2019 CRCO Whitewater Festival
This July long weekend marked my third consecutive year attending the Whitewater Festival on Barker Lake. Like past years it was packed full of new friends, good times, and big water.
I was originally planning to attend with my pal Ashlyn, but she got injured the week of and was no longer able to make the trip. With the help of a couple friends I ended up finding another woman to paddle with and even an entire group to camp with. I made the drive up to Missinipe with Jay, a local musician (and PHD student) who runs a carbonless concert series in Saskatoon. He bikes his solar powered gear to venues and showcases different artists. He was also recruited to set up his stage on Barker Island for a show by Sparky and the Plugs to make this year’s concert the first to have mic’s and amps.
My first stop, as usual, was at the Churchill River Canoe Outfitters office in town to chat with Ric about what he was looking for in terms of photos this year. I loved being involved taking pictures at last year’s event and was thrilled when the planning committee invited me back. Ric gave me what he deemed the “impossible task” of capturing the community aspect of the weekend. He wanted photos that showed people having fun with people. I loved this prompt, as that’s what I’ve always found this festival to be about. Yes there are rapids to play in, but more importantly there are people to play with.
After meeting some of the crew I’d be camping with and paddling to Hanks Hotel to get set up, the evening was spent relaxing around camp. We feasted on Kristen’s African Peanut Stew (message me for the recipe, I’ve made it on another canoe trip since and have yet to meet someone who doesn’t love it), played a round of dice, and enjoyed conversation around the fire.
Saturday morning we met at the Barker Island basecamp to split into clinic groups based on skill and experience level. My partner Esther was super gracious in paddling around with me to the different groups so I could get photos of each of them. After a bit of back and forth between Dieter’s Rapids and Spawning Channel we paddled upstream past Redneck Eddy to join the advanced group at Surf City.
More and more paddlers made their way up throughout the day to have fun in one of the biggest family friendly waves in the area. Beginner paddlers attempted to run the rapid upright and practiced eddy turns and ferries across the whitewater while others challenged themselves to surf the standing wave. The whole time a large group cheered one another on from shore while warming up by the fire or taking a break to enjoy their lunch. The rain fell on and off throughout the afternoon but never stopped attendees from having fun in the river.
Saturday evening was party time on Barker Island. There was a delicious beef brisket catered dinner, musical performers, door prizes, and the first annual canoe yoga competition and gunnel bobbing race. There was fun to be had by all as the rain passed just in time for the festivities. The evening was finished off by conversation and sing-a-longs around the fire and a paddle home across the lake in the dark.
In past years I’ve had to return home on Sunday, but this time around I was able to make the most of the long weekend. I joined the advanced group in an upstream paddle to corner rapids where we challenged our skills on some water with a bit higher consequence. The sun even poked out a few times which was a welcome change from all the rain we’d been having.
Later in the day we continued up the Churchill to Sluice Falls where experienced kayak paddler Rik ran an extremely difficult class 4 line down the left side. I was able to get positioned in a prime spot to photograph the action and the whole group was eager to congratulate him at the end. We then paddled home to Hanks Hotel for another group dinner and enjoyed an evening exchanging stories as we attempted to survive the unrelenting mosquitos.
We woke to rain on Monday and packed up camp for our paddle home. Once on the water, Esther and I made an impulsive decision to follow our friend and talented paddler Shay down the more challenging Murray Channel, rather than taking the easier 3 Sisters route or portaging around Mosquito Rapids. I had paddled Murray loaded last summer after taking a 3-day whitewater course and remembered completing it without any trouble. The circumstances were different this time around, however, and we ended up going for a swim about halfway through the 3 sets of class 2+ rapids. The great thing about the festival, though, is that there are plenty of people and boats around to help out in sticky situations. With the help of others we made it safely to shore, got into dry clothes, and were shuttled our boat and gear so we could paddle back to the parking lot. Before leaving town we met up with some others from our crew for lunch at Thompson Camps and had fun replaying our adventure for them. The meal was full of more laughs and stories before we parted ways and returned to the city after yet another successful weekend on the Churchill.