18-Aug-2008 -- After visiting a confluence during our annual canoe trip last year (55°N 103°W) we decided that we would attempt another one this year. With the high number of forest fires our choices were limited. We finally settled on 55°N 102°W which is conveniently located along Saskatchewan Canoe Route 46 Tyrrell Lake to Sandy Bay also available as a PDF here.
The 1:50,000 Canadian topographical maps needed to replicate this trip are 063K13 (FLIN FLON), 063L16 (ANNABEL LAKE), 063M01 (ATTITTI LAKE), 063M08 (NEMEI
LAKE), 063M09 (SANDY BAY), 063N04 (DUVAL LAKE) and 063N05 (KIPAHIGAN LAKE). Note that the route 46 guide book lists ten maps. We eventually decided to do a shortened version of the trip and exit at Chekuhikun Lake. The list of seven maps presented here covers the trip we did. Position references are using map
datum NAD27 Canada.
After leaving the Esterhazy area we travelled north along the Saskatchewan Manitoba border to Flin Flon where we used a cell phone to call Slim's Cabins to arrange for someone to pick up our truck and store it for us during our trip. Slim's is located at map 63M/08 13 U 661718 6145955 20 Km from Sandy Bay, the end point of our trip. Jim Woods agreed to fly a driver to the dock at Tyrrell Lake the next morning. We arrived in the Tyrrell Lake camp ground on 14-AUG-2008.
The next morning a kind old gentleman that lived at Tyrrell Lake spoke with us as we were loading the canoe. He offered us valuable information about the
route and conditions that lay ahead. The float plane carrying Jim and our driver arrived right on time. We had a brief discussion about our plans and our route with Jim. We also obtained his email address so that we could send him position updates from the satellite phone. After turning over the keys we were on our way.
Paddling a generally NNE course we arrived at the first portage by 10:00 CST (map 63L/16 13 U 686739 6090043). This 34m (the guide book reports this as 6m) long portage consisted of a narrow rocky stream bed that had a few logs placed across it. We were able to drag the canoe over the logs to the waters below without unloading it. After padding only another 70m we became lost in a maze of very tall and dense reeds. We had to try pulling ourselves along a few false paths before we found the correct one hidden behind a beaver lodge (map 63L/16 13 U 686642 6090004). After making our way past the reeds we were treated to a Bald Eagle sighting (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). The first of many we would see on this trip.
Again paddling a generally NNE course we soon arrived at the second portage (map 63L/16 13 U 686287 6091196). We had some trouble finding the beginning of this one and back tracked a couple of times before finding it at about 11:00 CST. We found there was a number of old and new paths for this portage the newest of which was cut wide as an ATV trail. As a result it was pretty easy going. After we loaded the canoe and were ready to leave I came across a very
cooperative and photogenic Leopard Frog (Rana pipiens). He sat still for a good five minutes while I got out a camera and took several close up photographs. I measure this portage as about 80m, the guide book reports 40m.
Paddling a generally NNE course we followed the stream until it emptied into Little Mari Lake. It was 12:30 CST so we stopped on the western shore for lunch and a rest before continuing. After our usual lunch of trail mix, cheddar cheese and beef jerky we paddled on to portage number three (map 63L/16 13 U 687752 6096767) arriving at about 14:18 CST. This portage was pure luxury. It was well used and there was a wooden cart with bicycle wheels on it to carry stuff across with. The cart was even equipped with a spare tire tube although I'm not sure what one was supposed to inflate it with if it were needed. On the other side we discovered a fishing boat that had two fishing rods and a jacket in it. It appeared as if we had just missed some fishermen. We called out but received no answer and we didn't see anyone around. There was a nice waterfall just south of the portage so we stopped and took pictures and video of it. I measure this portage as about 72m, the guide book reports 65m.
Now in Mari Lake we continued generally NNE. There is a undocumented portage at map 63L/16 13 U 688829 6098274 that bypasses about 3 Km of paddling on this route but we did not feel it to be of benefit and did not use it. Continuing up into the west arm of Mari Lake we then turned SSE into a bay. Within this bay we established a camp at map 63M/01 13 U 689547 6099104 from which we would explore an approach to the confluence from the west. Along with the three portages we had travelled 22.2 Km and camp set up was done by 18:00 CST
16-AUG-2008 After breakfast we decided to explore the possibility of approaching the confluence from the west. We had a number of challenges to consider. A western approach was going to be at least 700m longer than one from the east but the eastern side had steeper contours and more swamp area according to the topographical maps we had. Another problem was the weather. It was hot at 29.5°C, fine idle near the water with a breeze but brutal in the forest. We were loosing water as fast as we were drinking it. We started at 09:45 CST and penetrated the forest to a linier distance of 524m having actually walked for a distance of 684m at an average speed of 1.3 Km/h. We stopped to take stock of the situation and concluded that given the late hour of our start time, the heat and our speed that we would not reach the confluence that day without becoming exhausted and dehydrated. We returned to camp.
After cooling down we struck camp and started paddling to the eastern side of the land mass that contained the confluence. Once we rounded the south end of the land mass and started heading generally north again we took full advantage of the SE wind letting it do all the paddling for us. We even rigged a large trash bag on a couple of paddle shafts achieving another 1/2 Km/h for our effort for a total of 4 Km/h. On the way we stopped at a small clearing on the western shore (map 63K/13 14 U 309844 6098255) to indulge in a massive feed on blue berries. After that we explored the western shore at right angles to the confluence looking for a suitable camp site. Finding none that were satisfactory we turned to the eastern shore and found an excellent site on a small peninsula (map 63K/13 14 U 310066 6098335). As it turned out this site had a rough cabin used for the fall hunting season and a pit toilet buried deep in the bush. After pitching camp and eating our supper we discussed what to do next. We decided that we would rest the following day and then explore the forest conditions from this side while waiting for cooler temperatures.
17-AUG-2008 After lazing around in the heat for most of the day and restoring hydration and energy we headed over to the east shore at about 17:00 to check out the forest conditions. We penetrated the forest for a linier distance of 442m while having walked a distance of 522m at an average speed of 1.2 Km/h. Two things were of particular interest: The first was to see if there were any impassable rock walls where we had noted the close contour lines on the map. The second was to establish if the north end of the swamp terminated where the map indicated and could be passed. We were quite satisfied with what we found. A plan was made to make an attempt to reach the confluence the following day. We would get up at sun rise (05:30) to take advantage of the cooler time of day.
18-AUG-2008 We got up at 05:30 as planned, ate breakfast and paddled across the lake to map 63N/04 14 U 309817 6098669 and began our trek at 07:00. We followed our track from the previous day to the point where we had turned around and then continued from there. It was a fairly normal forest walk until we came out onto a rock outcropping (map 63K/13 14 U 308819 6098610). Directly in our path was a huge area of forest that had been burned out and was now full of new growth. We knew this meant that there would be a combination of all the debris from the fire as well as the thick new growth to penetrate. It was still 662m linear distance to the confluence. These conditions slowed our speed to 0.7 Km/h. The area can be seen on Google Maps as a transition from shades of green to browns and oranges. We pressed on arriving at the confluence site at 08:55. We took the required pictures but as you can see the vegetation is so thick you can't get much of a view.
On the way back we noticed that as we passed through the burned out area our feet never touched the ground. We were using "bush sidewalks", the fallen burned trees to walk on. As these were over rocks we were often 1m to 3m off the ground. We took our time going back. We had not taken any breaks on the way in, but now with the temperature rising, we took several. By the time we got back to the canoe it was time for lunch so we sat down in the grass and ate. After a rest we paddled back to camp to spend the rest of the day.
19-AUG-2008 to 25-AUG-2008 We continued with the rest of the canoe trip. We found the next portages to be in very poor condition with significant overgrowth that had to be cleared with hand saws before use. Counting the tree rings on some of what we cleared suggested to me that no one had used these portages since I had eight years earlier. These was an episode of high winds that kept us pinned down in one spot (map 63N/05 14 U 310231 6138421) for a couple of days during which the temperature dropped 23°C to 3°C. We had switched from trying to keep cool to trying to keep warm. I found it interesting that I had been storm stayed on this same lake in AUG-2000 and camped 2.5 Km to the South. The route 46 guide book also specifically mentions winds on this lake. At the end point staff from Slim's Cabins arrived right on time with our truck and we were packed up and away in just a few minutes.
I have uploaded several other pictures taken along this route to Google Earth. They should appear online by October.