Monday, April 4, 2011

Solo Expedition 2006 Ile a la Crosse to Sandfly Lake

Map, Ile a la crosse to Sandfly Lake

Good camping sites are limited on Ile a la Crosse Lake; they are few and far between. I had just paddled over 40 kms into a strong head wind and arrived at a small island near Sandy Point. I was extremely exhausted and could hardly stand. On the island was a beautiful, level, manicured lawn which would have made a great place to spend the night. The only problem was a mangy dog, which inhabits the island, looked like he would have bit a chunk out of my leg the minute my back was turned. I opted not to become puppy chow and moved on to sandy point.

The next day, leaving Sandy Point was not a smart thing to do. There were gale force winds coming down the lake from the north. I paddled hard and only made 4 km's before I decided it wasn't worth busting my ass. I was lucky to come across a long sandy beach, which I set up camp at the edge of the trees. I was stuck there for the day and spent my time walking along the beach and snacking on gingersnap cookies.

Wind bound on Ile a la crosse

The waves on Lac Ile a la Crosse were large again, only this time they were in my favor. I was able to ride white-capped waves half way up the lake to an island, which sports the same name, Halfway Lake. This island marks the unofficial boundary between the fishing territories of the Dene and Cree. There happened to be a native summer cabin that I stayed in for the night rather than be battered by the wind in my tent. I stayed comfortable while the wind blew outside. There was a table and a few cots, which had mouse droppings on them. After doing my map work, I lifted the musty smelling mattress and dumped the droppings onto the floor, set out my sleeping bag on the mattress and fell into a deep sleep. Some time in the night, I could hear mice scurrying around the cabin, even on the bed with me.

In the spring the locals move to their cabins to fish, then abandon them for the summer. This cabin was on Half Way Island. Ile a la Crosse Lake

The first sign that you are entering the Boreal Shield is at Deer Rapids. Here you will find the first bit of granite on the upper Churchill River. After so many less than suitable campsites, I decided to stop early on this day and camp on the rocks. It was a warm and sunny day, which was exactly what I needed. All my batteries were running low and the sun would provide all the energy I needed to charge them using my solar panel.

Now I'm not sure, but in my opinion the locals have lost touch with the river. Sure they use the rivers as their roads, but along my travels, I've asked locals for information on the river ahead. The most common response I received was "you better portage, stay away from the rapids, those waves are too big". They may have been trying to get a rise out of me or maybe they were being serious but when I arrived at said rapids, I found them to be very tame. Possibly having given up canoes for modern fishing boats with outboard motors, they have lost the intimate knowledge of the water they once had.

Before leaving in the morning, I was able to catch a wave and do some surfing with my loaded canoe.


The first granite on the the Churchill River, Deer Rapids

Bear signs! There were way too many bear signs along the portage trail bypassing Crooked Rapids. I had thought about camping at one end of the trail but after walking the trail and seeing all the piles of scat, over turned logs and boulders, I decided there was no way I was going to spend the night there alone! And to top it off, the mosquitoes were horrible!

Crooked rapids are really a set of three separate rapids. The first is easily run without scouting. The guidebooks say that the second set is runnable down river center, between a small island on the right and large waves on the left. Yeah right! With this years high water levels, the large waves were monstrous! There was no way I was going any where near them. I opted to run down river left scouting as I went. The route I picked was a good clean run with a few large boulders to dodge. Just missing the monstrous waves by a matter of feet, I eddied out behind a bunch of willows to get a good look at the wave.

The force of the water and vastness of the wilderness was truly humbling and left me feeling like an insignificant speck in the great scheme of things.

Monstrous waves in Crooked Rapids. Missed this one by a matter of feet.

Here the Churchill River takes on a whole different feel and flattens out again into a wide, marshy valley. I stopped at a number of places in search of a place to camp. The hillside was covered with big juicy blue berries making it a good year for the bears. All the berries were early and there were lots of them. I spent a lot of time picking and eating Saskatoon Berries, Goose Berries, Raspberries, Strawberries, Lingon berries and Blueberries. I had blueberries in my hot cereal, in pancakes, with bannock, as blueberry crisp, reduced as a spread, and of course fresh by the hand full.

The days had become hot and the head seemed to radiate from everything, rocks, trees, soil

I hadn't seen or spoken to another person for over a week so when I got to a small boat launch near the outflow of Sandy Lake and met three men and one boy, I had a tough time keeping up with the conversation. The four of them reminded me of a bunch of hillbillies on vacation. They chattered back and forth with each other and fired off question after question at me. Now I'm not sure if it was because I had just spent so much time alone or if that was the way they always talked, but there was no way I could hold up my end of the conversation. Luckily they were camped at a different camp ground, so after they wandered off, I was left to my own devices again. The day was well over 30 degrees C with little shade to take refuge in. The designated camp sites were 100 meters up a hill, I was the only person in the recreation site and had my pick of sites but I couldn't bear to be that far from the water, so I decided to pitch camp in the parking lot only feet from the water's edge.

During long journeys on the water you become dependent on the water. It becomes your constant companion and your worst enemy. You long for it when you are apart and depend on it for your very survival. Later, when I returned home after the trip, I felt as though something was missing within me, I would feel empty. I had accomplished my goal and completed the journey, what was missing was the water and the forest. I missed them terribly.

A fantastic sunset over Sandy Lake

Entering Sandfly Lake, I met a small group of people from Pine House Lake, just out for a day cruise. As I paddled by them, a man called out to me. He asked, "where's your real boat"? He couldn't grasp the idea that I was traveling by canoe.

Sandfly Lake has long been in the back of my mind as a place to explore. The many rocky islands provide great fishing and there's also Alexander Mackenzie's Bear. When Mackenzie was passing through, he paused long enough to take note of a large boulder, perched alone, which is in the form of a black bear's head. In the past, sacrifices were offered here, but when I passed through, there were none. It was a great place to stop for lunch.

In the past, a bears face was painted on the bolder but there was no visible sign that it had been painted. Sandfly Lake

1 comment:

michael- said...

that looks like so much fun man...

Very cool site you got here.