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PostPosted: October 23rd, 2023, 9:03 pm 

Joined: September 14th, 2021, 10:36 pm
Posts: 33
This summer, we had a group of eight paddlers interested in a trip confined to a single week of vacation time. With all of the fire and smoke, we considered many options but finally choose to put in at Besnard Lake, paddle into the Churchill River and finish up in Misinipe. The route is about 120 km with fairly easy road logistics. We paddled August 6-12 during which flow at Otter Rapids was 215 cms, certainly a drought condition for the region. Forest fires throughout Canada and smoky skies were an issue; on our first day, smoke covered the region but an evening rain washed it away and we had no more smoky skies for the balance of our trip.

This was my first visit to Besnard Lake. I knew there was a fishing camp but I hadn't anticipated the level of development on this Lake. There are two fishing camps, a campground and several developed cottages at the end of the road. Out on the Lake, cabins have been built on many of the islands, no doubt leases of public land on what were formerly good campsites. Traveling on a Saturday/Sunday of the long weekend, we must have identified more than 20 cabins on our route, only one of which was being used. Arriving late Saturday, we managed to toe in for the night on the corner of an island with three cabins. We reached the end of Besnard Sunday evening where finally there is no development. We found an established campsite at (55.53754, -105.71634) but the shoreline was littered with fish guts, I suspect courtesy of an outfitter's shore lunch party. We wound up camping at the end of the lake (55.555865, -105.701308), quite a nice site.

We had heard comments that Besnard Lake was at a record low level and perhaps it was although the waterline seemed only 18 inches or so below high water mark. The Churchill by contrast must be 3-4 feet below high water mark this year. When we reached Besnard Creek, some in our crew suggested we line rather than portage the up to 2 km of trail around the creek. Given low water, I had my doubts but from the map the trail seemed accessible from the creek if we needed to bail out so we started wading down the creek. To my surprise, it was a reasonable wading/lining project; in fact we ran maybe 20% of the moving water. A slow pace and caution with ankles was required but it was a fun project of 1 hour, 40 minutes. I can't report on the trails as we didn't set foot on them.

Black Bear Island Lake is an interesting maze of islands and channels. The direct route from the mouth of Besnard Creek to the main Churchill channel, south of Sturdy Island, is likely not so well travelled. Approaching the campsite marked on Gotrekker at(55.631750,-105.505678) from the south, everything looked burnt out from fires in recent years and I was beginning to think we might have a late evening of paddling to find a camp. Rounding the corner we found, miraculously, the camp is on the only island in the area that hasn't recently burned, a good site with a wonderful rainbow for us. We started to notice Algae on the Lakes from this point onward which I don't recall ever seeing before in any quantity. One of our group was a local that claims it does happen in August. We like travelling Northern SK in August as the bugs are usually gone.

Birch Falls/Rapids empties Black Bear Island into Trout Lake. Anticipating the RL channel to be dry, we portaged the falls. I later discovered other travelers found the RL channel to be runnable this year. I had fond memories some 20 years ago of camping adjacent to some white water and good fishing around Birch rapids. I inspected the shorelines at Birch Falls, and the RL channel of lower Birch finding nothing. I did not inspect the upper RL channel or the lower RR channel. There are a couple of island sites just south of Birch Falls. Good camping adjacent to whitewater in Birch rapids area evaded us this time so we camped on an island in Trout Lake, a nice spot for a larger group.

At this year's water level we found Trout Falls, Moose Rapids and Rock Trout to be runnable loaded. Moose rapids lacks it's usual rooster tail wave train. The Rock Trout channel is strikingly different, the extreme RR approach to the portage is dry, the lower RL channel that can sometimes be run is dry and the main RR channel which normally has a dangerous undercut is a reasonable run. We spent a rest day at Rock Trout fishing and watching wildlife along the channel, very nice! However, we did have to clean up toilet paper and tampons left by a previous group at this site, yuck, burn it or pack it out! In the Canadian Shield area, burial is not usually an option, there is not enough soil. A thin layer of moss is soon blown away or disturbed by animals.

Fine Cloth (Chief) rapids are completely dry on the left side but the remaining flow on the right was runnable. I've read there can be rock hazards in this rapid but I've run it on the right a handful of times including this drought year and haven't met with any rocks.

While we might have run down the Devil or Donaldson channels, we chose to portage Sluice and why not, we'll never find that usually mucky portage in better walking condition. This enabled runs through Corner and Mosquito rapids.

This simple and accessible trip is a pleaser but for me not long enough. Now back at work, the good memories seem too distant. I wish I was back on the River!

Points of interest...

(55.422313, -106.025146) Besnard Lake, makeshift camp on east tip of island with cabins
(55.47528, -105.84693), Besnard Lake, decent established camp marked on Gotrekker, near a cabin. we had lunch here
(55.53754, -105.71634) Besnard Lake, established camp, 3-4 tents
(55.54227, -105.71503) Besnard Lake, location marked on Gotrekker as camp but only a fire ring, no level ground, forget it.
(55.555865, -105.701308), Besnard lake, campsite marked on Gotrekker, a squeeze for 4 tents but a nice spot
(55.60203, -105.62039), Black Bear Island Lake, landed here, good campsite for 3-4 tents
(55.59213, -105.55058), Black Bear Island Lake, sighted a fire ring, possibly a camp?
(55.631750,-105.505678), Black Bear Island Lake,good campsite, marked on Gotrekker,
(55.58207, -105.38313), island campsite south of Birch Falls, marked on Gotrekker, disused, maybe room for 2 tents
(55.57869, -105.38732), another small campsite south of Birch Falls, maybe 2 tents.
(55.58700, -105.35928), site near lower Birch rapids marked as campsite on Gotrekker, but nothing there, no reasonable possibility either
(55.58566, -105.35210), go trekker marked campsite near Birch Falls, has a good kitchen area but not much tent space.
(55.58566, -105.35210), Trout Lake, Gotrekker marked campsite, a good site.
(55.69050, -104.96176), Gotrekker marked campsite on channel between Nipew and Haymen, it's not there, nor is there any reasonable prospect
(55.68691, -104.95891), sited a fire ring, possibly a campsite?
(55.69360, -104.92920), Gotrekker marked campsite. Terraced tent pads, quite a nice spot.

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