CRCO 2018 Whitewater Festival
Pulling into Missinipe early Friday afternoon before the July long weekend it isn't hard for Jyles and I to figure out where to go - the entire street surrounding Churchill River Canoe Outfitter's office is abuzz. I only have to open the car door before I see a familiar face excited to be in Northern Saskatchewan for the weekend. We exchange greetings and I head inside to be welcomed by owner Ric and his daughter Sarah.
Ric has hired me to photograph the 10th Annual Whitewater Festival on the Churchill River around the Barker Lake Play Area. Discussing plans about the photos they're looking for and different spots that could be good to capture from I'm itching to get out of the office on onto the water. We grab paddles and PFD's and drive up the road a few kilometres to the packed Devil's Lake Campground parking lot where our canoe for the weekend is waiting and groups of paddlers are loading their canoes.
The paddle to Barker Island is an easy one - across Devil's Lake, a short portage around Mosquito Rapids, down a channel to Barker Lake and then across to the island. Seeing where the main camp is set up we choose to wrap around the southwest side to find our own spot with a little more privacy. We set up our tent right along the water and then continue around the north of the island to meet up with the group for dinner.
Zac's brisket is phenomenal, like anything he makes, complete with homemade sauces and the best beans I've ever had. We sit around the fire meeting new people and enjoying our meal as more and more canoes pull up on shore. Before I know it nearly 100 people have gathered and folk string duet Rugged Little Thing pull out their instruments and begin to strum.
The air is filled with campfire smells, beautiful harmonies, and lots of laughter as the sun starts to set and the mosquitos make their presence known. We chat with new friends for a while more before paddling back to our tent for the night to rest up for a busy day ahead.
After breakfast and a quick rendezvous at basecamp Saturday morning we all head upstream towards Surf City, with paddlers who are newer to moving water stopping along the way for instruction on front ferrying, s-turns, and some beginner surfing. We take in a bit of this so Jyles can get a feel for things and surf a small wave before pulling up to surf city across from the main group to get some photos.
By mid-day paddlers are everywhere. Kayaks, canoes, and even surfboards fill the water and spectators line the shore as participants work at improving their skills in the crashing waves. It's never about who's best at the festival, but about helping one another try something new. Some people are happy to take in the action from the shores, while others are right in the middle of it all, pulling themselves out on surfboards or attempting to surf the waves in boats of all sorts. It's also a blast to swim the rapids and I love paddling up the eddy and turning my canoe into the current in attempts to ride out the waves without tipping or sinking.
We have some fun in the water ourselves and go for an unplanned swim or two before the rain sets in and we paddle back to camp to warm up in dry clothes. We don't spend more than an hour in the tent when we notice the sun shining and clear skies ahead, so we grab our cameras and hop back in the canoe to capture more of the fun.
Shortly after 6 we reunite at base camp for a bring your own dinner and Tom from CRCO hands out prizes from the festival’s various sponsors. We go home with a water bottle from Eb's Source for Adventure in Saskatoon and a t-shirt and stickers from Fresh Air Experience in PA. Drinks and laughs are shared as we chat around the campfire and make plans for the next day.
On Sunday there are 3 groups headed out on different day trips before returning to camp. The beginner group, with little to no experience on moving water, will make their way down the 3 Sisters channel to get a taste for running 3 small sets of class 1 rapids before portaging around Staircase Falls and Mosquito Rapids to return to base camp the way we came on Friday. The intermediate group, who have either more experience on the water or are ready to get wet, will paddle down Murray Channel along 3 sets of class 2 rapids which are both longer than the 3 Sisters and have less space between each set. They will also paddle back to camp via the Mosquito Rapids portage. The advanced group plans to head up stream to Corner Rapid, which is pushing class 3, to play around and some even want to make the trek up to Sluice Falls to kayak some intense class 4 and 5 water.
While many participants plan to stay the night Sunday to make the most of the long weekend, we have a 13 hour drive back to Winnipeg to complete by Monday evening. Instead of returning to camp after the day trip, we load our boat Sunday morning and join the beginner group down 3 Sisters. Tom provides us with great instruction as we enter each rapid, giving us opportunities to scout them ourselves, gaining experience reading moving water. We rest with the group at staircase falls, enjoying a bite to eat and a swim until we notice the dark clouds moving towards us and make our way across Devil's Lake to the shelter of our car.
It's always with a bit of a heavy heart that I depart Treaty 7 Land - there's a sense of peace and comfort about this place - but knowing I'll be back in just 4 days for another weekend of paddling its magnificent waters helps ease my emotions. Another adventure always awaits.