The wind blew all night long and well into the morning still from the east. It wasn’t looking too good for getting or our rock and we decided the first chance we got we would head back to the portage at the least, giving up our third day on Aikens just to be sure we could get off the lake. During the wait another pair of boats went by our site on their way to the Gammon exit. At this point, we had seen 5 groups of paddlers in 7 days.
Mid morning the wind started to settle and shift more to the south. We packed up everything excepting the tent and waited. At noon it had dropped enough for us to move out. We went west first to skirt around an island to get us better positioned and in doing so, spooked the caribou on the shore. Christy saw it fully, I had to wait until I was in line with the trail it was crashing up onto the island and only saw it’s butt as it ran away. After returning home I was in contact with Pit Turenne at the lodge and apparently that island is where most caribou sightings happen.
It was a fairly easy paddle back to the portage and then off down the trail we went again, this time packed for just two carries and Christy taking the boat all the way herself. Sure is nice that she is capable of carrying that 72 pound boat. At almost the halfway point we ran into a group of girls heading towards Aikens with large packs. We chatted briefly then kept on our way south. They were doing full carries of all the gear the whole portage as there were only the 3 boats back at the south end when we got there.
As we were about to paddle off, the group of young ladies turned up to cart away the 3 Bell Alaskans. They were a group from Minnesota on a 22 day trip that would include the Gammon, Bloodvein and Pigeon Rivers before getting out to the Lake proper. Two trip leaders and 7 girls. Quite the adventure, especially with the higher water levels. The two other red boats we had seen the night before were the male portion of their excursion. To us the girls looked like they had never been in the wilderness before but we did envy them for the trip they were taking. We wished them the best and headed south again, heading downstream finally.
We passed through Kosteck and noted the water had dropped a few inches as I had placed a rock at the water’s edge on Tuesday before leaving the island so I could see any change in water level. We stopped for the night on the un-named lake where the Broadleaf by-pass begins and set up camp on the nice rock point with lake on 3 sides. In that location it was mostly bug free as it was well away from the bush.
The evening found Christy checking the portage while I fished a little and I pointed out thunderheads to the east as we packed up for the night. I was awoken just after midnight by lightning flashing in the distance to the south, it was almost non-stop light and thunder. It was definitely coming our way.
At 1:10am the front edge of the storm arrived. Now it was an endless light show and constant thunder, with biblical rain. It stayed like that for over an hour before it seemed to calm itself a little bit. We both were nodding off at this point but the best was yet to come as the next wave blew in. High winds trying to push us off our rocky perch, another deluge and again, lightning and thunder without gaps.
The entire storm system lasted until 3:30am, 2 hours and 20 minutes of incessant rain and Momma Nature reminding us who rules in the wilderness. We are really, just specks in the wilds and at any time could have been swept off our rock into the lake or fried by lightning where we sat.
Morning came far too early and the coffee just wasn’t strong enough to clear the bleary eyes. There was 2 ½” of rain water in my coffee cup that had fallen overnight, so we knew the river would be roaring once again. It was indeed a beautiful day of mile high blue sky with the passing of the cold front.
We set off onto the portage and made good time to the lake in the middle. Slogging through the wetland area wasn’t much fun as it was almost knee deep and deeper if we stepped off the matted grass but nothing much different than we had encountered to that point. viewtopic.php?f=114&t=36182
We were somewhat disappointed to find the takeout down the lake to be on the same side and it being what seemed to be vertical. We could then understand how much fun Hugh would have had while it was raining, ascending that rock face. All the gear was hauled up to the top before I headed off down the trail with the first load. It was much easier now as we had left a cache on Leaf Lake that included the food barrel on the Monday, so we had less gear and weight to carry. At the point I put down the first load we would later find out was just a couple hundred feet shy of the river. There was a lot of cursing as we moved the boat and gear down this trail with water running off the high ground under foot and most of the trail off camber moss covered rock.
On my second carry to the spot I dropped the first load I found a better trail that led to the otter slide to the river itself. When fetching the first load I removed the cairns and ribbons of the more difficult porting so all following can take the easier trail. The trail itself was fairly easy to follow, I’m sure Hugh did some pruning on his way through a couple weeks earlier and we added tags so there was always one within eyesight.
It comes out just upstream of the second portage north of Leaf Lake. So right away we were portaging again and the water being so much higher was eating the trails since they are right at the water’s edge. The last portage before Leaf Lake was actually part of the river and areas of solid ground had washed out in the past few days. Under those high water conditions it was easy to just step into waist deep water where the trail should have been.
Back on Leaf Lake we set up on the little island where our cache was, the same one we used on our first trip there in 2008. We even managed to get some fishing in before the bugs got too bad.
Saturday morning began with, well, another thunderstorm with high winds and of course, another deluge. It did blow through and we packed and moved on once again. Although we still had 3 days of the trip left, at this point we actually just wanted off the rivers and back onto Wallace Lake.
The amount of water going through the rapid at the Broadleaf Junction was phenomenal. For a very short time Christy was considering just heading down the Wanipigow to Birch Falls and we would find a way to Wallace Lake until I pointed out that all that water in the Broadleaf was now joined by the Wanipigow and would be double the flow and not something we wanted to deal with trying to unload the boat at portages next to the tops of the falls and rapids. It wasn’t worth the risk.
Paddling upstream wasn’t a lot of fun either, but safer for sure. We know that river really well and of course, complacency was our undoing. The entrance to the bottom of the 6th portage on the Wanipigow is difficult at the best of times but in the process of trying to sneak up the right side to slip in between the two rock outcrops, the current turned us sideways and in a split second we were swimming. That took me totally by surprise but we were both hanging onto the boat which was entirely upside down and floating at the level of the gunwales. We just floated a little before swimming the boat over to the side where we could stand up, roll the boat over and bail it with what we had on hand, a coffee mug and Christy’s hat.
Luckily my waist pack was fastened around the rear thwart as it had all of my ID, bank card, credit card and the keys and all in it and thankfully I had packed the camera in the dry bag that morning. The only thing we lost was the 4 fishing rods and 3 reels which were bundled together behind me and must have sunk like a stone. It will be about $400 to replace it all, if we do, although we may be able to get them back at some point.
Once aboard again we paddled back to the far side and went up and over the rock outcrop into the little pool beside the river. It wasn’t much fun and wasn’t easy at all, but there wasn’t much choice at all. We are thinking of going back this fall and cutting the portage around the pool entirely to come out past the two rocks for easier passage.
Anyway, we did that portage and 2 more before calling it a day in the middle of the 3rd, needing time to dry out the stove and our gear and my having to remove a dozen leeches from my right ankle.
That was a fitful night at best and we awoke to grey skies and a short rain shower. The stove wouldn’t light at this point and we were short on drinkable water and just wanted out of there and back to the truck. We just packed up everything and carried on out of there, making it past the last upstream portage in about an hour. The night before we had pondered carrying on to that portage as there is a little campsite right on the lake side of it, but it was good we didn’t as it was mostly underwater when we arrived on Sunday morning.
Although off the river itself, we were still paddling against a strong current and it was a struggle. We were tired, sore, dehydrated and just plain not wishing to be out there anymore. As the river became more lake, there was an eagle sitting on a dead tree on a little rock island in the middle and he stayed there as we approached and passed within 100 feet, never leaving, as if he were the sentinel of the river. It was wonderful to be that close to such a majestic bird. Perhaps he was looking at us like we would be his meal shortly.
Luckily it was calm, virtually no wind as we made our way down the lake and back to civilization once again. Stopped in Bisset for ice cold Pepsi and Old Dutch chips before hitting the road south, only to run into thunderstorms once again in Winnipeg. Neither of us went into work on Monday although we could have since we were out a day early, but sleeping in a getting civilized again was more important.
All in all it was a good trip with new experiences, like dumping, and once again we achieved our goal of Aikens Lake albeit not the original plan. I now want to really do the Obukowin Portages at some point, but Christy is thinking fly in outpost fishing trip next year.
As I mentioned earlier, I have been in contact with Pit Turenne, the general manager at Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge and there could be a way to enjoy the lodge during a canoe trip. Paddle in, partake of the amenities of the lodge for a few days and paddle out, thus avoiding the cost of the fly in portion. The lake is really too big to effectively fish from a canoe but I really, really want to fish that lake properly. All the staff we encountered during our trip were wonderful in their dealings with us and I applaud them for it.
There is a lot of canoe traffic on Aikens and for the first time, we saw others on the Broadleaf and Wanipigow as well. 10 days and 7 times seeing others out and about. Perhaps Atikaki is finally becoming popular.