Pink River (Brabant to Davin Lake), Saskatchewan

CanadaSaskatchewanNorth
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Diane & Gilbert Will
Trip Date : 
August 1 - 12, 2021
Additional Route Information
Distance: 
230 km
Duration: 
11 days
Loop Trip: 
No
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
17
Total Portage Distance: 
7800 m
Longest Portage: 
2000 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Intermediate
Lake Travel: 
Intermediate
Portaging: 
Moderate
Remoteness: 
Advanced
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Low
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 

The start of this trip is at the Brabant townsite, which is located on Highway 102, north of La Ronge and Missinipe, Saskatchewan.  

There is one "hotel" with several rustic units in the townsite itself, along the highway, that is only a few kilometers from the public dock.

We had the owners of Davin Lake Lodge met us at the dock and shuttle our vehicle to their location on Davin Lake.

 

We started our trip at the Lower Waddy Lake put-in / dock.  There is a small, unpaved dirt / poor gravel road out to it from Brabant, and beyond to Upper Waddy Lake (an old gold mine site).  The road is not well maintained but is visible on online satellite pictures.  We decided to skip the first part of the trip (up the Waddy River and Redhill Lake) to save time and eliminate several portages, rapids, and upstream paddling.

Technical Guide: 

 

Maps Required:

64D/4 (Lower Waddy Lake), 64 D/5 (May Lake), 74 A/8 (Hickson Lake), 74 A/9 (Deception Lake), 64 D/12 (just the very top corner), 64 D/13 (Wathaman Lake)

 

This trip is challenging and not as widely travelled as other routes farther south.  From Waddy Lake to Missi the topography is quite low.  Past Missi Lake, the route travels through Shield country and also features many sand beaches with low, boggy areas behind them.  The Pink River itself is quite rocky and most areas are burned with few good campsites.  You are unlikely to encounter many people other than family camp residents from Stanley Mission in your travels.

There are a number of long portages that are, however, decently maintained.  All portages from Waddy Lake to Missi Lake are easy to find and travel.  The first two portages on the Pink River are well travelled, but both were almost completely burned when we passed through.  The portages from Pink Lake down to Wathaman Lake are not well maintained and have been burned several times, with many fallen trees clogging them.  Some of the original paths are not evident and have not been cut wide enough to accommodate a canoe.  Some rapids do not have portages.  The rapids are long and rocky but not very complex or difficult.  The last rapid on the river ends in a waterfall, which is not marked on the topographical map.

This is still a very unique, rewarding trip for those that are brave of heart and physically fit with intermediate whitewater skills.

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

We started our trip at the Lower Waddy Lake put-in / dock.  There is a small, unpaved dirt / poor gravel road out to it from Brabant, and beyond to Upper Waddy Lake (an old gold mine site).  The road is not well maintained but is visible on online satellite pictures.  We decided to skip the first part of the trip (up the Waddy River and Redhill Lake) to save time and eliminate several portages, rapids, and upstream paddling.

 

(See Map 1)

The water was very low, so the dock was not in place.  It is shallow with some rocks, but mostly sand.  The topography is low.  There is a faded pictograph site located at the end of a shallow bay on the east side of the Lower Waddy Lake – it is quite unique because it includes both red ochre and black drawings.

The route continues through the narrows and into Upper Waddy Lake.

At the north end of the lake, several points on the west shore offer small campsites that appear to have been used recently.

At the north end of Upper Waddy lake there is a small river heading northeast.  It is very rocky and hard to navigate in low water.  After attempting to line upstream, we found it too rocky and went back to the very obvious portage at the north end of a small bay several meters below the rapids (river right, left side as you paddle up).

 

(See Map 2)

Portage 1 (Upper Waddy -> Lower Nistoassini) - This 450m portage bypasses both sets of rapids and is broad, flat, and well used.  It is used as a snowmobile trail and staging area for mining and hunting activities (as is evidenced by the rusty traps and equipment left lying around).  This could also be used as an emergency campsite if necessary.

The route continues on Lower Nistoassini Lake, passing a broad beach on the western shore used by First Nations families as a large summer camp.  It is a short paddle to pass through the narrows into Upper Nistoassini Lake. There are several good campsites on this lake, mostly located on points.

 

(See Map 3)

We did speak to a First Nations man whose cabin was at a narrowing on Upper Nistoassini Lake.  He regularly takes a power boat up to hunt for moose and beaver on Peterson Creek, but he said the water was very low.  We did not attempt to paddle up the creek, opting instead for the portage.

 

(See Map 4)

Portage 2 (Upper Nistoassini -> Dougal Lake) – The longest portage of the trip, approximately 2km long.  The landing is easy to locate with a small sand beach and flag tape in the trees.  There is a campsite approximately 100 m into the portage that is broad and open.  There is only one obvious trail.  The beginning of the portage is boggy and wet, but it was a dry year and this would most likely be more challenging in wetter years.  The portage climbs steadily into an open aspen forest, and then levels out at the top into a boggy area.  This area is a fresh burn (just a week or two before our trip in August 2021) and many trees have completely burned, but have not yet fallen.  The trail then drops down sharply into another boggy, wet area.  Someone has left an old metal bucket on a tree stump that is visible from the water.  The launch is just to the west of the outlet of Peterson Creek.

 

We split this portage into four shorter sections to keep our gear closer in case of an emergency, and to break up the hard labor.  Even so, this was the most difficult portage of the route with quite a bit of elevation gain and drop.

The route now continues on Dougal Lake.  When we paddled through was an active fire burning along the large peninsula on the eastern shore, and much of that side of the lake has burned.  The topography is low and sandy and we did not see any obvious campsites on the lake. 

There is a narrows at the north end of Dougal Lake that leads into a small unnamed lake.  We found no need to look for a portage, as this channel is easily navigable with little current.

 

(See Map 5)

Portage 3 (Unnamed Lake -> Copp Lake) – This 350m portage is on the western shore of the small, unnamed lake and is very easy to find.  There is a metal boat marking the start of the trail, as well as flag tape.  This trail is very low and boggy even in dry years.  It is a narrow footpath that is starting to grow in with alders.  The ending is quite near a small outlet stream to the north.

The route continues westerly and then turns north on Copp Lake, passing a good campsite on the eastern shore of the narrows and another on a small island near the southern shore. 

 

(See Map 6)

Portage 4 (Copp Lake - > Asiski Lake) – The second longest portage of the trip, approximately 1.6km in length.  It starts at the most westerly point of Copp Lake.  There is a sandy lead-in, almost a sunken beach, at the shoreline.  The portage starts very wet and boggy for the first 100m, then rises into a sandy, open forest with a dry lichen floor.  About 600m into the portage there is a good campsite in open forest, complete with a usable fire pit.  The trail is easy, flat and in very good condition.  The end is low, wet and boggy, but not too bad on a dry year.  The trail ends at the most eastern bay on Asiski Lake.

 

The route traces Asiski Lake to the northwest corner.  We saw no obvious campsites as we paddled the lake.

 

(See Map 7)

Portage 5 (Asiski Lake -> Oneman Lake) – The start of this 300 m portage is located approximately 300 m southwest of an outlet stream.  The start is very obvious, with a large orange triangle marker and a collection of boats from Grey Owl Lodge making unloading more challenging.  The trail has a low start, then a steep rise to the top.  It has a steep section down to the next lake with a broad landing.

This lake rather shallow and full of islands, which makes for good birdwatching – loons, geese, terns and sandpipers.  Grey Owl Resort is on one of the islands near the center of the lake.

The route continues to the western end of the lake.  The easy to find portage starts approximately 200 m south from the stream flowing into Missi Lake, which is unnavigable.

 

(See Map 8)

Portage 6 (Oneman -> Missi Lake) – An easy to find, 200 - 300m portage that starts on a rock landing.  There is a small rough campsite at the beginning of the portage, with opportunities to camp at the bottom or on top of a rock ridge.  The trail is narrow and goes up and over this rock ledge.  There are two possibilities for your launch into Missi Lake.  The first is close to the base of the small waterfall, but the river is very shallow and rocky in low water.  It would be possible to launch here in high water, but we found it too boney to proceed.  The trail continues along the south shore of the river, but is very narrow and windey with some very slippery and slanted rocks.  It ends at a rock outcrop with a firepit – not large enough for a good campsite.

You are now on Missi Lake.  We took the opportunity to visit a pictograph site on the end of a peninsula south of the main body of the lake, just south of a large campsite.

Proceeding north, the lake opens up into large expanse, then narrows again between two large islands.  Missi Lake Lodge is located on a small bay tucked behind a peninsula at the north-western end of the lake.  There is also a decent campsite on an island nearby.  Just around the corner is the outlet into Deception Lake, Bell Falls.

 

(See Map 10)

Portage 7 (Missi Lake -> Deception Lake) – A short, 75m carry that has been developed by the local outfitters.  It is easy to find at the end of a small section of current and shallowness.  It is obvious, with many overturned boats and a wooden boardwalk.  At the highest point the rocks have been covered by rubber belts to prevent boat damage.  There is a staircase down to a big dock, which was full of boats when we visited, making it hard to find a place to launch our canoe.  The water off the dock is very deep, with a grand view of Bell Falls.

Our route proceeded north up the lake and just south of Caswell and Apex Islands.  Deception Lake has many islands, both large and small, making navigation tricky.  Rocky points fall gradually into the lake, making it advisable to give them a wide berth to prevent unhappy accidents with hidden boulders.  Many sections of the lake are quite shallow.  There are also many sandy beaches, large and small.  Most beaches are narrow ridges (caused by winter ice push) with marshy and boggy areas directly behind them.

To proceed to the Pink River one would travel north and west up the main channel into Pink Lake, but we decided to make a side trip to visit Gow Lake.  Gow Lake is actually a meteor impact crater that was formed less than 250 million years ago with a large, central island caused by uplift from impact.  Our route proceeds north up and around the McDonald Peninsula, then south again along the more northerly of two bays. 

 

(See Map 11)

The bay narrows north of a long, rocky ridge and into a narrow channel.  On a small peninsula on the north side of the channel there is an excellent campsite that seems to have been used traditionally with a fire pit and room for several tents.  As you proceed south along the marshy channel, you will see large electrical towers and transmission lines hanging above the water and proceeding into the recently cut allowances.

 

(See Map 11)

Portage 8 (Deception Lake -> Gow Lake) – This is a short (25m), shallow, rocky part of the channel that will need to be waded or portaged.  There are two channels. The northmost channel is deeper, but too swift and narrow to line safely in low water.  The southern channel is too shallow to line, so one must either drag the loaded boat or unload at the bottom of the rapid and place your items at the top of the rapid on a series of large, flat rocks.  The stones are anywhere from sand to cobbles to large boulders, and all are covered in slime and moss, making it slippery and treacherous.

(See Map 12)

As you proceed to Gow Lake there is a commercial outfitter – Northern Reflections Lodge – on the north shore of the channel.  Just before the outlet of the channel into Gow Lake there is a large cliff with an impressive series of red ochre pictographs displayed just under the high water line.

Our route proceeded back into Deception Lake over the same short portage and into a northerly bay created by a long peninsula.  There appeared to be a small area of beach we could sneak over to save time.  We checked satellite images and it seemed to be doable, but when we arrived we discovered that the portage was two ice-pushed ridges with a bog in between.

 

(See Map 13)

Portage 9 (Deception Lake -> Deception Lake) – This approximately 200 m long portage starts and ends in long, wide beaches.  At the top of the beaches are large blueberry patches, and behind is a large area of sunken bog.  On speaking to a local resident, we were informed that there used to be a portage on the north side along the ridge, but since a recent fire burnt trees have fallen, making the trail impassible.  We were able to pick our way along the south side of the ridge, where it appears that others have been doing the same.

There are several pictograph sites on Deception Lake.  One is on the easternmost point of Dicken Island – one faded glyph on a cliff that is slowly spalling away.  Another prominent site is on a large, impressive cliff on a southern point just north of Apex Island.  There are other reported, but unconfirmed, sites in Hansford Bay and South Bay.

(See Map 14)

 

Our route proceeded up into the Pink River, just before Pink Lake.  Here the lake narrows beyond some small islands in the middle of the channel.  One island is home to a summer cabin, the residents of which are a family from Stanley Mission.  Beyond this the channel narrows and proceeds past a fresh burn.  The hills were still smoldering in early August on both sides of the river.

 

(See Map 15)

Portage 10 (Deception Lake -> Pink River) – This approximately 450m portage is located east side of the river (river right).  It starts on flat rock, quite high above the river level at low water and just before the start of the rapid.  When we visited the portage’s peat base was still actively on fire.  The start was not completely burned, but 30m in the portage has been burnt black to almost nothing but ashes.  The portage is still obvious and all of the burned trees were still standing.  This portage raises slowly then flattens out over the burn.  It then dips down into a marshy, wet section with a braided trail.  This part was still green with unburned plants.  The trail rises again over another ridge, then drops sharply to the original landing. Unfortunately, the end is covered a mass of broken glass.  Another trail proceeds to the right, to a lower put-in.  This put-in is very small and narrow.  A flipped over fishing boat has melted to the bedrock above this landing.  One should note that this portage trail will need work in the future, when all of the burned trees inevitably fall down.

The launch is easy into slowly moving water below the rapids.  The river proceeds north for another kilometer before it hooks around with another strong rapid.

Portage 11 (Pink River -> Pink River) – This 200m portage is a very obvious rock landing just before the rapid on river right (east side).  The large landing is moss-covered with large trees.  It has a narrow, steep start, part of which has had the peat of the trail burned.  The grassy landing launches into moving water below the rapid.

It should be noted that despite a steep ledge at the top of the rapid, those with advanced whitewater skills could most likely run this rapid.

It is a short 1.5km paddle into Pink Lake.  The southern shore is all part of the recent August 2021 burn, making good campsites hard to find.  There are some broad beaches on this lake that have the potential for camping, but most are occupied by cabins or family camps.  Despite the many small islands, there seems to be limited camping opportunities.

The route continues east into the Pink River.  Both sides of the river have burned in the past, and the trees are small and tightly packed.  In places the river is very low and marshy with pond lilies and cattails – a perfect place to spot water birds and moose.

 

As the river narrows you encounter Thompson Rapids, which is in two sections.  Only the second section is topographical map and has a portage – the first must be run or lined.

(See Map 16)

The first part of Thompson Rapids separates into three braided channels.  The main channel takes most of the water and is on river right (southerly).  The main channel has a series of rocks, and a huge boulder on the left, with large haystacks that twist and run out around a sharp corner with a steep edges on the right side. 

There is a wooded island between this part of the river and the other two channels (we investigated this island for a portage trail but found nothing).  Two more very shallow braids are on the right.  The center channel is too shallow and overgrown to be used.  We chose to take the leftmost (northerly) channel, which had just enough water in it to drag, line, and finally hop back into the canoe at the end.  Despite looking for a portage around this section, we found that none was immediately obvious.

The second section of Thompson Rapids is not marked as a rapid on the topographical map.  It is a long, dangerous stretch of water with a steep cliff on the south side.  The top has a very steep drop into the churn along the canyon walls.  There was no obvious start to this portage when we arrived - we had to push bush to find the trail, and track backwards to establish a new trailhead.

 

(See Map 16)

Portage 12 (Pink River -> Pink River) – This 450m portage bypasses Thompson Rapids over a rock ridge.  The start of the portage is on the north side, river left, in a grassy, marshy area 75m above the start of the rapid.  It is marked by a small clump of birch trees with flagging tape.  The trail has been flagged throughout with several blazes cut on trees.  There is lots of blow down and many fallen trees.  The start of the trail is very tight and narrow and is grown in with small trees, making it hard to maneuver a canoe.  There are also several tight turns. The trail rises up over the ridge, with a sharp drop at the end onto a boulder field.  Some rocks are very large and care must be taken when coming down to the water.  One must launch from these boulders – there is no easy put-in area.  The launch is into the tail end of the rapid into moving water. 

Please note that the original start to this portage is still visible just before the rapid, but is impossible to follow due to the overgrowth of small trees.  It could be cleared by a group with enough time and energy.

Another 2km down the river and around the corner is a rapid just before the river widens into a large, lake-like section.

Portage 13 (Pink River -> Pink River) – This 300m portage starts on the south side of the river (river right) at a large rock outcropping with a large marshy section in front and behind.  It is approximately 50m from the start of the rapid.  There is a tiny campsite on this rocky outcrop with a fire pit.  The portage starts behind this campsite and winds through a low, boggy area with Labrador Tea.  It then rises up over a rock ridge that has been burned, and has many downed trees and tight spots.  The trail has been diverted around large fallen trees that we found too large to move or saw through.  Smaller pines have grown up along the trail, making passage difficult in some areas.  The trail is blazed and flagged with orange tape.

The cut portage trail ends halfway down the rapid on a steep rock landing.  The launch is into moving water – a class 1 rapid.  There is no obvious trail to the end of the rapid – one would have to be cut to make it to the end of the whole rapid.

From here, the river widens into a large, lake-like section.  This lake runs northeast to southwest, which also happens to be in the same direction as the prevailing winds.  Unfortunately, the long section lets the winds whip up into dangerous levels, so care must be taken when transitioning from the moving water of the river onto the windy lake.  We saw no obvious campsites on the southern section of this lake-like part of the river.

 

(See Map 17)

Continuing northward, the river hooks to the east and into a smaller section with some islands.  There is one camping opportunity on a small island and some poorer sites along the shore before the river narrows once again.  A small bay to the south holds a rocky stream that leads to Apex Lake.  Some canoeists take this route to Deception Lake, then south to Hickson Lake and eventually the Paull River.

As the river narrows, there are several places where the current speeds up but are easily navigated.  About 2 km south of McLeod Lake, just after a widening in the river, there is a large rapid that separates into two channels between some small islands.  There was no visible portage to be seen.

(See Map 18)

The north most channel (river left) takes most of the river’s flow and is very pushy and dangerous.  There is another shallower channel on river right (south side) that begins right of a larger wooded island in rocky shallows.  It is a deep, swift channel, but very narrow in places.  Trees have fallen across some section and have blocked the path, while others have been sawn away and pushed aside.  You may have to pull over the larger logs.  There is much evidence of travel on this channel, and it seems to be the popular choice for paddlers heading upstream.  It is easy to continue on to the main section of the river at the bottom.

Just before McLeod Lake there is a small, easy rapid with no portage.

After McLeod Lake, the river narrows considerably into Collins Rapids, a 2km long section of almost continuous rapids.  We observed no portages or campsites anywhere along this part of the river.  The river was quick, rocky and shallow because of the low water, but the rapids are a class 1 – 2 and runnable.  There are some large sections of deflection waves and large haystacks which will require you to eddy out and bail your canoe (if you don’t have a spray deck).

These rapids end in a waterfall that is NOT marked on the topographical map.  The waterfall starts at the end of a section of rapids.  The edge of the waterfall is very easy to make out as you come down the river, as it creates a very obvious horizon line against a sharp cliff on the north side (river left).  White splashes can be seen beyond this horizon line.

 

(See Map 19)

Portage 14 (Pink River -> Pink River) – This 350m portage begins approximately 30m upstream of the large rocks indicating the waterfall, on river right (south side).  It starts in a small break in the birches (right side while paddling) on a small, pink gravel beach that may not show in high water.  The trail follows a ridge right next to the falls, over rocky outcrops and steep drops.  In high water, some of the narrow channels may be full of water.  There are camping opportunities along the falls without much space.  The path then turns to lead into the forest, and is tight with small trees growing tightly together.  There are sections that the canoe will have to be turned sideways to get through.  The trail ends in a small clearing with a very large fallen tree across it.  There is a small rock cairn and flag tape marking the end.  The launch is into moving water with another 100 – 150m of rapids before the water calms down.

The rest of the river is wider and calmer, with many low and marshy areas that are good for spotting wildlife and birds.  There are two well-used campsites on this section.  The more northerly site is very large and can hold many tents.  There is a large firepit and left over hunting equipment.

 

(See Map 19)

The river narrows again but there are no more rapids to be dealt with.  It then empties into Woodman Bay on Wathaman Lake, another northeast to southwest facing channel, which can present problems with wind.  On the northwest side of the bay sits the Wathaman Outpost of Davin Lake Lodge – a good place to stop for lunch on a broad, gently sloping rock outcrop.

Paddlers can choose to paddle north through Wathaman Lake to the bridge on Highway 905 or portage into Davin Lake, ending the trip at Davin Lake Lodge.

The entry into Davin Lake is through a hidden channel along the southeast shoreline.  The current is gentle and does not present a problem to get to the portage.

 

(See Map 20)

Portage 15 (Wathaman Lake -> Davin Lake) – This 100m portage starts at a rocky outcrop on river right (the north side, left side as you paddle up).  The entry is stuffed with large fishing boats, leaving little room for canoes to get up.  There is a broad wooden staircase and boardwalk over the top, making it easy.  The boardwalk ends at a come-along system used pull boats up the single drop.  A trail leads off of the boardwalk and to a rocky outcrop a bit farther east.  This, too, is crowded with boats, but a canoe can put in at the steep rock launch.

There is a narrow portion to canoe before the lake opens up into Wallace Bay, but there is not much current to fight.  The small islands on the western portion of the lake hold many open campsites.  Some are used by the lodge for shore lunch, others are less used sites on rocky points.

The route goes south on the lake and east across to Robertson Narrows, where there are sandy beaches and well treed points.  It is sheltered and hold no current.  After leaving the narrows, turn northward up into Currie Bay.  Much of the south western shore and Robertson Islands were burned several years ago and are now covered in small, thick trees.  The bays hold good fishing opportunities. 

It is a straight paddle to Davin Lake Lodge and airstrip.  The end point is obvious and the dock is steady and well maintained. The owners of the lodge can offer clean cabins, showers and cold drinks.  They are also willing to shuttle and store vehicles in a safe location.

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
64D/4 (Lower Waddy Lake) 64 D/5 (May Lake) 74 A/8 (Hickson Lake) 74 A/9 (Deception Lake) 64 D/12 (just the very top corner) 64 D/13 (Wathaman Lake)
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