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PostPosted: August 10th, 2018, 11:40 am 
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Joined: December 20th, 2003, 9:27 am
Posts: 967
Cold River - Waterhen River, Saskatchewan
Trip report – August 2 to August 6, 2018

Many thanks to Pawistik and friends for trying to arrange a shuttle to the Highway 155 Bridge.

Start: We met the rest of our group at Pierce Lake Lodge, set up camp and took a vehicle to Tawaw Cabins on the southwest corner of Waterhen Lake. Both Pierce Lake Lodge and Tawaw Cabins allowed us to leave vehicles on site – many thanks to both. The shuttle drive took close to 3 hours return.

Brief overview: This is not a wilderness trip as “civilization” is close-by over much of the trip. There are resorts and cabins on Pierce Lake, Lac des Isles and Waterhen Lake. The road through Meadow Lake Provincial Park is out of sight but quite close by at several points and we went under 3 highway bridges on our journey. In addition, cattle are permitted to graze at places in Meadow Lake Provincial Park. In spite of all of these things, in many places, particularly along the rivers, we felt that we were on a wilderness trip. On day 3, our long day on the river-only section, we did not see any other people. We found the campsites to be comfortable and spacious. We saw lots of loons, pelicans, eagles, osprey, other hawks, herons, kingfishers and some smaller ducks, some grebes and some shorebirds. We saw 2 deer, several beavers and a muskrat. Some of our group had a brief encounter with otters. We encounter several garter snakes.

Our Route: We paddled out of Howe Bay of Pierce Lake, into a short section of the Cold River, across Lepine Lake, down another section of the Cold River and out onto Lac des Isles. After crossing this large lake, we entered the Waterhen River. (The name of the river changes from Cold River when it enters Lac des Isles to Waterhen River when it leaves Lac des Isles.) We followed the river down to Waterhen Lake and cut back to the west on Waterhen Lake to finish at Tawaw Cabins. We felt that the water level that we experienced was ideal. If water levels were significantly lower, some sections of the river would be very rocky, although, since this was our first trip on the Waterhen, we cannot say what water level would be too low for the rapids section.

Our Trip: It is about 2 km from the dock at Pierce Lake Lodge to the end of Howe Bay and about another 2 km to the bridge on Highway 950. There is some fast water under the bridge but it should be no problem for alert paddlers. Lepine Lake is about 5 km long and has low, reedy shores. The Saskatchewan Trip report notes a campsite on the RL (north) shore near the outlet. We did not try to find this site. After the initial riffle on this part of the river, there is a pipeline crossing. On RL, up a hill, there is a Boreal Trail campsite (BT3 which had a bear locker and fire pit – didn’t see the “throne” but didn’t look too hard.). We stopped for lunch on the RR shore on the pipeline right-of-way. We found this section of river quite delightful with mildly moving water and much bird life. At lower water levels there would be more rocks to avoid. There were a number of potential campsites some fairly close to river level on RR and some a little higher on the RL bank.
Lac des Isles is about 17 km long from west to east. While paddling along this lake, we had lovely weather with a mild headwind to keep it cool. We stopped for a swim at Pelican Point at a nice sandy area and camped for the night just past Whitefish Point in a fairly flat, sandy area. We didn’t see a lot of potential campsites along the north shore but one could camp at Pelican Point and, as we did, at Whitefish Point. There were some blueberries and saskatoons here. There was quite a lot of boat traffic and some areas of cabins especially along the south shore near the east end of the lake. We had a large thunderstorm that night with enough hail to make the ground turn mostly white. Interesting time to be in a tent. The next morning was cloudy but not raining and we had an easy paddle to the east end of the lake.
The first 3.5 km of the Waterhen River to the bridge on Highway 224 are slow with weedy edges. We passed under the bridge and had lunch on the river left edge of the highway near the park entry kiosk as there weren’t many dry spots along the river. The rapids noted in Saskatchewan Documented Canoe Trips 23 and 24 start about 300 metres below this bridge.
At the water levels that we had, we were able to scout the rapids from the canoe and run them. Most were Class 1 with perhaps a Class 2. There was some manoeuvering required on some but the current was not particularly pushy. Some rocks were visible but many, many more were covered by enough water to pass over them. It is easy to see that at lower water levels there would be a lot more manoeuvering required and likely some bouncing off rocks and possibly some wading or lining. We felt that we had a near perfect water level. The next 16 or so km had a mixture of rapids and slower sections.
We camped on a lovely spot on a hill on RL at UTM Grid 73K/6 - 203305. Nice flat areas and lots of blueberries. We saw a number of white pelicans here. That evening we paddled down to BT6 which was less than a km below us. It had a bear cache locker, a fire ring, a green “throne” and decent camping. There were lots of blueberries and lots of mosquitoes.
The next day we continued on through a mix of slow, weedy sections, parts with more current and some rapids. Near the end of the rapids we started to see signs of homes and cabins along the shore. We stopped for lunch at the Waterhen River Runners “chalet” (UTM 73K/7 – 336284) which is a small cabin maintained by local snowmobilers but it is also a campsite for the Boreal Trail. The cabin was in very good condition and had good areas for camping. There was an outhouse and a green “throne”. There were raspberries, saskatoons and blueberries here. As you go along, the river got gradually slower and, at first there were numerous possible campsites along the shore but the number of possibilities decreased as we went downstream. Even getting close to Rusty Creek there were still occasional places that looked “camp-able”. We had a long day today and paddled all the way to Rusty Creek. Thanks to Andrea N. we knew of a nice campsite about a km or so up the creek on RL. It was on our right in a small bay just past a jackpine covered point as we moved up the slow-moving creek. Lots of flat areas, lots of blueberries and we were able to walk almost to Rusty Lake. One couple paddled up to Rusty Lake in the evening and had a brief encounter with some otters.
All of us paddled up to Rusty Lake the next morning to see if we could see the otters but we were out of luck so we moved on down to the Waterhen River and downstream on it. Higher ground is well back from the river in most places and campsites would be difficult to find.
We stopped at a boat launch/parking lot on RR just above the bridge on Highway 4. We walked over the bridge to look at the picnic site on the other side. It was very basic – toilets, parking, no tables, no water. We thought, perhaps, one could use this picnic site as a campsite in an emergency but there appeared to be no easy access to the site from the river and the signs did say “no camping”. We walked back to the boats and decided to have lunch on the grass in the shade of the trees lining the parking area. A local couple stopped by and gave us some historical information about the former location of an outfitter near the old bridge crossing which is just under 3 km downstream from the current bridge. They also told us of a potential campsite on RR downstream from the old bridge site.
We stopped on RL at the narrows caused by the old road at the old bridge site. There is some current here and the landing is a little tricky. We walked north along the rough road then turned east onto an old trail. After a few hundred metres, we found the remnants of an old fireplace but we couldn’t find any other signs of the former camp. There is a sandy hill which allows for a good view of the surrounding area. We were told the site is called Sissipuk (spelling?) which evidently means “many geese”. The camp was a fly –in camp for goose hunters. If you want to go for a walk to see this fireplace and to look around, I would recommend that you stop on RL not at the bridge site but rather upstream from the road in a bay far to the left of the bridge site where the river weeds meet the old road. The take-out there is easier.
When we were planning the trip, we thought that the old road might be a possible campsite as other reports warned of no campsites from above the Highway 4 bridge all the way to Waterhen Lake. One could camp on the south side (RR) on the old road or one could use the landing I recommended in the last paragraph and camp on the north side (RL) along the old trail.
Armed with local information, we took the RR channel below the old bridge site and found several possible campsites. The first possibility was at 73K/7 – 569317. The second was at 73K/7 – 572318. The second site had an easier landing but both sites had lots of flat areas and lots of blueberries. We sent a scout to look over a third possible camping site a little further downstream and her opinion was that it was camp-able but there was not easy access. We camped at the second site and walked along some truck trails that looked as if they saw occasional use. We didn’t stop at a fourth potential site just downstream as we did not see an easy landing site. There are some buildings but evidently it is OK to camp here. We were told the man (former trapper Al Penner) who used to live there built a 3-hole golf course. Although we didn’t try to land at this site because we didn’t see an easy access, I looked on Google Earth when I got home and the buildings and golf course are visible.
We paddled through a marshy, delta area as the Waterhen River approached Waterhen Lake. We did not see any signs of possible camping areas. We were careful to stay to the left as we approached the lake and had no trouble with the maze of channels. We encountered a moderate headwind as we turned sharp left into the lake. We didn’t see any obvious landing spots as we went along the south shore because of extensive weed beds so, after a short break behind a weed point, we paddled all the way to Tawaw Cabins.
We loaded up, had lunch and drove back to our other vehicles at Pierce Lake Lodge.
A very good trip with lots of variety and some excellent campsites. We are already talking about completing the trip on the Waterhen River to the Beaver River or to Lac Ile a la Crosse.

PostPosted: October 13th, 2018, 5:57 pm 
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Joined: October 5th, 2015, 9:32 pm
Posts: 92
Location: Saskatchewan
Nice write-up that might come in handy. Pretty lucky getting the locals' knowledge.

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