My solo trip this summer was going to be Wallace Lake to Lake Winnipeg via the Pigeon River, but as usual, I got sidetracked, and ended up going down the Leyond River instead. I decided after some soul searching that for me, the Pigeon River is not a solo river, and when I do it, it will be with a group (maybe next year?)
I was dropped off at Birch Falls on the Wanipigo River by my brother and found the water level to be excellent. The Broadleaf River too had great levels with all of the beaver dams’ easy pullovers.
On Leaf Lake, I met up with 2 canoes with 5 guys looking for a place to camp. I told them there were 2 spots on the lake, 1 on the island, and 1 around the bend. They took the Island, and I took the other (one of my favorite spots of all time).
The next day I headed out just before sunrise and when I got back on the river, 2 young moose ran across just in front of my canoe. I didn’t see the momma, but I doubt she was far behind. That was the last time I saw large wildlife till I got on the Leyond River.
On the Aikins Lake portage which is around 2500 paces, I realized I made a mistake in bringing my wood yoke instead of my padded aluminium one. Next time I’ll know better. I camped on Aikins Lake at another favourite spot, near where it runs into the Gammon River, and the next day, took a picture of the pictograph at the start of the river.
I made it to the next lake (I don’t know the name). There is a wilderness lodge on it, but it was vacant, so I camped in the front yard. I was sitting on the picnic table having a coffee, and a flock of young ruffed grouse suddenly appeared. They wandered around totally oblivious to me, under the table, and around my feet looking for stuff to eat. It was pretty cute.
The next day, I got to the forks of the Gammon and Bloodvein rivers, and camped there for the night. I used the double blade paddle pretty much exclusively on this trip, as I found it to be easier on my bad shoulder and wrist (it’s an age thing). With the double blade, I can fly along pretty quick, so I was covering quite a few km’s in a day. Besides which, I would forget to stop for lunch, and wouldn’t think about supper till it started to get dusk and I was looking for a camp spot.
My meals are pretty simple, as I’m not much fond of cooking. Last winter, I took about 15lb of venison, and made a stew. I dried it, and put it through the meat grinder, and turned it into what looks like sawdust. At dinner time, I would make KD, or soup and put in a couple of scoops of “sawdust” to thicken it up, and it wasn’t half bad. It was quick and easy to clean up afterwards, as I don’t use any oil or grease when I cook while tripping.
The next day took me to the far end of Kautunigan Lake, with a stop along the way at the Stagger Inn to sign the guest book. That was a long paddle, but the long stretch from the last rapids to the camp spot at the North end of Kautunigan Lake (another favourite spot) saw me with a delightful 20k breeze at my back for most of the way. It was almost dark when I got there tired and hungry, but there were lots of pinecones (fuel for my sierra stove), so it wasn’t long before I felt human again.
From there I went up the Sasaginnigak River to the lake. At the rapids before the lake was a flock of pelicans that let me get fairly close before they took to the air.
I stopped in at the Lodge on Sasaginnigak Lake to borrow the Sat. Phone to call home to tell of my amended trip plan. The folks there remembered me from last year, and we had a nice chat. It turns out I used to work with the guy who runs the lodge, back in the 60’s in a small factory in Winnipeg. That was kind of fun to reminisce about. The antenna on the Sat. Phone was cracked, so when I phoned home, about the only words they heard were Leyond River. The rest was mostly static.
The creek off the north end of the east arm of the lake had been causing me some concern, as I had never traveled it and it looked very narrow on the map. My concerns were unfounded, as except for the rapids at the start and finish, there was nothing to ”impede my forward progression”. It was an easy paddle. The rapids at the top of the creek were quite pretty, and the lake that it flowed from was really pretty. There was a lodge on the lake and I stopped to chat with a couple of guys fishing.
I made it over the portage to the next lake, and set up camp. It was a beautiful little lake, deserted save for me and in retrospect; I should have stayed there an extra day just to enjoy it.
The next 2 lakes were also gems and if I had the time someday, I would like to spend a week there, just because.
The last lake that flows into the Leyond had portage that might be a bit of a challenge in a wet year. The first half was pretty good, but the second half was on low ground almost at lake level. The trail was more like a muskrat run, and I ended up mostly hopping from side to side, as it was an ankle buster to walk down the middle. I think it would be a bit difficult to find if you were coming from the other way. It starts in a clump of willows, about midway between the shores of the lake.
When I got close to the river, I saw there was a lodge on the lake, but no-one was home. I saw that the door was wide open, so I tied up to the dock to go up and close it . As I was tying up, I thought it sounded like there was an inordinate amount of horseflies buzzing around, but found out a few seconds later that they weren’t horseflies, as a really pissed off yellow jacket zeroed in on my left eyelid, and made his presence known. Boy did it ever hurt. I guess it’s a good thing I blinked, or he’d have got me in the eyeball. There was a nest under the corner of the dock, and the wasps were taking umbrage at my movement, as it was probably close to the water.
I quickly pulled my bug net over my head, and ran up to the lodge. There were no animals inside, so after leaving a message on the table, I shut the door, and gingerly untied my canoe and moved it to a spot on the shore to have lunch. I was just finishing up, when a plane landed and pulled up to the dock the pilot jumped out as it was drifting past, and was tying it up. I said “you might want to watch out for the wasps on the corner of the dock”. He looked at me “Huh?-whoa shut the door” he yelled at the woman in the plane. She slammed it just as they began milling around the plane. He ran up the path to the lodge and I followed him up and explained what had happened. He said there was a group coming the next day and he was cleaning up and turning on the propane for them.
I took my leave, and about twenty minutes later, heard the plane take off. I guess he was going to get some bug killer, because I heard it come back later in the day.
There was an old log trapper’s cabin at the start of the river, and I went to have a look. Inside, it was really spooky. There was a pile of fake flowers (the kind they use at gravesites in the wintertime) all over the bed. I was half expecting to see a body underneath them, and beat a hasty retreat.-not the kind of thing I wanted to be involved in at that time-.
On to the Leyond! I was somewhat disappointed the first 2 days, as I found myself poling through the rice, and at one point had to get out and pull the canoe through the weeds. Luckily it was a sandy bottom at that spot. The river became more navigable after that, and my disappointment waned as the scenery unfolded.
The Leyond River is what I would call an intimate river. I don’t think it would work with more than 2 people at a time. The banks are close and the portages are easy.
I was paddling along one warm sunny afternoon, and a rather large bull moose was sitting in the water by the shore. He gave me that “aw crap now I gotta move” look, and slowly got up and wandered into the bush. Another day, a cow and a calf swam ahead of me for about 20 minutes before I finally lost sight of them. The best was a cow moose standing in the water about 5 meters away giving me that slack jawed look as only teenagers and bovines can. “Hi gorgeous” I said as I paddled past. She just stood there staring.
I chased a family of otters for about 5 minutes till we got to a rapids then they disappeared. I saw a couple of swans at one rapids. One flew away, but the other pretended I couldn’t see her as she hid behind a rock.
There were a couple of rapids that I could run, but the boat took a bit of a beating thumping over the rocks on the way down. The high water year 2 summers ago would have been a good year and lots of the rapids could have been run.
There are some spectacular trees along the way, and it must be a long time since there was a fire along most of the river. Hap Wilson wasn’t kidding when he says “huge white spruce”. They are absolutely awe inspiring.
I came to one spot with high banks, and it looked like a large clearing up top. I climbed up, and there were acres of very flat rock. It looked like a huge cement parking lot but without the lines painted.
At length I came out onto the Bloodvein river (it’s becoming a very familiar river to me). I was going to camp at the rapids there, but after a wash and a meal, I felt like paddling some more, so I left and paddled till dusk. That night there was an awesome thunderstorm. I just made it into my tent as the rain started. The lightning would flash and 3 seconds later the thunder would pound. I really enjoyed that.
The next day, I was beating down the river trying to get to Bloodvein in time to catch the ferry, when I saw a curious sight. From far away, it looked like 4 storks doing some kind or ritual dance high up on the shore. The bodies were white, and their legs were spindly and darker. I was really scratching my head, until I got closer. It was 4 guys in white bug shirts bobbing up and down, breaking camp. I felt a little silly. I asked them if the ferry was running tomorrow (Saturday) “we’re hoping so” they replied. I kind of had a feeling that they would be out of luck. “If you hurry, you can make it, it comes at 11am” I said. I told them if they missed it, William, who owns the lodge just before the town, would run them across in his boat for around $100.00.
Besides the group of paddlers on Leaf Lake, this was the only other group I saw on the whole trip. I made it to the town just as the ferry pulled into the bay. It tied up for no more than 10 minutes, and we were on our way. On the other side, a guy came up to me and said “I see you got there in time “I gave him a blank look, and he said he was with the group I saw earlier breaking camp. They just missed the ferry, and got a ride across in a fishing boat. They were from Austria and had been on the river for 10 days.
I paddled down Lake Winnipeg till I got to Pine dock, and called home for someone to come and pick me up.