters from the water’s edge. It was the first I’d seen so close along the river valley, usually they are way up on the ridges.
I turned a long corner and paddled straight into a strong wind. There were several low points and many of the farmers fields will be flooded if the river continues to get higher due to the huge amount of rain that this area has been receiving. I decided to stop near an old fort just out of Prince Albert to check for text messages on my mobile phone. I landed in long grass! Up the hill where the fort was, there were several ‘keep out’ signs along the fence line, I suppose to keep out intruders like myself.
I got a message from Alaine telling me she had contacted a girl called Kristina Lediums who had paddled this same route last year. Alaine tried to find out the best place for me to stay in Prince Albert. Kristina had generously shared her information and had given me a name of a person to contact but me being me, I was reluctant to use that information. On the way into town I searched for a camp but I couldn’t find anything suitable so I had to succumbed and I called the number that Kristina had shared. It turned out that I was less than a kilometre away from the people I was calling. Zenon said he would be across the river waving his yellow coat and when I paddled downstream there he was, I could see him as clear as day. I landed at his feet. His wife, Jean was also there. How wonderful it was to be greeted.
There was a mowed field about 25 meters from the river and what a great place to erect my tent. They left me and said they had to go out and they would see me later. Our house is just over there, they said, just help yourself to a shower, but I said I would wait until they came back.
Later when they returned Zenon shouted for me to go over for a beer. They also invited the neighbours who have a daughter in Australia. We talked and drank, and later I had a shower and recharged the batteries in all my appliances.
When I curled up inside my tent there was a lot of shouting from across the river and a lot of sirens going. I eventually got to bed around 12.30am.
Wednesday 29th June. Day 16
I woke up at 5am and because I didn’t get to bed till 12.30am, I didn’t have that much sleep. I walked across to Zenons at 7.00am for coffee and breakfast. Soon after he had to go to hospital as he was going to have an operation on his knee. I took down my tent and packed up before walking into town. I left all my valuables at the house so I didn’t need to cart them with me which was good as they were heavy. It took about 15 minutes to get to the outdoor store where I bought a few packets of freeze dried meals. They didn’t have the maps I needed so I went to the forestry department and fortunately, they had them.
I tried to find a Rogers Store (a Canadian phone company) so I could find out why my iPad was working so slowly. A lady in another store solved it – Apparently Rogers don’t have a strong coverage in Saskatchewan so the signal was weak and that was why the images were taking forever going out.
I needed some more shopping so I had to walk to the supermarket which was a couple of kilometers out of town. I carried back bread, cheese, jerky, little tubs of fruit, meat paste, and a couple of phone cards.
It was a hot day and the walk back had me sweating. Zenon was also sweating when I returned home as he was cutting the lawn. I sent a few emails while my iPad was charging. Jean made a salad and Zenon put some hamburgers on and we had hamburgers and salad rolls for lunch. Their grand children were there to ask me lots of questions.
How good it was to have met them. It really makes my day when I meet wonderful people and to think I almost missed the opportunity to do so. I also have Kristina to thank for giving me their contact details. I returned to the kayak and packed up and when I was about finished Jean, Zenon and their two grand children came to watch me leave. We had a photo session and I left at 2.15pm.
Jean, Zenon and their two grand children
I padded away under the town bridge and by the city buildings and then I saw Zenon and his two grandchildren downstream waving goodbye. Although it had only been a few minutes it was so nice to see them again. I waved back and paddled away from the city. I was alone once more.
Zenon and his two grandchildren waving goodbye again
There were several houses and a cycleway following the river for about 3 kilometers. The current wasn’t going overly fast but I was in good spirits and paddling well and just thinking about my visit at Prince Albert. I soon passed the last ferry on the river which again wasn’t working because of the high water.
About 20 kilometers out of town the river started to twist and turn and developed a steeper grade. Therefore the current got faster. Two deer were on the corner and so were some rapids and I was trying to watch both at once. At the next corner the rapids were bigger still. My map indicated that there were only three lots but I was now finding them on every corner. Unlike the rapids near the start of my journey, I couldn’t avoid these. The waves were right across the river so they were impossible to miss. Some were big and they lifted and shook me in all different directions, from the side and from the front.
More deer, more bends, more rapids but luckily they weren’t grade 3 or 4. I spotted a concrete dam half way across the river. I was concerned as it looked as if it was a big drop but apart from some waves it was clear. Not only did the rapids get more impressive along the way so did the cliffs.
I thought there may be a big drop at this half dam
After a few more rapids and bluffs I eventually met up with the South Saskatchewan River where I thought I may have more turbulence, but it was calmer. The grade lessened and apart from it being wider it was much the same although it was very pretty at the junction. My map had canoe launching on the left about 1.5kms downstream but I saw nothing, only a track on the right. I felt lucky that I found a place to camp a few kilometres further downstream. I made sure I was well above the water level should it rise in the night.
The river was rapid on the corners
I had bread, cheese and meat paste for dinner, (disappointingly, the meat paste wasn’t at all tasty).
An eagle flew over me and it seemed to be landing nearby, but when it saw me, it flapped its wings furiously taking off again to find another spot. The March flies were out and were savagely biting.
Thursday 30th June. Day 17
My camp was beside an eddy and the water was clearer in the eddy than I’ve seen it so far in the river. A small powerboat went by as I was packing up and it wasn’t long before I was chasing it down the river. The water was running quickly and it got even quicker on the bends, which I really liked.
The dingy was on the side of the river but I saw no one, then as I turned around about 300 metres downstream I saw the two guys come out of the woods. There were deer and more deer, in the last 20kms it seemed to be a good place for them.
I began to nod off but so started to play music, I enjoyed the sound and it helped keep me awake. A big elk was grazing, but the photo was a little blur as I must have been fumbling with my camera when I took the shot. Another one stood by the river’s edge but this time I managed to get a fairly decent shot. It was muscle bound and they were rippling just like mine!
The current slowed as I neared a bridge and the start of a lake. I could see one or two houses on the ridges and a few cars towing boats crossing the bridge in front of me. It was Canada Day coming up so people should be out in force. I got a bit depressed when the current slowed even further but when I saw several bunches of pelican on logs in the shallows it cheered me up.
There were a few floating trees and loads of trees lined the shoreline. The scenery was still quite good but without the current it was beginning to be a hard slog. Because the current has been fast along the way, I have been spoilt and now the reality of getting no assistance was setting in.
Several bunches of pelicans were using team work to herd up the fish and have a tasty meal. I passed a camping ground and it even had a sandy beach, something I hadn’t seen so far, that I could remember.
I stopped to take photos of some scenic bluffs and then rounding a bend I saw the dam. The pelicans in the shallows didn’t bother looking up as I passed.
Bluffs line the river
I soon reached the shoreline just before Francois-Finlay dam. Another canoeist had said on his blog keep to the left and find a gravel road and portage there. I found the gravel road but the whole place had a huge fence around it and penning me in. The gates were locked so I had no hope of getting through it. With a fence stopping me from getting around the dam I decided to backtrack and paddle back up the lake to a gravel road and boat ramp on the right side of the river. At least the main road was on that side although it was a few kilometers away and a long walk.
A fence line stops me from portaging the dam
My cell phone didn’t work and as it was Canada Day the following day I didn’t expect there would be many employees at the dam. I reached the track and boat ramp and within minutes a car pulled up. The elderly couple said the river was closed to boats. They offered to help but their car wasn’t suitable to carry a kayak. Then a family with a boat turned up. After they asked me what I was doing they said if I waited 30 minutes they could take me around to the camp site below the dam after they had tested their boat. A few minutes later they tried the boat, but it wouldn’t start so they left it in the water. They then put my kayak on the boat trailer which of course wasn’t really set up for it. Like an over anxious guardian, I watched the kayaks bow tied onto the rollers but the back was in mid air and when Comiel tightened it, he did it a little too tight and when something fell off the trailer a kilometre down the track I noticed a severe dent in the hull. I’m surprised it hadn’t cracked but it seemed perfectly alright when we later took it off. Another part fell off the trailer at the next bend and the family were laughing because they have had so much trouble with the boat since they bought it and they haven’t even had a good run in it yet! They seemed to be taking it rather well and having a good old joke about it.
When we got to the Nipawin camp ground I asked if I could camp close to the river as most of the camp sites were well away from it. As there were no facilities down by the river the owner didn’t charge me. When I started taking the gear out of the back of the ute I noticed a heavy metal part with two rollers on were on top of my epic paddle. Thank god the paddle took it well and had no scratches. The family, Comiel, I assume his wife, two strapping lads and a child were just great. It was just about dark and they still had their boat to pick up. It seemed that they would have done anything for me. Thanks guys the walk would have been 10kms or more.
I had some bread and cheese for dinner, well, by now it was supper.
Friday 1st July.
I had a good check to see if the kayak had been damaged in transporting last night but after I cleaned all the scum and dirt off it it looked fine. I left the Provincial Park at 9.30am heading downstream at a fast speed chasing a house boat I had seen pass earlier. Apparently due to the high water level, house boats are the only ones allowed on this part of the river.
After a few kilometers the swift current eased as it entered the lake. Just when I was catching up with the house boat it went in a different direction so I never got to make contact.
A thunderstorm suddenly brewed and Tobin Lake quickly churned up. I stopped briefly at a cabin community before continuing on with an exceptionally rough lake bouncing me about. I could see there was another thunderstorm threatening, not the best when you are 5kms or so from shore.
I rounded the next point just in time and discovered another cabin community. On the beach there were four ladies eating, talking and drinking. I pulled in and they invited me across, and within seconds they were offering food and beer. One of their husbands Don, then came along on his quad bike, to stoke up the fire. Apparently Don and Rene spend the winter in the south of the US and the summer here.
I stopped to shelter from the rough conditions on Nipawin on Tobin Lake
The lake became even more churned up so I decided to sit low for a while and not bother getting back on the water, no sense in trying to kill myself crossing it. I watched on as lots of boats were heading back to a resort on the other side of the lake and saw how they came to a dead halt when they hit the exposed choppy water. Their bows were bouncing pretty high and their speed was severely reduced. I was more than pleased to be enjoying the company, eating and drinking beer.
After a couple of hours the weather cleared up a bit but as I had to cross the lake at that point it wasn’t worth going on, why ruin a good party and with there being fireworks later best to stay then I thought, so I pitched my tent on the beach, got changed and settled in for the night!
Other people around the community were also riding quad bikes, they were very popular as a form of transport. A family from the next cabin were playing horseshoes and they had been at it for hours, even whilst it was raining. The husband of of this family and a good friend of Don, Rene, Valerie, Dianne and Teresa, who were looking after me, had recently died of cancer. He had died within months of being diagnosed. Now his family are keeping up a tradition of throwing horse shoes on Canada Day and playing golf the next day, like they used to. They said he was the best!
More food came out when dinner time arrived, so I didn’t go hungry that night. Cooked meat, prawns, chicken, sausages, salad and more food was brought to the tables. As the night drew on other people came down to the beach. There were two kids playing on a huge stack of driftwood nearby. It looked pretty dangerous to me.
The sons of the guy that had recently died came across with a bottle of Canadian whisky. Every one had a shot including me……..the first time I have had a drink of whisky in 45 years!!!! Although people said that the whisky had a kick, I didn’t think it had that much kick, well not at first.
Teresa was telling me about her husband’s part time job as a bear hunting guide. She also said that they lost a lot of money after the financial crash and her husband had to return to work. Now he’s away for 2-3 months at a time. Her son though has an oil drilling company and is doing very well.
Teresa asked one of the sons who had a two seater quad bike to take me for a ride around the community. The first two minutes were fine, then he threw a wheelie on the main street in front of some friends, before carrying on down the road at high speed. Apparently he was in trouble with the community leader as he had been tearing around the community the day before.
We were soon out of the community grounds on the main track but soon after he drove off the road and onto a track through the scrub. Whilst we bounced over the bumps still travelling at high speed he mentioned the forest on the right was burnt in a bushfire but they were able to save the community because of the retardant spray that had been dropped around the fire edges near the community.
We then hit the road again and accelerated to 100kms in 3 seconds, did a wheelie and then moved onto a bush track. All this and he was steering one handed because the other hand was holding a drink and the drink wasn’t water. At the end of the bush track he braked heavy at the lakes edge, spun around and sped back to the road again. The acceleration on this thing was just amazing. As the wind was blowing through my hair at 100kms an hour, I wondered why I agreed to go for that ride. It was with some relief that we arrived back in the community and in one piece.
I had a fast ride in the quad bike
Back on the beach the ladies said, you survived then. They knew I would be treated to something special and just not a slow ride around the gravel streets. How they must have chuckled when I took off on the quad bike!
More people had gathered at the beach all waiting for dark and the fireworks. Of course dark didn’t come until about 11pm but when it did fireworks began to appear all around the lake. Some were good, others fizzled. The brothers started letting theirs off. My tent was close by so I was hoping the fireworks wouldn’t go astray. A big firework went off down the beach, the ladies commented that that one was from the rich people! Then later our group had some beauties, we were the rich ones now. I don’t know how much fireworks costs but these guys sure had quite a lot of good ones.
Dianne took Valerie home on her quad bike. They were both pretty merry, really to merry to drive and I never found out if they arrived home safely, but I hope they did.
After all the activity it was time to retire. It had been a great interesting day.
Saturday July 2nd
The lake was a little ruffled when I was ready to go. Everyone in the community was still in bed when I left. I soon crossed the lake but then the wind began to pick up but at least, it was from behind me. I moved back over to the left side as it was less distance to go across in the open water. The lake was quiet, only three boats were out which were in one of those small bays.
The closer I got to the dam the windier and rougher the lake became. I asked a man and two lads who were in a boat fishing where the boat ramp was. They pointed the direction. The lake was now really rough with the waves coming from behind. Waves staged their own war dance on my kayak smothering it with water and leaving me to wallow. It was certainly pleasing to get to the boat ramp. There was a man trying to get his boat on his trailer but he didn’t seem to be having any luck. The wind and waves lapping up the ramp didn’t help him.
When he drove off the ramp I pulled in and quickly and got out before the kayak when crashing up the concrete. Once I was ashore the man needed to back his boat back into the water because his boat wasn’t sitting on the trailer properly so he gave me a hand to lift the kayak out of the water fully laden so he could get back in.
When he asked me what I was doing I told him my story and that I have to portage 7kms to the campground and river as the dam was in my way. He promptly offered me a lift, as he was camped at the camp ground near my put in point. I quickly emptied my kayak and then we put the kayak on his boat and the gear in the back of his truck and within minutes we were away trying to escape the biting horse (march) flies. There were just thousands of them. About a dozen followed me across the lake but I didn’t realize I was going to be welcomed by so many others. There were none on one side of the lake, thousands on the other side. Weird! The poor dog was smothered with them and being bitten so he was continually snapping at them. I was told that moose spend a lot of time in the water when the big horse flies are around.
We called in to his camp where his mum and daughter were. His mum prepared salad while Fred cooked some smokies (like a hot dog). Well it was most unexpected and very pleasant to be sitting at a table eating salad, bread and eating smokies and enjoying a cold tea and two cups of coffee. He and his 3 year old daughter were very close which was nice to see.
Enjoying lunch with Fred, his daughter and mum
When we had eaten we left his boat, put the kayak on the back of the truck and I held it whilst going down to the narrow track to the river. We unloaded and we said our goodbyes. What luck to have met Fred at the boat ramp.
I started loading up when a man came down to try his luck at fishing. Many people had towed their boats to the lake but because of the floods the lake is too rough and too dirty for good fishing. The river below the dam was too fast and it was fairly hard to get your boat in so most families were having a non boating weekend.
I was away by 3.00pm heading downstream on a very fast current, if only it stayed like this. There were lots pelicans, cormorants and gulls for the first few kilometers, then there were none. Just downstream there were some very low power lines because the river was so high, with a much lower single line only a couple of meters from the water which was quite dangerous. I ducked under them and thanked my lucky stars that they weren’t any lower or my head may have been left behind!
The current started to ease. A cabin across on the left was underwater, no chance of anyone staying there. Two power boats came whizzing around the corner but there was no chance of stopping them and telling them about the wire, although they may have seen it themselves. Just keep to the edges where it didn’t sag I thought
I got as far as Torch River where I noticed at old cabin. I was intending to go another 15kms to some other cabins but I had no idea if they would be completely underwater so I decided to stop. The grass was high and there wasn’t much high ground, enough though for my tent although the river was still rising, but for now I had enough clearance. There were lots of mosquitoes and as the shack area had a bit of rubbish around it wasnt as pristine as I would have liked. For my evening meal I had the left over chicken that I was given from the previous night’s party.
Most of the cabins were either underwater or about to go under
I got inside the tent as soon as I could, it was my little heaven. I was writing my diary when I heard a splash. I looked out and then saw a big bull moose coming out of the water, like Sean Connery in one of the James Bond movies, except he moose was much bigger and much hairier. It was magic. There were lots of noises in the forest that night but I still slept well.
Sunday 3rd July
I got going quite quickly as there was nothing to hang around for, although the mozzies weren’t quite as bad as the night before. I soon arrived at the other cabins further down the river and luckily most of them were on stilts so the water wasn’t quite up to the floor. In a few days time though they will be under water, which is a shame because it was an outfitters business.
Another set of cabins about to go under
The river started to divide into several smaller channels, but the main one was easy to follow. There was the odd pelican but there were more gulls/terns along the way. I came to another hut but it was at least 1 metre underwater and laying there jammed against the trees was what looked like an expensive Kevlar canoe. I stepped out onto a flooded small jetty to have a break just as an eagle took off from a nearby tree and landed next to the swamped cabin.
Having a pee break on the a rare patch of high ground
The river divided again, this time if wasn’t so obvious to which was the main channel, but the gps worked that one out. When all the channels came together the trees were lost and it turned into reeds and marsh. The birds were chattering away and another cabin used as a business, the Mystik lodge was well underwater as I passed.
More cabins underwater
The wind was very strong in the more open area, which slowed me down. I passed a nice picnic area just before the main community and stopped a little further at the bridge to explore, but apart from the odd car going over the bridge there was little movement.
I moved on and found a boat ramp where I stopped and met two First Nation men. I asked about camping and one suggested going to a good place where there were cabins near a lake. It was 45kms away so it was a big ask as it was late in the afternoon and there was a head wind as well. I kept plugging on, passing other cabins which were under water or about to go underwater. I found a cabin which had a big mirror outside on a bench and I amused myself by taking a picture of myself. The mirror probably cracked when I left!
I finally paddled around a U bend and there the cabins were. The grass around the cabins had very recently been cut which was ideal for me to camp on. There were lots of mosquitoes, lots of birds chattering and a beaver cruising along the banks and slapping its tale. The lake behind the cabins was high and the water was getting awfully close to them.
Lucky to find a good campsite
I called the shop on the satellite phone but I lost contact three times. I went out of the tent later to go for a pee and to bring my dry clothes in just in case it rained and it didn’t just rain in the night it poured and nearly blew the tent down.
Lots of mosquitoes got into the tent when I went out so I spent the next 20 minutes trying to kill them all. With the storm going on and the mosquitoes trying to eat me alive I didn’t sleep too well.
Monday 4th July
I needed to go to the toilet but because I wanted to pack up everything in the tent first, I tried to hang on, but the need to go won out! Pasta, nuts and cereal seemed to be a good combination to ensure I go to the toilet first thing. I quickly found a spot and just as I dropped my pants, a snake slither away but I was now too desperate to slither any further myself so this spot had to do. It wasn’t until recently that I had found out that Canada had snakes.
It was sunny but windy and the wind was in my face most of the time. The kilometers dragged on and I didn’t seem to be going as fast as I usually go. I came across several cabins which were underwater, although some looked as if they needed to be demolished, as they weren’t in particularly good condition.
It was one of those days where I kept nodding off and in an effort to stay awake, I put my iPod on. This seems to keep me awake especially when one song came on that I didn’t like.
I was thinking that I would reach the town The Pas by 3.00pm but it was 5.00pm by the time I finally reached the flooded park. Leading up to the town centre there were lots of houses lining the river all with good boat access and places to camp. When I reached the park a First Nation man was looking at the rising waters. I talked to him and he said he would come back later to see if I was all right. He said the water was in his blood and he needed to be part of it so he came to the rivers edge at every opportunity. When he left I changed into more respetable clothing and went to do some grocery shopping at a supermarket a few hundred metres away.
Arriving at the town of The Pas
When I returned to my kayak another man was looking at the river. We got chatting and then his wife got out of the car and asked me where I was camping, I said I was camping right here, then she said you’re most welcome to go back to their place. As the campground nearby was closed, and the alternative was to camp in the local park, their home sounded a much better idea.
We threw my gear in the back of their car and put the kayak on the roof rack and we were away. As we were crossing a rail line a train was shunting back and forth. The rail goes out to Churchill, Hudson Bay. I always wondered why they would have a train line to nowhere, but Malcolm said they export grain from Churchill on Hudson Bay. With the train shutting back and forth Ina decided to take another route.
They had a lovely home. I had my own bedroom and bathroom. We had a beer and a great salad dinner. Malcolm and Ina were top people and it was my good fortune that I met them.
Malcolm and Ina made me very welcome
Tuesday July 5th
I had a late night as I was up until 1.30am sending emails. There is an hour time change between Alberta and Manitoba so instead it only being 8.00am it was 9.00am instead!
Malcolm cooked up a fried breakfast and soon after, I started doing my washing and cleaning. Ina came back home for a salad lunch and then she drove us into town to get some maps. Malcolm doesn’t drive because he recently became a diabetic and lost part of his eye sight.
Tomorrow I had a big 120 km paddle to get to the end of the Saskatchewan River and reach Cedar Lake. Because of the high river I didn’t expect any landing spots until I got out into the lake and then I didn’t really know what to expect as the lake was several feet above normal.
Ina and Malcolm, like all Canadians so far made me feel very welcome. Malcolm is a retired Royal Mounted Policeman and Ida is a teacher/school librarian. Tess is one of the best behaved dogs I have ever come across.
I got the maps from a camping store and then checked out a Rogers store to see why my phone wouldn’t work. Apparently I was on a ‘green plan’ which didn’t cover this particular area. So I had to buy another cell phone which would work here. So now, I have two pre-paid Canadian mobiles, an Australian mobile, a satellite phone, an Epirb, a Spot Locator, so if things go wrong I should have an electronic device to get help.
We walked home from town and I continued getting things ready to leave in the morning. We had steak, baked potatoes, asparagus, beer and wine for dinner. I sent more emails, I kept packing and was in bed by 12.45am, which was another late night for me
Wednesday 6th July
I was up at 6.30am for an eggs and bacon breakfast though I wasn’t overly hungry; I had eaten too well yesterday. Malcolm and Ina had made me so welcome and I didn’t really want to leave but I knew I just had to keep on the move or I would never get to my goal.
After several hard days paddling I was feeling a twinge in my forearm and with some hard days coming up I wondered if I would be pushing my body too hard. Now I’m 60 I have to acknowledge that I just might not be as good as I used to be, my body may be telling me something. I momentarily wondered if I should rest another day but my body hasn’t let me down so far, so why should it now.
It was a sad moment being dropped off at the river by Ina and Malcolm. When you meet extremely nice people it’s hard to leave them, hopefully one day we will meet again. A First Nation man drew up in his car and was interested in what I was doing. He said he was brought up at Pine Bluff, which was a place with a few cabins on and the only real high spot on the river downstream. He loved it down there. Pine Bluff was situated 15kms from the end of the river which was just in the right place for me to camp.
I had been concerned about this section as everything is underwater and with it being the last part of the river in a low area, I was planning to go out into the lake and find an island with a camping spot. That would mean I would have to paddle over 120kms which was a little further than I really wanted to paddle. I packed slowly with the knowledge that now with Pine Bluff I shouldn’t get caught on the river without a suitable camp site. I was off by 8.55am.
A train was going over the rail bridge whilst I was underneath it. The familiar sound of their horn echoed loudly. I smiled to myself – yes of course I’m in North America.
The river had only come up slightly in the night so it gave residents in low lying areas a little more time to get ready for higher water. The town had already been given a new levy bank in places and they were still working on one at the lower lying area downstream of the town. Some houses though were outside the levy bank so they were being sandbagged instead.
The river about to burst its banks. A wall of sandbags help protect the house
A large convoy of big trucks were busy carting dirt and a grader and a dozer were working on the levy building them up and getting them level. Further downstream all the cabins except for the odd one were underwater. I found one with a mirror on the outside. So that’s what a scruffy 60 year old looks like. I took a picture of myself to remind me later.
A new levy bank has been built to protect the town
Mirror, mirror on the wall
I munched on jerky, nuts, muesli bars, an apple and bananas and after paddling about 90kms I arrived at Pine Bluff cabins at 5.00pm. And just like the man said, it was sitting on really high ground and there was no way these cabins would be flooded. The grass was cut around the cabins and there were few mosquitoes, but several rabbits. I suppose many of the ground animals would be fleeing for their lives if not already been caught by the flood waters.
The day was hot when I camped, so there was no need for many clothes though down by the river the breeze was quite strong. I had plenty of time to relax and reflect on the days gone by before the sun went down at 9.20pm.
My last camp on the Saskatchewan River
With there being only 15kms until the end of the lake, this was my last night on the river. Like all of my trips, I seem to look forward to finishing each goal set but when I get there, I always have some sense of sadness. From now on I wouldn’t get any current assistance if fact at times I may not be moving fast at all as I fight windy lakes and the current as I paddle upstream on the Winnipeg River. The easy days of doing over 100kms a day have gone.
Next stage across Cedar Lake, Lake Winnipeg and up the Winnipeg River to Kenora.
Go to Stage 2