Winnipeg River Journey 2016

In August 2016, my friend Arthur and I set out with the goal of paddling from Kenora, Ontario to Winnipeg, Manitoba.  We have spent a lot of time in the backcountry together, but this would be our first venture by canoe.  While we did not end up completing the final leg of the journey (the Red River), we made it all the way down the Winnipeg River, and had an amazing time.

MAP

Day 1 – August 14th 2016
12 Miles – Black Sturgeon Lake to The Big Stretch

We paddled away from the cottage around 1PM after a breakfast and swim with my Aunt’s family. Olivia and Mom kayaked with us for at least half an hour and saw us off. A short while later, on Black Sturgeon River, we saw a bird swoop down and catch a fish in it’s beak. A second later, it dropped the fish and flew off. The next instant, a bald eagle swooped in, grabbing the fish in it’s talons. Before long, we reached Black Sturgeon Rapids. We pulled aside to evaluate the rapids and decide whether to run them or take the boat rollerway around them. Although they didn’t look too crazy, we were inexperienced. We decided to leave all our things safely ashore and try running them for fun, since there was an easy way back to the top. We did, however leave our heavy food barrel in the middle of the canoe, in hopes it would provide weight/balance. We picked our course and entered the pull of the rapids at full stride. For about ten seconds, we smoothly dodged rocks and raced down. Just before the end of the run, a strong current swept us towards a fallen tree which capcized us. With our persons and the canoe pinned against the tree, we scanned around for the barrel and paddles. The paddles were found and placed safely on the tree trunk, while we figured the barrel was still under the overturned canoe. We pushed the canoe back into the current and climbed up on the tree. I swam after the canoe and barrel, managing to pull both items ashore. Two of Arthur’s fingers were cut and bruised from the event. And we both lost our hats. We pulled the canoe back to our things and loaded back up. We took the easy way past the rapids and continued on. We made camp this night on Treaty Island on The Big Stretch of Winnipeg River. Beans and mushrooms in beef bouillon made a great dinner. It started raining in the middle of the night. We’d decided to leave the fly off the tent, so we were awakened immediately. Arthur masterfully reached out the tent door and threw the fly over the tent. I was impressed.

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Day 2 – August 15 2016
18 Miles: The Big Stretch to Whitedog Falls Generating Station

The rain had stopped by the time we woke up. We had a quick breakfast of oatmeal and coffee and packed up. By 9:30 we paddled away towards Minaki. We hoped to cover a lot of miles today to make up for yesterday. The water was calm and we still had lots of energy. After a couple hours we passed Minaki and entered Little Sand Lake. We continued through Rough Rock Narrows onto Rough Rock Lake, where we stopped for lunch. Beef jefky, beans and lentils, pineapple, and some protein drink. We got going when we noticed a storm coming our way. It continued to follow us the rest of the day. We successfully ran a couple spots of (tiny) rapids that made us feel better about ourselves. On a whim, we passed through a crack in the rock. I got out to snap a photo and found blueberries, so I filled our pot. In no time, we spotted White Dog Falls, our first portage. We portaged everything but the canoe, leaving it locked up to take in the morning. The storm was finally about to catch us, so we quickly set up camp. We were too tired to cook the chilli we had planned, so we decided to save it for breakfast. We dined instead on Clif Bars, fresh blueberries, and protein drink. We quickly drifted off to the sound of rain.

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Day 3 – August 16th 2016
22 Miles – Whitedog Falls to Eaglenest Lake

We woke up early but were slow to get going since we were cooking chilli for breakfast and had to portage the canoe. We stopped on Castle’s Island near Whitedog for a snack, then stopped again just south of Tetu Lake for lunch and a swim/bath. Lunch was rice with some leftover Chilli. Continuing on, Tetu Lake was beautiful and silent. Unfortunately the current turned against us towareds the Northern half of the lake. We could see storms in the distance, but they were moving due East and would miss us. The passage into Eaglenest Lake was interesting. Miniature whirlpools and undertows were everywhere and gently pushed and pulled the canoe. Today’s portion of Eaglenest Lake was the same, all the way to our campsite. We picked a random shore to make camp on. As we approached, we noticed a picnic table. As we entered and ascended the hill, we found tables, desks, and best of all, a full on fire pit/grill stocked with wood. We realized the next day that this spot must be used for shore lunches by the Fishing Lodge further up the lake. Simultaneously, the sky became a beautiful purple/pink and a full moon presented itself. The water was still, so we took the opportunity to shoot photos and play banjo. Macaroni in meat sauce with mushrooms made a delicious dinner. We got to bed by 9:30, glad to have made it into Manitoba today.

Day 4 – August 17th 2016
28 Miles – Eaglenest Lake to Point Du Bois

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Today we passed through the larger section of Eaglenest Lake. Fish were jumping everywhere and we wished we’d brought a rod. We hoped to make it to Lamprey Rapids tonight and if we had to portage them, camp at the end of that portage. We had an early start, but still worked hard to make our goal. We reached the rapids around 5 PM and found that the water level was perfect for an easy passage. They were hardly rapids at all – just a few splashes. Since we wouldn’t have to portage them, we decided to push to Point Du Bois. It would be another 7 miles, but it would be worth it to combine camping with the portage. We made it there as the sun was beginning to set. We found out there was no real portage trail – just a long (2km+), hilly walk through the town. Additionally, we had to paddle back across the bay to camp. This was a bit frustrating at the end of a long day and we were starving! We made camp, ate a quick dinner, and got to bed at 9, having decided that we’d try to hitch a ride through town in the morning from a worker with a truck. In the middle of the night, a storm rolled in. With it came the loudest thunder I’d heard in ages. The accompanying lightning illuminated the inside of the tent. The rain kept us awake, so we decided to sleep in until 7.

Day 5 – August 18th 2016
11 Miles – Point Du Bois to Sturgeon Falls

We wokep up at 7 to find the storm had cleared. We quickly packed up, skipping breakfast, and crossed the bay. With no sign of workers at the shore, we prepared for a long, hard portage. With our packs and arms full of gear, we began our first trip up the service road into Point Du Bois. After about 5 minutes, we saw some workers in a maintenance yard. We asked them for info on the portage, and they scratched their heads, unsure. After a couple minutes of discussing the best route, the supervisor said that one of his workers could give us a ride and put our gear on the trailer. We were relieved to bypass hours of labor. 15 minutes later, we were at the bottom of Eight Foot Falls where we made breakfast and coffee on the dock. We paddled to Slave Falls, where the portage trail was tough to find. The workers were friendly and helpful. It was a short and easy portage. We took some photos and had a snack. 5 miles later, Scott’s Rapids were non-existent due to the water level. We continued 3 miles on to Sturgeon Falls. These falls were in ful lswing, so we decided to portage them. The island in the middle seemed like a good portage route, and a nice place to set up camp. It was a little early, but we were ahead of schedule and hadn’t had a moment to relax in the last 5 days. We made a fire and cooked a big dinner since we had skipped lunch. Our island had a beautiful view of the sunset over Nutimik Lake. We played some chess and got to bed.

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Day 6 – August 19th – 2016
17 Miles – Sturgeon Falls to Old Pinawa Dam

After an easy paddle over Nutimik, the winds turned against us on Dorothy Lake and continued to be rough on Margaret Lake. We learned that we could go North at Hind Island and take the Pinawa Channel up to Lac Du Bonnet, and in doing so, bypass the Seven Sisters Dam which didn’t really have a portage trail. We had scouted out these falls prior to the trip, and it looked like a long, tough portage. A quick, easy portage got us into Pinawa Channel. On the portage, we made rice pudding with instant rice, vanilla whey protein powder, brown sugar, pineapple, and cinnamon. It was delicious! Once on the portage, there was a nice current in our favor. Past the suspension bridge, it turned into a marshy maze which we navigated through with relative ease. Partway through the marsh were some falls caused by an elevation drop. They looked too big for our packed canoe that sat fairly low. We opted for a bush-whacking portage through a dense, boggy forest. Though difficult, I found a souvenir antler which made it feel worth it. The marshiness continued until we made camp just a couple miles south of the Old Dam. Tomorrow we hope to reach McArthur Falls, which looks about 25 miles off. Hopefully Lac Du Bonnet is calm. Early bed time.

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Day 7 – August 20th 2016
18 Miles – Old Pinawa Dam to Lac Du Bonnet

We woke up early and were at Old Pinawa Dam in no time. After taking the packs and scouting the portage trail, we returned to bring the food barrel. Sitting beside the barrel was Mom, Dallas and Delilah (my 2 dogs)! Dad appeared a moment later with Tim Hortons and snacks for us. And new hats! We shared stories and they helped us portage. It was wonderful to see them. Past the dam, entering the Lee River, the wind was against us. It got worse as we progressed, peaking mid-afternoon. The open water west of Sunset Bay was wavy – bouncing and splashing us. Tired and frustrated, we settled for camp just inside lac Du Bonnet. We’d wake up early and hope for calm waters to cross the lake. All things considered, today was eventful and productive. Aside from being exhausting, it was great. There was little choice of where to camp that night, and the one flat spot we did find had some bear scat nearby. Although evidently very old, it was enough of a sign to remind us to be cautious. We decided to just skip dinner knowing we’d be too tired to clean up nicely after it. Instead, we sat by the water and ate multigrain chips from my parents and went to bed early. Arthur woke me up in the middle of the night. “There’s dogs outside the tent” he said urgently. We had a bear banger pre-loaded in the tent attic which we grabbed. Before opening the tent, we sat and listened. Sure enough, it sounded like there was some movement and a low grunting/snarling kind of sound. Arthur opened his side of the tent and shot off the flare. After 15 seconds, something was still making noise. It sounded to me like some large rodent gnawing on something. With bear spray in hand, we sat listening. We were both shaking a bit, but in our defence, it was quite a cold night. I heard a low groaning. A few seconds later we realized it was just an airplane. We stepped outside to find that the gnawing sound was just the tide on the rocks. I figured while we were up and the lake seemed calm, maybe we should just paddle through the night and sleep more at McArthur Falls, 8 miles further. I checked my phone and it was only 10:30 pm. Back to sleep.

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Day 8 – August 21st 2016
25 Miles – Lac Du Bonnet to Powerview-Pine Falls

We woke with my alarm at 4:30 am. We skipped breakfast and coffe and got on the calm lake as quick as we could. As the sun started to rise, the lake became a rolling quilt of blue, orange, pink, purple and yellow. We were headed towards the moon with the sun rise at our back. In a couple hours, we reached McArthur dam and made breakfast on the portage. A fisherman gave us advice for the portages ahead. Great Falls was not far ahead. The river right portage was short but looked steep and rocky, so we headed across to a nice looking road on river left. Although it was a nicer path, it ended up being much further than it looked from thee river, going through the community. A couple at the boat launch offered us a ride which we gratefully accepted. We were exhausted and hungry, so we stopped a mile before Pine Falls. Though our site seemed to be backcountry, it turned out to be private property. The owner came and talked to us and was very friendly. He let us stay the night and gave us instructions for the portage the next day.

Day 9 – August 22nd 2016
23 Miles – Powerview – Pine Falls to Elk Island

We decided to sleep in until 7 – we were tired from the long day before. We skipped breakfast; we’d cook on the portage in a mile or two. At Pine Falls, Arthur made oatmeal and coffee while I carried our things over the easy roads. We spend the next couple of hours following the current towards Traverse Bay. At the mouth of the bay, we took a break on the beautiful beach and cooked some macaroni for lunch. We spent the rest of the day crossing Traverse Bay, which was pretty choppy, We made it to Elk Island a couple hours before sunset. We walked the last mile on the sandbar, pulling the canoe in the water. It felt great to walk for a while, instead of paddling all the way to the island. We set up camp on a large section of the sandbar that had lots of driftwood. We had planned an easy day for tomorrow, so we enjoyed the night with a roaring fire. The sunset, moon and stars were beautiful. We went to bed around 10:30.

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Days 10 & 11 – August 23rd & 24th 2016

Elk Island to Lockport

Arthur and I both had to be back for school in early September.  Although we were on track with our planned schedule up until this point, we would not be able to cross Lake Winnipeg to the mouth of the Red River in one day as I had allotted.  Even though the tide and weather reports looked alright, and it was relatively calm, the short paddle from Elk Island to Victoria Beach was challenging.  As we approached Victoria Beach, we saw a storm about to get underway right where we would be heading if we had still hoped to traverse the lake.  Instead, we decided we would skip Lake Winnipeg, get a ride around it, and finish our trip up the red.  At Victoria Beach, we had coffee with a friend’s dad who owns a cottage there, then caught a ride around the lake from our friend Jen.  She put us back in the Red as far north as we could find an entry point, just south of Netley Marsh.  We paddled another 5 miles to camp just North of Selkirk that night.  On the way, we paddled under PTH4 “Bridge to Nowhere” which was pretty neat.  So far the Red River was filthy (compared to the beautiful Winnipeg River) and full of mosquitos.  Setting up camp was terrible.  Once in the tent, our friend Jen texted us to warn us about a tornado warning in the area.  Over the evening, a mild storm rolled in, but no tornados.  The next day, we kept heading North past Selkirk and decided that we would rather finish things at Lockport than do one more day from Lockport to Winnipeg.  A Northbound Red River trip in the future would be more enjoyable.  My parents (and dogs) picked us up and we got lunch from the Half Moon Drive In.

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