Sunday, March 20, 2011

Lac La Loche to Lac Ile-a-la-Crosse

Right now we've had a small relapse back into winter but it can't last long so my thoughts turn to canoeing. To help things along I've decided to post about my 2006 solo expedition. In 2006 I paddled solo across Saskatchewan from La Loche to Cumberland House. The trip was 1000 km's and took me 50 days. I'll post the trip in segments. What follows is actually taken from my previous website which is no longer published. Hope you enjoy.

Happy paddling

Solo Expedition 2006

There was no fanfare, no cheering crowds, only a couple of friends standing on a small gravel beach waving as I paddled into the distance. We had driven to Buffalo Narrows the day before and were able to enjoy the Canada Day fireworks through the screen door of our tent.

After finding a small beach, a couple of friends helped me unload my jeep, creating a large pile of gear on the sand. In my haste in preparing for the journey, I hadn't test packed the canoe with all the gear. I was sure my 16 foot prospector would hold it all but finding the proper placement was a challenge.

It was a surreal feeling as I paddled along the shore of La Loche Lake. It seemed like I was just out for an afternoon paddle or maybe for a weekend like I've done many times in the past.

I had no idea what was in store for me.

Leaving La Loche, Lac La Loche

The confluence of the La Loche River and the Kimowin River is an interesting place. The La Loche comes in on the left and the Kimowin on the right. The area is full of waterfowl. On the point of land at the confluence stands a trappers cabin. I had planned on camping at this point, not realizing that there was a cabin there. No one was home so I set up camp in the front yard. On the front porch, there were two chairs cut from large logs. On one of the chairs was a note from a German couple who had stayed in the same spot two weeks earlier. As it turned out, I would almost catch up with them by the end of the trip, They were paddling the same route as me. In many places I could tell that they had used the same campsites that I was using by the small stone fire pits that they built to cook their meals on. By the time I got to Amisk Lake I was only 2 days behind them. Forest fires were a huge concern for the first week and a half of the trip. The smoke hung in the air so thick that it blocked out the sun and stung my lungs. I even tried calling the RCMP for an update on the fire situation but the satellite phone couldn't get a strong signal.

The confluence of the La Loche River and the Kimowin River. Smoke from forest fires was so thick it stung my throat and caused my lungs to ache.

Big Buffalo Lake (Peter Pond Lake) is a huge lake. From the north end where you enter the lake to the narrows half way down, the lake is an unbroken stretch of water spanning 58 km. As I entered the lake, I attempted to please the spirit of Big Buffalo by tossing a spruce bough into the water and saying the words "Shake hands, Big Buffalo". This old tradition seemed to have worked and I was allowed safe passage.

The shoreline on the north west part of the lake is typically sandy and unobstructed. After a half day of paddling you can still see where you had camped the night before.

Alone, I felt like a castaway stranded on some tropical beach.

Typical campsite on Peter Pond Lake.

While on the water I could see thunderheads beginning to form. As time progressed they just kept getting larger and larger. When I noticed the clouds were starting to turn shades of green I knew it was time to get off the water, quick! I had been told that a green sky means trouble. No sooner had I set up the tarp, the skies opened up. The winds came up and blew everything around. It poured rain and hailed hard! I set my kettle at the end of tarp to collect the rain and hail to cook supper with. After the storm had passed, I came out from under my tarp to survey the damage. Walking down to the beach I noticed that my boat wasn't where I had left it. The wind had gripped it and tried to toss it away! It was turned right side up and flung to the end of the rope. If I hadn't tied it to a bush, I would have lost it!

Round two of the storm came a short while later. Sitting in my tent, I could only tremble with fear as the thunder rumbled the ground and lightning lit up the sky. I was terrified of forest fires. Just a week before I started my journey, a storm in this same area started 55 new fires overnight. I later learned that there was a fire burning just 10 km south of my location.

58 Km's of open water, with no islands to slow the wind, Peter Pond Lack can get pretty rough.

Rain fell from the sky like liquid bullets. Thick smoke filled the air and stung my lungs; smoke so thick it blocked out the sun, and the approaching storm. Three foot rolling waves pounded my swamped canoe and all I could do was sit, soaked and shivering, only a foot from the ragging water, with my head down trying will the storm to pass. Bolts of lightning ripped the sky while cracks of thunder shook the ground. Thoroughly dejected, thoughts of quitting the trip filled my head and I was disappointed with myself. I knew quitting was not an option but I still entertained the thought.

As the storm approached from the north, the waves rolled in from the south. I knew the worst of the storm had passed because the waves had changed direction and were now rolling south, with the storm. I was desperate to get off the small stony beach, which measured only 8 by 2 feet, so I bailed out the swamped canoe and headed out onto the water. I can't say it was the best decision I've ever made but there just wasn't a clearing large enough to sit in let alone set up a camp for the night. I had to find suitable shelter so I pushed on.

2006 was one of the worst years for forest fires. Peter Pond Lake

All day long, as I traveled, I could hear a low humming coming from the forest. Mosquitoes of epic numbers! I had never seen mosquitoes that bad in my entire life! Even the locals said it was the worst they had seen in along time. This section of the fur trade route passes through low marshy land, perfect for bloodthirsty insects to breed. Even wearing bug repellent, long pants, a long sleeve shirt and a bug jacket wasn't enough to keep them at bay. My daily routine consisted of paddling all day. When I stopped for the evening, I'd set up camp, eat supper and retire to my tent for the duration of the evening. Even a sweltering tent in 30 degree C temperatures was better than being eaten alive. At night the bugs could be heard pinging off the inside of the fly of my tent.

The shoreline for the first couple of weeks was low, wet and lined with willows. If a person wanted to stop or had to for some reason, there just wasn't any place to pull ashore. I ate many meals in my canoe floating on the water.

A typical shore line along the MacBeth Channel. Lac Ile-a-la-crosse

To be continued