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PostPosted: September 28th, 2016, 1:05 pm 
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Joined: November 12th, 2001, 7:00 pm
Posts: 336
Location: Lethbridge, Alberta Canada
Nemeiben Lake, SK Sept 10-14

Finally got my paddle into the waters of Northern Saskatchewan.

I’m not sure that this is a trip report but maybe more of a personal evaluation. Haha. [mods – if you think it should be moved please do…]
The original plan was to take 7 days to do the 6 portage route http://canoesaskatchewan.rkc.ca/route16.htm
that begins at Nemeiben Lake and work into the Churchill River at Trout Lake ending at Missinipe on Otter Lake. Weather was a big factor and it slowed me down considerably along with a couple of other challenges. I’m a big believer of the 3 strikes and you’re out rule so I ended up shortening the trip and spent it just on the big lake.

Strike 1: Weather delay

My first mistake, and I’ve seen it said repeatedly here and elsewhere, is that when solo, double the suggested trip time. The 6 portage route is described as a 5-6 day trip and I have no doubt that many can do it in that time (or even less) but that’s not my style. I like to take my time and relax. I only allotted 7 days and when I hit 2.5 days of bad weather right at the start it put me drastically behind. The wind (headwind of course) and rain built over the first 2 days to the point where I couldn’t even keep the canoe straight – I had to stop just 4kms from the end of the lake. The next day (3rd) wasn’t much better so I could either take a day and wait it out or head back with the wind. Nemeiben was by far the biggest lake on this route but I still had other big lakes and about a dozen portages to do (not sure why they call it “6 portage” when there is at least double that…). The other 2 strikes also affected my decision and I decided to turn back.

I’ve been delayed before and its no big deal if my plan allows it and I can let people know. I think my false sense of travel time might have come from paddling parks and southern AB rivers. I’ve done the Bowron circuit in BC a couple of times solo in 5 or 6 days with no problem and they say that is a 5-7 day route. This 6 portage route is actually a bit shorter than the Bowron but Northern Saskatchewan is not a provincial park. Huge difference!

Lesson learned: double the trip time for solo trips. Big lakes in Saskatchewan will kick my butt!

Strike 2: Poor battery preparation.

I realize that the purists are against satellite communicators but this is what allows me to be out solo. The argument could be that if I wasn’t relying on the device I wouldn’t have had an issue with time and would have had to plan accordingly where being late is par for the course. For me, the risk of going into these areas solo is not worth it without a device – but that’s just me. It would be different if there were other people around or roads that a person could readily get to but everyone has a different level of comfort. I choose to bring an InReach and check in once a day. The downside is if it fails...
I bring 2 sets of rechargeables and a goal zero solar panel plus an emergency back-up set of batteries. In my haste, the emergency back-ups were collected out of the kitchen drawer and turned out to be dead. The 2nd set of rechargeables were purchased new and were labelled as fully charged for up to a year – they were also dead so I really only had 1 charged set that I was using and didn’t know I was carrying around dead batteries. 2.5 days of rain and no sun and I was very close to losing my communication and GPS and I did not know if the weather would turn. The device never did “fail”. I was able to “ration” the power so I was never completely out but if I was to continue for perhaps another week and the rain continued I would kill all the batteries for sure.

Lesson learned – always make sure batteries are fully charged and don’t trust packaging dates. For the InReach, I’m going to stick with the lithium batteries as I know they last well over a week with my standard usage. They tend to eat up the rechargeables in 1-2 days as I found out (I have the old version that is paired with the Delorme GPS – not sure how the new device works).

Strike 3: maps got soaked. 1 set was ruined outright

I use the seal line map case and it works ok to shed rain, splashes and keep the dew off but it does not work very well if its floating or submerged – this I knew. The zip-lock is not dependable. During my battle with the headwind and rain I accidently knocked the map under my seat and feet where it floated around in the bilge water for quite a while before I noticed and the maps were completely soaked. I had 2 sets, 1 that I had printed off myself and 1 that I purchased from Ric at CRCO (Churchill River Canoe Outfitters) but both were in the seal line map case. The ink ran right out of the print outs and were unreadable and I wasn’t sure how the purchased ones would hold up or if I could even salvage them. The GPS was not accurate enough to navigate if the maps fell apart and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep it charged up anyway (no sun yet).

Lesson learned: keep the secondary maps in a different “dry” location. The CRCO maps dried out as good as knew a day later BTW and were awesome but I didn’t know this at the time.

To tally it up. Potentially no maps, no GPS, no InReach and at minimum 1.5-2 days behind schedule on day 3 I decided to turn around.

Wouldn’t you know it that after I aborted the whole trip changed? The wind slowed and the rain eventually stopped on the third day. The fourth day it actually started blowing the other way (headwind again) and I was wind bound again for day 4. As I was getting sunny breaks however I was able to resolve the battery issue and dry the CRCO maps. I was also on my way out and not deeper into the route so if something did happen I was closer, not further.
The final day was completely clear with not a breath of wind and was a perfect day to paddle (still chilly though). I had arranged the outbound shuttle with Ric at CRCO so when I got back to the put in and called him he was not surprised to hear from me. He may have just said this to make me feel better but he said all of the groups in the area had trouble.

Nemeiben is the by far the biggest lake I’ve been on. I’ve been on lakes that had more wind but the size of the lake makes a big difference – I know, this is basic knowledge and I did know this but until you’re there... There aren’t many campsites, especially for groups. Most of the area burnt last year so its easy enough to scan the shore for flat spots especially for just 1 tent and tarp but it would be hard finding spots for groups of 3 or more boats. Camping in a burn isn’t the greatest but still ok for me. I did manage to find an unburnt point to spend my last 2 nights.

The biggest thing was that I was able to trip on Canadian Shield again! Something I haven’t done since I was a kid growing up in Ontario. The fall colours were well underway and although I was in a burnt area the whole time the beauty is still there. It’s a lot closer and easier of a drive for me (12hrs) than the BC canoe circuits. I also thought I knew what the boreal forest would be like having lived in Fort Mac for 2 years but the forests are quite different with more diversity in Saskatchewan and it is not nearly as affected by industry as it is in AB and BC from what I could tell. For wildlife, I would have expected the burn to have affected it (and maybe it did) but I didn’t expect to see as many birds as I did. Probably more eagles there than I’ve seen in Port Hardy, BC.

Ric tells me he’s been up there since 1974 and there’s many areas he hasn’t been to yet. Looks like this will be my go to place from now on. Despite the adversity (may seem like nothing for some) I had a great trip and can’t wait to get back.

I don't have a photos hosting place to imbed them in the write up. Not too many due to the nasty weather in either case - Sorry.


Attachments:
File comment: unburnt island. Calm last day
Neimbien 2016 603 (640x427).jpg
Neimbien 2016 603 (640x427).jpg [ 126.59 KiB | Viewed 2032 times ]
File comment: wind is up through this narrows. Wind bound day
Neimbien 2016 564 (640x427).jpg
Neimbien 2016 564 (640x427).jpg [ 221.82 KiB | Viewed 2032 times ]
File comment: Big Lake! One of the many "arms"
Neimbien 2016 511 (640x427).jpg
Neimbien 2016 511 (640x427).jpg [ 158.57 KiB | Viewed 2032 times ]
File comment: Camp night 3 & 4
Neimbien 2016 545 (640x427).jpg
Neimbien 2016 545 (640x427).jpg [ 217.84 KiB | Viewed 2032 times ]
File comment: One of the few sheltered areas of the lake
Neimbien 2016 524 (640x427).jpg
Neimbien 2016 524 (640x427).jpg [ 222.22 KiB | Viewed 2032 times ]
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PostPosted: September 28th, 2016, 1:42 pm 
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Joined: November 7th, 2010, 4:35 pm
Posts: 245
Tough break on the weather. I was a little farther north trying to get back across Wollaston Lake during that time frame (I got off on the 12th). I concur that the weather was atrocious. Like you this was my first trip that far north. There's a steep learning curve.

Alan


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PostPosted: September 28th, 2016, 1:57 pm 
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Joined: June 9th, 2005, 2:27 pm
Posts: 1637
Location: Saskatoon
Great report Mark. And great decision making. No point pushing ahead where if one more thing goes wrong, you're screwed. I haven't yet paddled on Nemeiben, but once you get over the 6 portages into the Churchill I've paddled from that portion, and paddling a canoe solo against a headwind is a tone of work. We had day after day of non-stop headwinds when we paddled that portion of the Churchill a few years ago, and I was the chump that was in the solo canoe trying to keep up to the tandem.
Cheers,
Bryan

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PostPosted: September 28th, 2016, 5:38 pm 
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Joined: October 24th, 2007, 1:52 pm
Posts: 556
Location: Beaumont, AB
Good report. Sucks when the weather doesn't cooperate. I paddled the six portages route in 2009 with my three teenage boys (13, 15, and 17 yrs). We managed to do the trip in six paddling days, with 1000km drives to and from the Churchill R system. We had rainy windy weather the first day also on Nemeiben Lake and it was not fun. Rest of the route was better, although when we did it, the portages were terribly soft, wet and muddy; and the Churchill River levels were at flood. I have memories of paddling through some huge wave trains on Otter Rapids and getting caught in an eddy partway through that was very difficult to exit. I also hope to go back to the Churchill River in the not too distant future.

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"Everyone must believe in something. I believe I'll go canoeing" - Henry David Thoreau


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PostPosted: September 28th, 2016, 7:04 pm 
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Joined: December 20th, 2003, 9:27 am
Posts: 926
Hi, Mark,
Good decision-making!
We were up in that neighbourhood at about the same time. We were looking for a possible route from Contact Lake to Preview Lake and we were cleaning up any portages we crossed. Our weather was OK but on September 10, we were on Sim Lake and, while we were able to pack up before the rain, it soon got nasty. By the time we got out on Otter Lake, the rain was falling steadily and there was a strong east wind. We stopped for lunch on Otter and a couple of our group were close to hypothermia. We had planned to stay on Otter that night but, since the wind was in our favour, we decided to go all the way to Missinipe that day. It turned out to be a good choice. That night, while we were snuggled in our cabin at CRCO, a big thunderstorm happened. Lots of thunder, significant hail and lots of rain. During the night the wind shifted so that it would have been a headwind all the way up Otter Lake if we had waited until the next day to complete our trip.

Large lakes and bad weather can significantly adversely affect a trip.
One of the trips that Ric suggested for our portage-clearing was the 6 Portages Route. (6 portages from Nemeiben to the Churchill River) Because we were on a tighter timeline this year, we decided against doing that route because of the risk of adverse weather on such a big lake. He suggested that route because a fire had gone through and trees were starting to obstruct the portages. Maybe we'll get there next year.

Batteries - had a bit of a similar situation this year. I thought that I had fresh batteries in my InReach but found that they were almost done the first time I tried to use it. I had 2X extra batteries so it was OK but it was careless to go with dead batteries in the device. As with you, it won't happen again.

I sure agree with your statement about it being hard to find group campsites. It is quite easy to find a campsite for 1 tent, not too hard for 2 tents but after that it get much more difficult. It seems that level ground is hard to find. Level ground not covered by trees is even harder to find. Ric's maps are helpful in finding campsites.

We always see lots of fish-eating birds - bald eagles, golden eagles, loons, pelicans, kingfishers... but we seldom see any other animals.

FWIW, although I use paper maps, I have loaded the Canadian 1:50 000 maps onto my PN-60 so that it could be used for navigation.
Another thing I do with my map case is to use those small, pretend caribiners on the corners so that I can attach it to packs in front of me so that it doesn't blow away or fall into the bilge water.

Glad to hear that you'll be going back up there. It's amazing country. Maybe we'll meet you up there some year.


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PostPosted: September 29th, 2016, 3:05 pm 
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Joined: November 12th, 2001, 7:00 pm
Posts: 336
Location: Lethbridge, Alberta Canada
Thanks guys. It helps to hear of your encouragement and similar experiences

Allan - I can't imagine Wollaston lake! That must be mega huge!

Bryan - I've read through your report of that portion of the Churchill quite a few times and it sounds great! Ill get back there

Dave - good to know! Ric said that water levels have been above average the last few years but said that this year it was more close to what normal is.

Ralph - Thanks for sharing your experiences. I don't feel quite as bad now - haha. I was off the lake when the thunderstorm rolled through - didn't get any hail though. I think if I hadn't invested in a Gore-Tex top this year I might have had hypothermia issues. I was wet and tired those first couple days but was able to stay warm.
Too bad I missed you. Sounds like you go up there a lot and I can see myself doing it at least once a year from here on out. Staging there is relatively easy compared to other places around here.
I didn't get a chance to peak at any of the portages so I can't help you there. Around the lake there didn't seem to be a whole lot of blow downs yet so maybe its not too bad.
I must admit I'm more of a map and compass guy. I bring the GPS just because it pairs with the InReach and its a bit of a novelty. Maybe this winter I should figure out how to use it. Whatever was already on there was way off for navigation so I couldn't have used it without the maps.

Mark


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PostPosted: October 1st, 2016, 10:57 am 
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Joined: December 20th, 2003, 9:27 am
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Mark,
Certainly good rain gear can make a huge difference. Part of our issue was that the wind-driven rain was coming at us from the right hand side of our faces until we turned to go north-west up Otter Lake. Once the wind was behind us, everyone was fine. We probably should have stopped to add more layers especially for some people but they didn't complain and those of us who were comfortable didn't notice. There's a message there for all of us. We were able to find a sheltered spot for lunch, add some layers and then, as I said, shortly after lunch we turned so the wind was at our backs.

I'm a map guy, too. My main reason to have the InReach and GPS is as a communication tool (which works great). I really only plan to use the GPS if I get "misplaced" and then I would use it to find myself on my maps. The only time I used the GPS on this trip was when we were trying to find a possible portage route from Contact Lake to an unnamed lake SE of Contact. We were hoping to be able to get to that lake then make our way into Preview Lake but there was no obvious or relatively easy route. The plan was to see if there was a way to avoid the 1.1 km portage just east of Hebden Lake. What we found might have been a bit shorter if we had cut a trail but the 1.1 km portage is wide and relatively flat and the new portage would have been considerably more challenging.

I do like to get up into that country. The possibilities are endless and there are virtually no people.
Hope to see you us there some year.


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