Archive for February, 2012

July 27, 2009 South Saskatchewan River Canoe Trip

February 27, 2012

Day 3 of 5

Woke up to a clear sunny day.

Packing up (7:45 a.m.)

Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia polyacantha) – Watch your step!

White Evening Primrose (Oenothera nuttallii)

On the river, we soon entered what is labeled on the map as “Three Bar Three Flats”. I’m not sure the origin or meaning of the name. The river valley widened and flattened out nearly to the point where there was no valley at all. We could see distant farms and fields beyond shore. The river became shallow and a tangle of sandbars and low islands, most with little vegetation beyond grasses and grass height plants (earlier islands often had willow tress). The islands showed evidence of frequent flooding and submersion, with little trees able to establish.

The wind was picking up strong from the NNE, to our advantage, behind and slightly from the side. However, the water was just starting to break into white caps so we had to cautiously travel near shore and balance the canoe to prevent
water coming in.

We took a break on a low (1 m max above water level) white island of silt with little plant life. I hiked in bare feet through the soft spongy silt to the end of the island to scope out our route options. We could not find any main channel, just a tangle of braided channels weaving between the islands. I was concerned we’d paddle down a channel that where we would beach and be forced to backtrack against the growing wind and current. Or worse, become wind bound on a small island of silt. I was not keen on camping on such an island considering the possibility of the water coming up over the island overnight and muddy landscape.

We eventually wound through the maze of channels and islands to the west shore and hugged the shore down to Lake Diefenbaker. A large herd of cattle was on shore at one point, watching us closely. We hoped we wouldn’t capsize from the waves and wash to shore in the middle of their group!

We seemed to be in a sort of delta as we approached the beginning of Lake Diefenbaker. It was hard to guess if the islands and braided channels had always been there or were caused by the formation of the Lake Diefenbaker reservoir in 1967. Perhaps some of both, as the lack of valley walls was definitely unique here.

As we neared the start of Lake Diefenbaker, near where the Miry Creek entered from the west, the islands became submerged (now about 15 km from previous camp). Recent plant growth was submerged by a foot or two of water. We weren’t sure if the wind was raising the water as it blew from north to south, if the river was rising, or if Lake Diefenbaker was filling, causing the edge of the lake to advance backwards onto the river (or some combination of each).  The current was becoming undetectable so we guessed it was the headwaters of Lake Diefenbaker working their way backwards up the river. After the trip we checked the river level tracking from Sask Water which indicated a downward trend during the entire trip from  240 m3/s at the start and 200 m3/s near the end of the trip, as measured at the “Lake Diefenbaker Routed Inflow” station.

I think we ate lunch around this time, but not recorded or remembered. I wanted to explore the inlet from Miry Creek, but we decided against this as with the wind was growing in strength. We wanted to make as much distance as possible (and hopefully to Cabri Regional Park by the end of the day). Sadly I did not take any photos this day on the water as the waves made photo taking in the canoe too precarious and we hurried through brief stops.

Near Miry Creek, the valley walls began to sharply rise up again. We eventually hit a south shoreline with a rocky beach that we had to follow east to get around a point and into Lake Diefenbaker. This required canoeing parallel to the wind and waves, by now white-capping regularly. We were preparing for the possibility of not making it and heading to shore to wait out the wind if needed. But I was surprised when we managed to get around the point while taking on little water (and no spray deck). Sarah was pulling hard on the paddle, determined and enjoying the challenge, which helped greatly as I was forced to rudder and steer more than paddle.

Our highly non-aerodynamic load caused the canoe to want to turn into the wind constantly. Sometimes it felt that my paddle might break from the force of the wind as it flexed while ruddering. Once around the point the islands disappeared, and we followed about 10 to 20 feet off shore with the wind mostly to our backs and slightly from the left. This way if we capsized, the wind would blow us and our unsecured gear immediately onto the shore.

The valley sides grew steep with sheer earthen cliffs created from the eroding waters of the lake. We looked at the interesting soil layers of different colours, rising and falling (not level) where exposed along the cliffs. Hidden shelves of sandstone were exposed on occasion. Grass roots dangled near the top, exposed. Cows continued to be our companions, occasionally watching from shore with a curious (confused?) look in their eyes. I wanted to take a photo but it was not worth the possible risk of capsizing in the process.

Of course Sarah needed a washroom break as a herd of cattle followed us along shore, forcing her to wait! We eventually took a break where the Lake turned to the East where Antelope Creek came into the Lake. I had to stand in the water and manhandle the canoe to prevent the wind and waves from smashing it into the rocky shore. We saw the first boat on the water since Eston Regional Park, a motor boat off in the distance.

Now late afternoon, we debated finding another “wilderness” site versus shooting for Cabri Regional Park (another 5 or 6 km). There will minimal trees for shelter, only bushes in the gulleys which were either too dense for a tent or full of cow manure due to cows taking shelter there. The open hillsides seemed very exposed in the strong winds. I imagined the tent flapping around violently, attempting to take flight.

We decided to push to Cabri even though we were growing tired from fighting the wind all day. The wind had shifted more from the north and NNW, so that while mostly from the side, it was slightly pushing us forward, which helped a lot. We reached Cabri Regional Park around 6pm. The beach area was very muddy. I went to the campground office to sign in and find tenting sites while Sarah stayed with the canoe.

We found a spot on the grass near the “beach” area (beach consisted of silt/mud, not sand). The campground was much larger than expected, with 125 sites full of RV’s and trailers (maybe one or two other tents). The sprinklers were running on the lawn near the beach nearly the entire time we were there (even in the rain), explaining the oasis-like vegetation. We had to haul our gear up the beach area for 100 m or so, which seemed very far in our exhausted state. We had paddled about 35 km this day.

Arriving at Cabri Regional Park (6:40 p.m.)

Debris Trail of Stuff

We quickly ate as we were very hungry, our blood sugar collapsing after the final push. We set up the tent behind plywood bleachers/seating overlooking the beach for a sort of wind block. Showered, filled up water bottles. The frozen vegetables were by now bad and had to be thrown out (they were mostly done after two days). Next time we would bring dehydrated veggies instead and no cooler, even for such a short trip. Went to bed early as soon as we could. Woke up in night from some young drunk people wandering around near our tent. They were herded away by the campground caretaker.

See map from last portion of previous day and first portion of this day, the rest of the map from this day is in a later post:

Day 3