Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Thanksgiving in June

Google Earth view of the route, 62 km's.

Thanksgiving in June, what a great idea! The weather is good, the water is warm and the fish are biting better. Actually, due to snow and cold temperatures last October we decided to postpone our plans to spend Thanksgiving in the wilds of northern Saskatchewan.

I had heard many things about the Weaver River, some of them good and some not so good and as it turned out all the stories were true all except the rumored clouds of bugs. The start of the Weaver River is not a river at all, it is actually a small, nondescript, pond on the side of the road. A bit of water that you would miss if you blinked. A small dirt track from the road to the water’s edge was our starting point and after a long day of driving it was nice to finally be near the water. By the time we had arranged the shuttle, leaving both of our vehicles at the Devil’s Lake campground, the evening was growing late but with the spring equinox just a couple of days away we had plenty of light to load up our boats and paddle the short 400 meters to the first (of many) portages and our first campsite. We opted to carry our canoes across the portage that night in an effort to get a head start on a day that would turn out to be the longest and toughest day that many in the group had faced to date.

The following morning was clear, calm and warm it would have been the perfect day for paddling but paddling was not on the agenda for day two. Eleven hours, 13 portages and 17 km’s sums up day two. The group started the day with an early start, being on the water by 8:30 am and after a short paddle we found ourselves wading in the shallows to a short, grassy, pull over (portage #1). The boats acquired a few new scratches but everyone was upbeat and ready to carry on. The approach to the next portage (portage #3) wasn’t quite so straight forward. A narrow channel through a mat of floating vegetation was the approach to the portage. The channel was too narrow to paddle in so we had to walk our canoes while standing on the floating vegetation, which at times wasn’t enough to hold the weight of the paddler and we would sink up to our hips in stinky, mucky water. As the day wore on we began the wonder if we were on a canoe trip or a portaging trip. After 6 hours of traveling we had only gone 5 km’s! We came to a pond that simply ran out of water, a beaver dam must have let go because, at best there was a mere 5 inches of water sitting on top of stinky mud that was more than knee deep. Dave and I briefly looked for a better, more dry, route but in the end we decided that pushing and pulling our loaded canoes through the mud would be easier than trying to portage through the maze of dead fall that lined the shore.

Surprisingly spirits were high until the tenth portage which happened to be a particularly long one, but for the most part, in fairly good shape. At this point people were getting tired but we still had many km’s to go until we would reach Laroque Lake and the first decent campsite. After 3 more portages we had finally arrived on LaRoque Lake. Everyone was exhausted and after quickly setting up camp, cooking a quick supper and hitting the lake for a quick bath, most of the crew went to bed. There would be many hours of solid ZZZZZ’s coming from the tents. Karl and I stayed up and endured the mosquitoes to set up our fishing rods and get in a couple of casts.

Thanksgiving in the woods is always a treat but Thanksgiving in June can be fantastic! On the menu this year was stuffed turkey breasts, wrapped in bacon and seasoned with a pepper medley, wild rice, stir fry and of course for dessert pumpkin pie and chocolate cake. The weather as we pulled into our campsite was beginning to deteriorate with the odd rain drop but what really made us nervous was the large and dark thunder clouds that were approaching from the west. We managed to set up camp and settle in for the evening before any significant rain came down. We managed to stay dry under a couple of tarps and between showers the sun would come out to dry everything just in time for another light shower.

The 18th portage brought us to the bottom of Cark Falls and onto the Churchill River. We had spent all that day in smoke and to the east it could be seen rising from the forest. My guess is that the storms that passed through the night before had started the fire. No sooner had we made the crossing of Hayman lake, a large water bomber started to circle a long open stretch of the lake, checking to see if the water was free of obstructions like a floatilla of canoes. Once the pilot was satisfied he made one last circle to set up for his approach. As the plane touched the water the pilot would fully open the throttle as the plane glided across the water filling to capacity. We watched for a half hour as the plane made big circles picking up water, dumping it then circling low over our campsite. As is customary on our Thanksgiving trips Valery brought his sauna and after super everyone enjoyed repeated hot steams and soaks in the lake.

The following day was our last day on the water and we took our time as we paddled the final few kilometers to the vehicles. As we passed Sluice falls, Corner Rapids, Coke Stop we noticed many insects in their nymph stage crawling out of the water. Apparently we had time the trip just right to coincide with the morphing of millions of dragon flies. It was amazing to watch an alien looking creature surface from the water, slowly clamor its way up onto the rocks and, in the warm June sun, from a split in its back as brilliant green dragon fly would emerge. After its wings unfolded and dried it was ready to take flight and become the mosquito eating machines that we appreciate so much.

Mother nature has an odd sense of humor for after the 21st portage and only a short paddle across Devils Lake the wind came up and the skies opened up. It rained so hard that at times the boats ahead of me were lost in the spray that was coming up, off of the lake. All that could be seen was two people floating above the water and by the time we arrived at the dock it had quit raining all together and I think the sun actually came out briefly.

Karl at the beginning of the trip, he doesn't know what he is in for.

Up to our knees on the approach to one of the portages.

The large rock on the far shore is the end of the previous portage. We thought we were on a portage trip rather than a canoe trip.

Some times we just ran out of water.

Pulling over a beaver dam.

Karl is catching flies.

Lilly pad from under water.

Our first campsite.

There were some interesting fashion statements made.

Every day the lakes were like glass.

No portage around this rapid and too shallow to run.

Karl watching the water bomber fill up.

With a view like this it's hard to take a bad photo.

Dragon fly busting out of the nymph stage.


Cathy said...

Thanks for the wonderful trip Mark! Even with the portages, I had a great time. :) It couldn't have been nicer.


Anonymous said...

I loved the trip - great fun and some challenges, and a wonderful group of people and magnificent scenery.


Pawistik said...

That's a pretty neat photo of the dragonfly emerging. Hard to believe that it will inflate those nubs of wings to full-size over the next hour or so.