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Canadian Canoe Routes

Getting Nowhere Fast
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Author:  Mihun09 [ June 23rd, 2013, 9:38 am ]
Post subject:  Getting Nowhere Fast

This year I don't have the usual two week plant shutdown and had to petition for specific time off and did not get the primary weeks I had asked for, so had to settle for this past week and the week following the Labour Day weekend. I also didn't know until 2 1/2 weeks prior to this first trip so we had to rush a bit to plan it out.

Our intention was to revisit an old familiar area, paddle the Wanipigow River to the Broadleaf River and go up to Kosteck Lake to continue our initial exploration of 2009. As it happened, we had to change plans mid trip.

We started out from Wallace Lake around 10am on June 14th, a gentle breeze, but the lake can change at a moment's notice and it is always best to get on the water before noon. It had been 3 years since we have gone this way and it seemed longer getting to the first portage than we had remembered.

The previous day to our leaving I had read about the horrors of tree damage that WCPP was dealing with from last October's early snow storm. It had dropped over a foot of heavy, wet snow on the trees which created tree carnage. I knew the area we were going to had gotten the same storm so I went out and bought an inexpensive 21" bow saw and spare blade to compliment the axe we always take.

We arrived at the first portage and someone had previously cut out all the downed trees but had just left them on the ground. We moved them out of the path and thought we had good luck and perhaps they had cut out All the portages... but no, only the first one it would prove out.

At the second rapid we noticed how low the water was, we dragged the boat through there and continued on. From this point we had to clear every portage and that added time to our planned day of getting up to Leaf Lake, which is about 26km from the Wallace Lake put in.

Below #5 we found a bashed up Bell Alaskan with a Minnesota registration tag wallowing in the river. It was torn gunwale to gunwale just in front of the rear seat and the vinyl rails were ripped apart as well. Considering we were the first through this year it had to have been from last year, likely wrapped and left to the ravages of winter. Possibly the spring run-off popped it out and it will stay stuck in the current and log jam until more high water dislodges it.

Portages 3, 5, 6 and 7 had heavy damage, 4 and 8 were minimal due to short length and lack of trees. At 7 it began to rain so we just made it passable and carried on as it was getting later.

We had already seen one eagle and would have many more sightings during our week out, but the one to be remembered was at portage 8. We had just landed on the shore and a large eagle took off from the other side of the portage and flew upstream a mere 50 feet from us. It was magnificent. Later we would find where it was sitting eating a fish it had caught in the pool below.

The Broadleaf was lower than we had seen it but the portage is intact at the Junction although the first one upstream is a mess and will require a chainsaw to cut it out. We dragged the boat up through a very rocky rapid with little water flowing.

At the point of the Junction you enter the burn from October 2011. It went through on an angle and there are areas of full burn with lush growth in the middle, so it was a fast moving fire and was throwing embers all over the place. Some points on the opposite bank are burned while the other bank is fine. It looks like the first portage upstream got water bombed due to the fire crossing the river there and the trees that are totally knocked over, roots and all.

We set up that night on the Island that has the old rice harvest cabin on it and it rained all night long. Upon inspecting the cabin the next morning, we saw someone put a new roof and door on it and cleaned up the inside, it was really nice to see.

That morning we packed up and headed upstream. That was when it was readily apparent just how low the water was. We had to drag the canoe over gravel bars, lay downs, beaver dams and rock gardens to just get to the first portage upstream. Then the tree nightmare appeared again. Although we could see the path, it not only was covered in downed trees but the bank was washed out from previous years of high water. There is a rock face on the opposite shore that could be used to get around the mess or the river itself could be waded if one chooses to do that, but we chose to stop there and go back to the lake.

We could have gone forth but to what end? This portage was totally blocked, there is another just upstream and then the by-pass which is 1.3 km long through thick forest at both ends and will there be enough water upstream further? No way we would get the Kosteck that day.

We dragged our way back down to Leaf Lake and took up residence in the cabin for the next 4 nights. Why stay in a tent when we have the luxury of a 12x16 plywood cabin? Bunk beds, books to read, and after scoping out and putting duct tape over the holes, it was pretty much bug free too.

The Sunday we took a day trip to try to get to an adjacent lake through the burn to fish. The trek through this was mostly over rock spines while avoiding the many downed trees blocking the best paths. We got some gear across but while going back for the canoe Christine turned an ankle. Despite her wishing to carry on after resting a bit, I won that argument and I fetched the pack back and we went back to the cabin. I figured she had a good chance of doing worse damage to her ankle had we carried on and we couldn't risk that considering where we were. "Make good decisions".

So we just basically puttered around, did some fishing and relaxed, which is what vacations are for I'm told.

On the Monday I was reading in the evening and heard voices. We saw three canoes head for the far shore and it looked like they were looking for a site for the night. We paddled over and found out they were from a YMCA in Minnesota and were headed for the Bloodvein, then up to Family Lake and down the Dogskin. We directed them to the next narrows which has a nice group site and then filled them in on what lay ahead upriver. They had only one saw between 3 boats and no axe, so we gave them our saw and spare blade. They had told us a group of women were a day behind them so giving them the saw would not only allow them to get themselves through but make a path for the second group as well.

The following day the women showed up, 5 in 2 boats and later in the day another group of women appeared, 9 in 3 boats and they were headed for the narrows where we had sent the first group. They seemed to be from a different camp since they had logo's on their canoes but I didn't see from where. All three groups were using Bell Alaskans, the same as the one we found in the river the previous Friday.

After that we didn't see anyone else. On the Wednesday we packed up and headed out, allowing 4 days to get back to the truck, just relaxing, fishing and taking our time leaving.

It was at the junction where we noticed there had been a fly hatch, what they call "Fish Flies" here. The masses of dead flies sure smelled like fish as they rotted on the surface in very large pads. That explained the drop off in the fishing.

We stopped at #6 on the Wanipigow River for the night. After moving the Dolphin to make a better table for the kitchen and getting the tent up, it was nice to just sit next to the river and listen to the water splashing over the rocks. I was tending to the canoe when I heard Christine say "problem" and I turned to see the Coleman double burner stove on fire in a bad way and she was snuffing out flames flowing down the gunwales of the Dolphin. The coffee pot had boiled over and put out the burner, but it kept pumping naphtha into the box and when she relit it, well, you can guess what happened. We watched it burn for awhile but it wasn't going out and then the fibreglass began to bubble and burn so we put it out and let the rest of the unburned fuel evaporate. The case on the stove has seen better days for sure but it is still her favourite stove for tripping and it didn't give us any more problems after that.

I should likely note what the Dolphin is... When we first took this trip in 2008 we found an old glass canoe beached at portage 6. The keel was ripped out of it and it looked like it had been there awhile already. It is red and if viewed from the bow looks like a bottle nose dolphin, and actually was made in Winnipeg and is named the dolphin. It was become a landmark at that site.

All the way out from Leaf Lake I kept saying I wanted to see a moose. We have always seen moose on Leaf Lake but only saw tracks in the burn. Sitting by the rapid and looking downstream I saw a splashing along the bank and sure enough a moose was walking up towards us, splashing her way and seemingly in a really good mood. The river wasn't deep enough for her to dunk her entire body so she stooped down to get the bugs off her belly. I did get the obligatory blurry moose pictures but I also got blurry moose video this time. She never saw us but walked into the grass on the shore and lay down.

After dinner when we headed downstream to do some fishing, she stood and ambled off into the brush, apparently not afraid of us at all. Once again I was reminded I need a better camera.

Thursday we moved upstream again and found a new site on the river leading out of Wallace Lake, past portage 1. It is up on a sloping rock and has room for a group. We had an east wind that day that kept the bugs at bay and it really is a lovely spot overlooking a meadow on the far shore. We had intended to stay at the first portage for the night but found this spot when out fishing earlier and moved since it provided a better location to fish the river in both directions.

That evening we pondered heading out in the morning, a day early. We had the wind to consider on the lake and we had a east wind that day which would make for a gruelling trip back down the lake if it continued, which it did most of the night. We had had several days with brisk wind we had to fight through to get out and fish and didn't wish to fight the lake again on the way out.

Friday morning dawned overcast with a light breeze from a direction we could discern and we decided to pack and go with the good conditions. Once out on the lake proper we had a following wind which favoured a quick exit, but that didn't happen. As we made our way down the wind began to shift, from the NW to N, so when we came around Big Island we were broadside to heavy swells, which required quartering into the wind away from where we needed to go. Getting down to the last point we needed to round, the wind had then shifted to almost due east and we had a following wind again.

We spent about an hour on the beach as we packed up talking with Marty, the park manager before hitting the road for home. It had been a great trip and although very tired, sore and sunburnt, we were very relaxed. The 3 1/2 hour drive home seemed to just fly by. It really is wonderful to be that close to wilderness, a place we can paddle and be alone with only the bush plane traffic disturbing the daily tranquility.

We saw the moose, 2 deer (1 alive), beaver, river otters, eagles, hawks, trumpeter swans, Canadian geese, many species of ducks and other birds, one little snake, painted and snapping turtles. Thankfully no bears, just tracks in the burn, although we were told at the park they are aggressive since we had a late spring and we saw the berries are not out yet.

On the first day we were eaten alive by black flies but they tapered off, the mosquito's were fierce by week's end but the deer and horse flies came out strong after a few days. Our friends the dragon flies helped out a lot and were out in force.

We may go back to Atikaki for my second week of holidays in September, armed with a chainsaw to finish cutting out the portages and cut a new one up from Leaf Lake, but there are so many other places to go and I like to see new areas each year. Time will tell...

Author:  Mihun09 [ June 23rd, 2013, 9:41 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Getting Nowhere Fast

Pics, more to come as I get them edited...

Author:  Canoeheadted [ June 23rd, 2013, 11:28 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Getting Nowhere Fast

Sounds like awesome holidays!

Author:  canoeguitar [ June 23rd, 2013, 1:19 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Getting Nowhere Fast

Glad to hear you got out for an early season trip - some obstructed ports, but no serious fire activity like in 2012. Are you going to try to make it into WCPP again this year? Maybe during your Labour Day week?

Author:  Mihun09 [ June 23rd, 2013, 5:41 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Getting Nowhere Fast

More pics..

The bottom of #3 on the Wanipigow River
The first drop on #6
The bottom of #6
The bottom of #7
#8 on the Wanipigow River

Author:  Mihun09 [ June 23rd, 2013, 5:44 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Getting Nowhere Fast

Still more... I do like my photo's...
Camp at #6
First portage upstream of Leaf Lake, can you see it?
First port again, more trees down...
The rock garden just before that impassable portage...

Author:  Mihun09 [ June 23rd, 2013, 5:48 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Getting Nowhere Fast

This is why we love Leaf Lake

The water level rock. In 2010 this was under water. That rock is 25 feet long.

Part of the burn along the Broadleaf River

This is the good side of the portage above the junction on the Broadleaf, at the other end it is all trees uprooted.

The river at that portage

Author:  Mihun09 [ June 23rd, 2013, 5:52 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Getting Nowhere Fast

Something smells fishy...

The killer dragonflies would come help take care of the bug problem

Nice morning, second last day.

The Wanipigow River, or a Swift ad.

For photo's of the busted up Bell Alaskan, go to the Boat Design thread.

Author:  Mihun09 [ June 23rd, 2013, 5:54 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Getting Nowhere Fast

Mike, we haven't really considered WCPP for this year although we are thinking about doing the Bird River up into Snowshoe Lake for the September trip. Never know what will happen though.

We only had one day of rain and the forest is tinder dry once again this year. We are getting rain today but that area needs 2 weeks of steady rain to fill the lakes and rivers and bring the forest back to life.

Author:  HOOP_ [ June 24th, 2013, 6:23 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Getting Nowhere Fast

Nice photos Mihun09!

Thank you for bringing the chain saw and clearing portages! :thumbup:

That snowdown-blowdown was really something! I saw some of it on the Ontario side, and its incredible.

With all those tops down it will definitely add to the fire hazard. They are still semi green or just starting to turn orange now. But next 2 years when the needles are all orange, still retained on the twigs, and the twigs are dried out, then we have the huge fuel load to really up the risk of "the big one"!

If it does not all go up in flames, we will have a fine camp firewood supply for decades to come!

Would love to see more photos of the snowdown, and before and after portage clearing if you have some.

Author:  Paddle Power [ June 24th, 2013, 4:48 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Getting Nowhere Fast

Looking good.
Thanks for the update.

Author:  Mihun09 [ June 24th, 2013, 7:09 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Getting Nowhere Fast

Hoop, we Didn't have a chainsaw, just a 21" bow saw and an axe. We just wished we had the chainsaw.

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