August 18, 2015 Churchill River Canoe Trip

May 22, 2016

Day 3 of 5

I had my usual quick and convenient breakfast of cold instant oats mixed with apple sauce and trail mix. We usually only have a hot meal at supper. After breakfast I explored the area around the camp while Sarah slept. She was up in the night several times due to tent induced claustrophobia.

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Along the ridges of rock outcroppings the undergrowth in the forest is thin enough to make walking relatively easy — if you don’t mind getting a face full of dozens of spider webs, alleviated somewhat by the Spider Web Mitigation Trail Blazing Stick. The mosquitoes were a bit dense in some of the undergrowth, but didn’t bother me much as long as I kept moving — which of course is impossible when you go to the washroom (following Leave No Trace principles).

We left camp at 11 a.m. to paddle to Nistowiak Falls. The weather was sunny with a light breeze to keep the bugs away, the temperature comfortable in a T-shirt  — perfect paddling weather. Each small bay along the way beckoned me to explore its secrets.

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Stopping on shore for a washroom break

As we approached the outlet of Rapid River, which flows from Iskwatikan Lake, we glided by numerous sea gulls and pelicans that were intermittently fishing in the water and perching on reefs.

Around 12:30 p.m. we arrived at the shoreline adjacent to the rustic Jim’s Fishing Camp beside the outlet of the river . We saw only one person off in the distance at the camp and no motorboats all morning. We saw two canoes in the distance paddling hard from west to east, the first of only two groups of canoes we saw this trip. We ate a lunch of bagels along the shore of the final set of rapids.

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Distant reefs gleam white with guano and birds

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After lunch we hiked up the trail to the falls. The trail is well-maintained by the staff at the fishing camp. We stopped at clearings along the trail to pick wild raspberries, talking loudly to warn any bears that might have the same idea.

The falls exuded a thundering power that I could feel in my chest. Watching the endless tonnes of water pouring over the rocky ledges was mesmerizing. The mist rising from the foam was cooling and refreshing.

I tried to imagine the spiritual significance the falls must have had, and still have, for the First Nations peoples. I wish I knew more about their cultures. At a 10 m drop it’s one of the highest waterfalls in Saskatchewan. A small drop compared to waterfalls in the Rocky Mountains, but when the Rockies are hundreds of km away these falls are a significant destination — worthy of our multi-day pilgrimage.

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We wanted to check if there was cell reception at the higher elevation above the falls (out of curiosity, for potential emergencies), but forgot the phones at the canoe. I went back down the trail to fetch them while Sarah took the opportunity for a short nap. We discovered there was no reception anywhere. The cell tower at Stanley Mission must not quite reach above the rocky hills.

We hiked the short distance further along the trail to Iskwatikan Lake, south of falls, where the trail ended. We stood on the shore of another large lake full of islands, attempting to comprehend the vastness of the land. We were tempted to take a dip in the lake, but the shoreline was steep and full of large, sharp, slippery boulders that looked injury inducing.

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We wondered if the inspiration for the illustrations in Dr. Seuss books came from the many weird and wonderful mosses, ferns and fungi of the north

We paddled away around 2 p.m. By now a moderate SW wind had picked up, but was easily managed by staying close to shore and islands as much as possible. Small rain clouds were building in the distance.

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Final island before crossing open water against the wind back to camp

Back at camp I chipped about one quarter of my back molar off when biting a pepperoni stick with a piece of bone in it. Fortunately it was not quite chipped to the nerve, so there was no pain, other than the sharp edges catching on tongue and cheeks.

The air pump on the old Coleman Peak stove was jamming worse than the day before, to the point that we couldn’t use it. With a cool wind building and rain threatening, we hastily built a fire pit using rocks from shore. It was a bit tricky to build the rocks to adequately block the wind to start the fire, but we managed.

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After a day of paddling, hiking, building the fire pit and increased mosquitoes, we were quite ready to head to bed early that night, packing it in around 8:30 p.m.

Sarah decided to try sleeping outside to avoid tent claustorphobia. She wrapped a tarp around her sleeping bag and wore the bug jacket and head net. I’m not sure that she got much more sleep, but she did have an opportunity to see the Northern Lights, which I missed. The noise of the bugs and concerns of rolling into the lake kept her awake somewhat, but she did sleep deeper and more restfully.

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