Day 1 of 5
This paddling trip was planned for after a wedding in the city of North Battleford, Saskatchewan. It would be our first extended overnight trip without the kids since 2009, so I was more than little excited about this trip. The original four to five day trip was planned for upstream of North Battleford on the North Saskatchewan River. The kids would stay with extended family. We were going to leave the car at the hotel we were staying at and co-ordinate a shuttle ride with a family member attending the wedding. In between wedding events I scouted some take-out locations along the river shore.
However, the river was very low with many exposed sandbars. Concerned we might spend more time pushing than paddling the canoe, we made a literal last-minute decision to paddle the Churchill River instead, our backup plan. I had packed laminated topo maps that I still had on file from my trip on the Churchill River almost 20 years ago. Sarah had never been to the Saskatchewan north or Canadian Shield before and I hadn’t been there since the 1990s. We were both very excited to head north.
We left the gift opening in Battleford around 11:30 a.m. The highway was in excellent condition to La Ronge, after which it deteriorated to a very rough, washboard gravel road. We could not travel much faster than 30 km/hr, and the roof racks shook loose once, requiring refastening.
The landscape along the road Stanley Mission was relatively barren due to recent forest fires through that area. The exposed rocky hills covered with blackened tree trunks — some still standing, many fallen — had a sad, post-apocalyptic appearance, somewhat spooky even in the daylight. But even so, each small lake peaking out from between the hills beckoned to be explored with its difficult-to-resist siren call. Each trail winding off into the forested areas threatened to lure me into its grasp.
Fortunately, the area we planned to paddle had not been touched by recent forest fires. I had confirmed this on forest fire mapping prior to the trip.
We arrived at the Co-op at Stanley Mission around 6:30 p.m., where the cashier mentioned we could leave our car with a local resident with a fenced yard or at the Northern Store. Not finding anyone at home at the residence, we left the car at the Northern Store.
The sun was setting so we hurried to load the boat and paddle away. We stopped at the historic church site across from the town. Due to impending darkness, we decided to camp on a wooden boardwalk at the church site. We didn’t see any signs that banned camping at the site.
We went to bed around 9 p.m. when the mosquitoes were getting thick. I woke up in the night to find Sarah gone. Dozing off and waking later I found she was still missing from the tent. I got up and found her sleeping inside the church.
Apparently the new tent was highly claustrophobic for her, having a low ceiling and only a small screen at the top of the single door and no other windows. We should have tested this at home. She had a restless night in the church listening to mice scurrying around the church through the night. She wouldn’t get much more sleep for the rest of the trip, unfortunately, and I did not sleep well either except for one night were I actually slept in. We made up for this with a leisurely pace and rest times during the day, which still made the trip an epic adventure with happy memories. I’ve since purchased a new tent with two doors with full screens, which should help reduce Sarah’s claustrophobia.
There are a few outhouses and kitchen shelter at the church site, but no other facilities.