Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Solo Expedition 2006 Sandfly Lake to Frog Portage

On calm and clear evenings, I enjoyed spending all evening cooking various dishes over the open fire. After a feed of fish I'd cook an apple crisp or possibly a mango crisp. Then I'd stoke the fire once more to bake a loaf of bannock.

Some of the campsites were very small and had a limited amount of level ground to set up the tent. At this particular site there was just enough of a grassy spot to set the tent. As I was lying in my sleeping bag, I could hear something rustling under the tent. I grabbed my headlamp and sat up to see a small lump under the floor of the tent moving. I'm not sure what exactly it was but a light smack sent it scurrying away not to return.

Campsite on Kavanugh Lake

One month earlier, in June, large forest fires ragged through the east end of Black Bear Island Lake and the west shore of Trout Lake. Great tracts of the forest were burnt. As I paddled close to shore and smelled the charred remains of once lush green trees, I could only imagine what it would have been like to live off the land and to have your cabin and your livelihood in danger of going up in smoke. This is exactly the story that a long time trapper in the area told me. He told me a great tale of how he had single handedly fought the fires back and how he had triumphed.

East Shore of Black Bear Island Lake

I had traveled through the Rock Trout area twice in the past with other groups. Both of those times, there were many people around, not only the group I was with, but also other groups passing through. This time, however, the land felt very lonely. There were many camp sites spread out on the level rocks but none were occupied. The only sounds were the constant roar of the rapids that I slept next to.

Throughout the trip I kept in touch via satellite phone with CBC radio, I was glad to have the chance to talk to someone even if it was only for 5 minutes and they were hundreds of miles away. The host on the noon edition asked the usual questions about loneliness and fear but I also had the opportunity to tell the listeners about some of the great places we have in northern Saskatchewan.

On the phone with CBC Radio next to Rock Trout Falls

Missinipe was to be my re-supply point, rest stop and a place to get cleaned up. After bathing in cold lakes and rivers for over month, a hot shower felt great! I met up with Jo Ann Johnston who had done me a big favor by bringing my food boxes to Missinipe. It was nice to see a familiar face again.

Along the way, I met some of the nicest people, locals as well as other canoeists. They continually invited me to sit with them around their campfires, if we happened to camp at the same location. One such group was Cliff Kienlen's group, which was staying at Robertson Falls. Jens and Sybille van Vliet, from France and Duane Stroeder, from Calgary made up the rest of his group. Because of rain no one felt like traveling so we spent a day and a half together sharing stories and having a good laugh.

Even though this trip was to be a solo endeavor it was nice to have people to visit with now and then. Inevitably, I had to be on my way again and loneliness would slowly creep in again. But I would take with me good memories.

Cliff Kienlen's group in the rain at Roberston Falls.

After leaving Robertson Falls, I stopped at Twin Falls Lodge and spoke to the owner. He told me that there were large bits of land that had burnt around Stanley Mission. He also told me that the lake level had risen two inches from the rain the day before.

Nearing Little Stanley Rapids, I ran into a father and daughter on the water in their canoe. As usual, I was questioning them about the rapids ahead (Little Stanley Rapids). The water was high this year, which completely changes the rapids. The father said that is was a bit pushy and that they had ran it once or twice and got worked over. When I got there, I watched a group of not-so-experienced paddlers run it. I really didn't feel like portaging, and I was planning on staying at the bottom of the rapid for the night, so I ran it loaded with no troubles at all.

The sunset over Little Stanley was one of the best I had seen in a while.

Sunset over Little Stanley Rapids

Portaging, the pain in every canoeists neck, literally and figuratively. To tell the truth I enjoy portaging. As canoeists we pass through the land and see it from water level, but it's nice to get out of the boat and get up close to the trees and possibly see something you would have otherwise missed. Like a pair of three toed woodpeckers working their way up an old spruce looking for grubs.

On every trip there comes a time when I realize that I am truly enjoying myself, and that I'm at ease with everything. That time usually comes at the end of a long portage, after having hauled all my gear in the rain.

While portaging my canoe around Grand Rapids the carrying yolk broke and the boat fell to my head. It didn't feel good! I spent the next half hour searching for a suitable tree branch and used the rest of my duct tape to securely brace the yolk. I only hoped it would hold for the rest of the trip.

To haul all my gear across I had to make about 4 trips for each portage

Frog portage is an important historic site. It is here that a small bit of land only a few hundred meters across separates two major watersheds. The Churchill River and the Sturgeon-weir River. It got it's name from an event which took place years ago. When the Cree entered the land, they had great contempt for local natives. They thought the locals couldn't prepare beaver skins and, as a sign of their dislike, they stretched a frog skin an hung it on a post.

For weeks I had a reoccurring dream of rain flooding my campsite and tent. At Frog Portage that dream came true. That night there was a terrible thunder and electrical storm. It produced a lot of rain and soaked the ground I was camped on. In the morning could hear the water squishing around under the tent. It rained so much that the lake level rose two inches over night!

Too bad about the vandalism on the monument

To be continued

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