In August last year we paddled a section of the Grass River with our friends Joan & Pete Robinson, an area about 400 miles north of Winnipeg and one of the original fur trade routes up from Hudson Bay. This route was soon abandoned in favour of the Hayes river which was more suited to the York Boats that replaced the canoe as the main load carrying craft of the HBC
We started at Wekusko Falls Lodge, catching a ride across the 20km of Wekusko Lake. This is a picture of the first attempt when we were turned back by 6ft waves. We had to sit and wait five hours for the wind to drop enough for Tony to attempt a second time (and with a bigger boat)
The first day was a long but straightforward paddle down to the first set of falls which marked the limit for power boats until we would get to Setting Lake in six days.
The weather was mixed for the first couple of days with light showers but as the week went on it became much warmer. We saw our first bald eagle but over the trip we saw dozens more plus ospreys and smaller hawks.
The Grass River is known for its falls and these were mostly where we camped. Unfortunately the fantastic views meant that most of the paddlers before us had the same idea and at a couple of the sites there was a fair bit of litter (by Manitoba standards) and toilet paper. We saw only one other group on the river that week but it is a popular route because of the road access.
But don't let that put you off, the falls were beautiful, spectacular, awe inspiring, but also quite difficult to photograph in a way that did them justice. The largest fell by about 13 metres over a distance of around 100m.
We saw lots of wildlife. Otters, beaver, muskrat, mink and one black bear away on the shore. The scenery varied as the river starts off on softer sedimentary rock with bigger trees before moving onto the harder granite of the shield with the usual stunted jack pine.
Selena and I were OK with the bugs but Joan and Pete suffered. Watch out for the deer flies that hide in the canoe and bite your ankles while paddling though!
Some of the portages were very close to the top of the falls and we lined along the shore up to the edge. Longest carry was only 250 ish metres but I came to hate carrying the Prospector SP3s. They are too heavy for a sub 16ft canoe!
We ran half a dozen rapids. All straightforward though one involved a punching a hole that was much deeper when at the bottom of the chute than when standing on the shore scouting.
item: make sure the m&ms are in a waterproof container...
The last rapid was a fun grade 2 funnelling through rock walls to finish with a bouncy set of standing waves. This is the head of the rapid.
the tail 100meters later..
When we reached the lakes where would be finishing our trip we found that the wind was, if anything, stonger that when we had set off. We were planning on heading north up Setting Lake so rose before light to put in some miles before breakfast.
Although we planned on an early start the next day we found that the weather had turned and we spent the day huddled on the beach under the tarp hanging on to the canoes to stop them being blown away. We later heard that trees and power lines had come down that day.
When the wind dropped next day we rode three foot swells down the lake to where the road crossed the river and Tony met us with our car and the news that Zoom Airlines had gone bust. In a way we didn't care as we had been canoeing...
Canoes were rented from Dave Pancoe at Northern Soul in Winnipeg, Boat ride and car shuttle from Tony Brew at Wekusko Falls lodge.
Guidebook, Wilderness Rivers of Manitoba by Hap Wilson
Chris & Selena Randall