Upper Gauer River to Gauer Lake, Amisk Park Reserve

CanadaManitobaNorth
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Red Horse
Trip Date : 
13-21 July 2019
Additional Route Information
Distance: 
44 km
Duration: 
9 days
Loop Trip: 
No
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
3
Total Portage Distance: 
900 m
Longest Portage: 
350 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Intermediate
Lake Travel: 
Intermediate
Portaging: 
Moderate
Remoteness: 
Advanced
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Medium
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 

Our journey through Amisk Park Reserve began two years before our arrival. That is to say, two years worth of equipment and skills acquisition and a year of route planning. The staff of the Manitoba Sustainable Development Department, headquartered in Thompson, was to become a central asset in the achievement of our plan. Full of useful information and advice, I would absolutely recommend contacting them in anticipation of a trip into Amisk.

Being neophytes to wilderness travel in northern Manitoba, we determined to leave trip itineraries, maps, and emergency contact information with Wings Over Kississing, Sustainable Development/Conservation, and RCMP-Thompson. Wings would be the first to realize a delay, SD would have more of the back story, and RCMP would be the 24/7 SAR folks. Indeed, I am confident that RCMP appreciate the heads-up as they have a protocol of establishing a file (with a file number) containing all of the critical info for any party willing to make the effort. We encountered nothing but friendly, helpful folks all around.

Our round trip drive to Thompson was 2,997 miles, Google Maps had calculated it to be 2,400. Oops.

 

Technical Guide: 

The oldest son, stern-man in the second boat, says that it was everything he had hoped for in a wilderness canoe trip: eagles, swans, loons, pelicans, and ospreys; moose, wolves and bears; deep time, prehistoric pictographs referencing beings and events the original meanings of which are likely long since lost to collective memory; white water rapids and waterfalls, wind and waves on lakes that disappear over the horizon; the glow of a midnight sun; and insertion and extraction aboard a De Haviland Canada-3 Otter still sporting that monster nine cylinder, radial engine developing 600 HP and displaying a production date of 1958. I will be 72 in a couple of weeks, this may have been my last big adventure with the lads. Insofar as there is no published account or shared Euro-Canadian narrative of travel on this river, it may technically be considered a first descent. All good.

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

13 July

Wings Over Kississing, flying out of their float-plane base in Thompson, inserted us onto Uhlman Lake. Our crew consisted of five canoeist (Grandpa, son, two grandsons, and a nephew) and two canoes: a Nova Craft Prospector 17 and an Old Town Penobscot 17, both in Royalex.

Uhlman sits on the southern edge of the Reserve. Having located a sand beach, the drop off was fairly simple, a little wet-footing but nothing serious. With plenty of day light left and little wind we determined to head on into the Gauer River outlet for the night. Here we encountered a problem that was to be an issue for the entire journey: where to camp. Tree and understory densities were everywhere quite high. We learned to begin our search for a campsite two or three hours before the crew ran out of gas. Given our footprint requirements of space only for two tents, a blue barrel to put the stove on, and a place to get the two boats off the water, one might have thought the solution to have been simple. It was not. On the other hand, we typically slept on a bed of moss several inches thick.

14 July

Today we encountered our first white water, Kapaykopayak Rapids. You hear it well before you see it. Careful and systematic examination of the aerial imagery available through Google Maps and Microsoft Bing Maps, had suggested several potential portage paths. I was wrong in every instance. The path is on river right at the head of the rapids. Once discovered it was a short, easy, well maintained traverse of the timber. Easy to miss but well worth the time spent in the search. We gave up a couple of hours in its discovery.

Camp was pretty minimalist, in spite of which angry beavers expressed their displeasure with our appropriation by doing their best to break their tails at our presence. Today we observed the first of what would be many beaver lodges 15 to 20 meters long. We remain uncertain regarding the number of generations required in such construction.

15 July

Third day on the water and we are once again searching for a portage. Again all of my efforts with the aerials to identify portage paths were in vain. Slide through the first round of white water, moving to the left of the primary channel. Again, go to where the water begins to turn seriously white, river left, outcrop of granite, and one will discover the portage. It is undoubtedly an ancient pathway, traversed and camped along for thousands of years. We spent the night overlooking a drop in river elevation of maybe a meter. Wonderful visage and song of the river. We offered a little cistemaw.

This would be the first of several camps employing the rain fly. Fortunately the rain ended during the night and with a late start the next day we were able to get tents and gear adequately dried out.

There was interesting fishing from the shore. We caught what was to be one of our largest pike (37 inches) and one of the trips only two walleye. We should have fished the down-stream end of the rapids more extensively but were focused on our already late start on the day.

16 July

Today we are engaged by our first real exposure to the MacLeod Esker. In fact it is a complete network of eskers topographically dominated by the expression labeled MacLeod. The river parallels the western flank of the primary formation for a kilometer or two. Rising perhaps 25 to 30 meters above the river, we get to observe the land surface in a different way. At one location someone (Jacob says wolf, I say bear) had excavated what we took to be a denning site. Everywhere there are eagles and eagle nests. Today we saw our first pair of tundra swans.

Locating a campsite large enough for the footprints of the two tents continues to be a problem. We began the search two hours before we achieved success. A strong west wind had arisen as we stopped and scouted potential location after location. By the time we found something that would work, everyone was pretty beat. The markers we were employing included points of land, exposed bed rock, and mature stands of black spruce with mature or dead inclusions of white birch. Two out of the three indicators became loci for a reconnaissance. The wisdom of the paddle says start your search one to two hours before you think you need to be off the water for the day.

It was at this camp that we came to more fully embrace the concept of “old growth” as it applies to the northern most margin of the boreal forest. One of the young troops determined to saw a dead, standing black spruce tree that we, who were from down in Illinois, would classify as a sapling, because it was a scant five centimeters in diameter 25 centimeter above ground. We needed the room to pitch a tent so cutting a dead tree seemed innocuous enough. To teach a lesson regarding the environmental impact of our visit, I suggested that he count the growth rings. His observation was forty annual growth rings, that is, a tree four years older than his father. Good lesson. The living trees some meter distant and less than 25 centimeters in diameter at the same height, we estimated to be 100 to 150 years old. These small clumps of black spruce dotting the shoreline are little islands of life that have evaded the ravages of wildland fire that defines 95 percent of the vegetation of the landscape we have so far witnessed. Where the vegetational landscape is regenerating, the density of shrub and tree growth is incredibly high. Absolutely no space for even a backpacking tent. Begin the search for a campsite early.

Another event of significance had to do with our youngest trooper, who after supper was off sharpening sticks to render into spears. Whittling spruce with a hunting knife requires care. He put a pretty good slice in a finger. Good news is that his father and stern man in the boat is a surgeon. Repairs were initiated. Some lessons are best taught with a little blood and pain.

17 July

Beautiful weather, easy paddling, interesting events: otters, lots of eagles and swans, and another nice 35+ inch pike. All is perfect, and then we encounter the third hydrological feature of significance. Search as we might, we never found the portage. The consequence was a traverse of 200 meters of rock garden. In my experience an encounter with a rock garden is never fun. While we endured a few bruises, all worked out okay.

Downstream of the rocks, the river slows and widens, and exhibits two 90 degree turns as it encounters exposed granite. The bends are separated by about a kilometer. This stretch of the river represents a region that has been and continues to be actively embraced by the Cree people. There are prehistoric pictographs and indications of contemporary ceremonialism. Not our culture nor our religion, we passed silently, quickly, and respectfully.

A little more than a kilometer past the second bend we found the campsite that was to be our favorite. A small island, well distant from the closest shore, it had evaded the burns that are so common. Because there was a collapsed eagle nest at the base of a fallen tree, we named it the Eagle Island camp. We were to spend two nights and a full day there.

18 – 19 July

The river is here wide and flat and expansive. We determined that we needed a day of rest and fishing. Camp secure and a breakfast of pancakes and bacon devoured, off we set to explore and fish. One could reasonably argue that the rock garden/rapids demarked the beginning of Gauer Lake. From here the concerns would be wind and waves rather than whitewater.

My bowman and I thought that it would be interesting to return upstream that last kilometer. I wanted to get some photos of the rock formation causing that last bend in the river and the channel held promise of deeper, moving water and bigger fish. We fished the channel and shoreline with the other boat trialing by maybe 100 meters. A few small pike and a handful of photos later, we turned back toward Eagle Island, passing the other crew on the way. Some hour later and now fishing a rocky shore a kilometer to the south of the island, the other boat catches up with us and poses the interrogative, “Did you see them?”

Scanning 72 year old memory cells provided no quick response, so I replied “See what?”

“Didn’t you take photos of the far end of the granite cliff?”

“Yes” came my reply.

“Look at the first scraggly tall tree beyond the rocks.”

Sure enough, there were two cute little cubs probably 7 to 9 meters up, one watching from each side of the trunk.

We had probably wind drifted to boulders not 10 meters from the base of the tree.

The best news was that we were not sharing our canoe with the sow.

And so on we fished, meeting with little success. We boated 32 fish but nothing of significance and all pike. Latter the boys would land a small walleye and a perch, it from the shore.

We had hoped to enjoy a first campfire of the journey that evening on our bedrock landing area, but the wind came up and the rocky surface was awash. Campfires: as we all know, Manitoba prohibits open fire on Crown land. I had discussed the prospect of being able to enjoy such with conservation officers prior to leaving Thompson. I communicated that our previous experience with wildfire and associated narrow escapes, had taught us the critical lessons of strong fire discipline to include (1) small fires; (2) built only on surfaces of mineral soil, solid bed rock, or sand beach; and (3) all fire residuum deposited in the river or lake. Leave no trace. Eagle Island was the first of our campsites to meet criterion (2). And then the waves spoiled the opportunity.

During the night the wind continued and by morning we were experiencing rains with a NNE wind running 12 to 15 knots. Big water ahead, we decided to watch and see what the day’s weather would bring. Strike the tents but leave the rain fly in place. With the wind continuing to build to maybe 30 knots and white foam streaks by noon, we decided to declare ourselves to be officially windbound. Every trip to this region should experience such an event.

By 4:30 the wind had abated some and we decided to push on. After all, sunset was not to be until 10:30 and some holes were beginning to appear in the cloud cover. The first couple of hours were reasonably difficult with half meter waves common. A little spray in the boats but the wind direction made quartering fairly straightforward. And then the wind stopped blowing and the sky cleared, a beautiful evening. In one stretch of the lake we must have encountered 15 eagles, a pair of ospreys, loons, white pelicans and swans, alas however, no good campsite to be found. The shore is rocky, steep, and densely vegetated. The lads determined that we should push on with the sand beaches of Gauer Lake, our designated extraction loci, within reach. And we made it, greeted by a pair of swans reposed on a rocky reef exposure.

Exhausted and with the sun quickly sinking below the horizon, we sent Eli to scout the first of the three beaches. His report was that it was too rocky to get the plane into. On the second beach, scout Eli yells, “Dad, there are bear tracks!” Grandpa’s curiosity now satisfied, we pushed on to the largest and last of the three beaches. Without scouting, and with the wind suddenly gusting again, we knew that this would have to do.

It turned out to be an okay decision. Because it had rained hard during the preceding 24 hours, the narrative written in the sand was fresh: a cow moose and her calf; a pack of three wolves had returned and once again scent marked their territory; and then there was the trail of the 200 to 300 pound bear. I interpret the bear sign to be a two to three year old boar, a creature known to be unpredictable and aggressive. We organized the beach, 350 meters long, into three zones: one end for toilet activities; the middle for canoes, tents, gear and crew; the other end, at some distance, for food storage, prep and consumption. We did finally get to enjoy a campfire which was placed between the food and the tents.

I slept sort of fitfully that night. The wind had come back up just as we departed the first beach and from the tents we listened to the waves break on our stretch of sand, hoping that we had not pitched them too close to the surf. Oh yes, and then there was the issue of our exploiting the dining rooms of some of the larger carnivores of the region. Still a red glow in the mid-night sky, I awoke to zip the front door of the tent because we were taking spray. Later, I awoke to the sound of wolves howling off in the distance. The next morning dawned cool, clear, calm, and beautiful.

We were now where we had told the Wings Over Kississing staff to pick us up and we had a day to spare.

20 July

Our last day on the water and as planned it was relaxed and lent itself to a contemplative mood: a little fishing; a little exploration of the beach; a little watching of the swans and white pelicans, terns, and gulls; and some reflection on the nature of Gauer Lake. First the lake, we had teased and tickled ourselves during the planning stage by labeling this as an expedition to the edge of the world and indeed it was. As one gazed off to the northeast, the gaps between three of the islands were empty, water met the sky, the edge of the world. If one was to travel far enough in that direction, one would fall of the earth. That is our story and we will stick to it.

For we flatlanders, the prospect that no one that we spoke to in Thompson had ever been on this river or lake, or honestly even had heard of it or knew which direction to go from town to get there, was amazing. For us it was a big piece of water. Additionally and in spite of its size or because of it, to believe that we were the only humans to be on that water, that day, was reasonably overwhelming.

And you know that there lurked monsters in its deep. Maybe not the Great Underwater Lynx, Mishipizhiw, depending on your beliefs, but certainly 40+ pound lake trout and 50+ inch pike. Unfortunately, in our brief visit we were unable to explore for their potential lairs.

And so there we were, kind of drifting with the wind, fishing back to the little cove that sheltered that first rocky beach, when from out of that clear and quiet sky, the tree’s tops began to shake and tremble, and there descended upon our canoe and surface of the water, a tornadic wind that blew our hats off, lifted water several centimeters into its interior column, and spun our boat Perhaps we had become a little too casual about the forces that truly govern this place at the edge of the world.

21 July

The next morning at 11 o’clock we heard the roar of the De Haviland Canada-3, vintage 1958, all 600hp spewing from those nine cylinders arrayed in circular fashion, and watched it drop out of the sky like a dive bomber after a big naval target. Beautiful. What a trip.

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
Gauer Lake 64 A/13 Broughton Lake 64 B/9 Chapman Lake 64 B/16
Topo Maps (1:250,000): 
Uhlman Lake 64 B
Other
Suggested Resource Material: 

Manitoba Sustainable Development/Conservation, Thompson District <1.204.677.6637>