Missinipe to Nistowiak Falls
One of my responsibilities while I was working at Camp Kinasao was to book resource people and volunteers for our various programs. Before I finished my position I made sure to schedule myself in to help guide a 6 day adult and family canoe trip along the Churchill River this August. My friend and former colleague Daryl was heading up the trip and I had the privilege of coming along side him to co-lead the program. It was a phenomenal week and I learned and grew so much as I was introduced to this new world of guiding.
Day 1: Christopher Lake to Robertson Falls
We packed and got on the road by 8:30 on Friday morning, making the 3½ hour drive to the town of Missinipe. There we loaded up our 7 canoes and hit the water, paddling northeast into Otter Lake and then southeast towards Robertson Falls. A few hours in the sky started to turn dark and we heard thunder rumbling over our left shoulder. We decided to stop for supper on an island as the wind picked up and the rain swooped in, hoping things would calm down for an evening paddle.
This worked out as well as it could have and we were able to make it to the large campsite along the portage on the east side of Robertson Falls just as the sun was setting. We were a little nervous that the site might be taken by that time at night but thankfully we had the area to ourselves. I set up my little one-man tent as close to the falls as possible, because there's nothing I love more than falling asleep to the sound of rushing water. Just before bed, at 11:00, the Northern Lights came out to put on what was by far the best show I've ever seen. For about 10 minutes the entire sky was lit up and dancing with various shades of red and green ribbons - the perfect way to start off our trip.
Day 2: North Falls
We left our tents up for the day, packing only lunch and our swimsuits, and headed north for North Falls to take some pictures and do some fishing. The lake was glass and the sun was hot, so it wasn't long before we were jumping off the bow of our boats to cool off. There was a lot of motor boat activity around the portage as we approached the falls, so we found a spot just before them to stop for lunch and go for another swim. After cleaning up we paddled into the bay and spent some time watching the rushing water and catching a couple fish for dinner. Back at camp that evening we enjoyed time together by the fire, feasting on fire roasted corn on the cob, smokies, baked apples, and of course our fresh northern pike and walleye.
Day 3: Robertson Falls to Edwards Island
We woke up to a fairly strong wind on Sunday morning but had a bit of ground to cover in order to make it to Stanley Mission by noon on Monday. We paddled south to Twin Falls where we toured the fishing camp and portaged to Mountain Lake. The new owner of the lodge was incredibly friendly as he showed us around and even offered the use of his quad and trailer to help move some of our gear. If you're ever in the area be sure to stop in for a free cup of coffee!
Mountain lake brought tougher paddling than we had the two days prior as the wind roughed up the water a bit. We made it to a campsite on a small island just west of Edwards Island and decided to call it a day, hoping for calmer seas in the morning. After lunch and a quick afternoon swim some rain blew in once more and we spent most of the night in our rain gear back and forth under the tarp. This site was a little tight for the 14 people and 11 tents that our group consisted of, but with a little strategic city planning we made it work. This was also our only site without an outhouse, but one of the guys dug a nice trench hidden in the woods and all was well.
Day 4: Edwards Island to Little Stanley Rapids via Stanley Mission
Our goal on Monday was to make it to the town of Stanley Mission by noon to meet up with a family of 4 and 3 kayakers who were joining our group. Two of our current members were also heading home from there and we were swapping out our garbage for some fresh food. We had a fun morning of paddling south along Mountain Lake's now calm waters and sunny skies. We also made some new friends with a large family from Canmore, winning over the young kids with our endless supply of snacks. We pulled into shore with time to spare and made the walk up the hill to the gas station for their flushing toilets and cold snacks. The group swapped out and we were soon on our way once more, now with 8 canoes and 3 kayaks.
We first made the short paddle across the bay to Stanley Mission Anglican Church - the oldest building in Saskatchewan - for lunch before continuing east to Little Stanley Rapids. With water levels on the Churchill being 6 inches higher than normal this year, the water was fast moving into the rapids so we took caution scouting out the entrance of the portage, making sure our paddlers of various levels could make it into shore without getting pulled into the rapids. Though there were other groups at this campsite, it was so large and spread out that we still had plenty of room to set up shop.
Day 5: Nistowiak Falls
Tuesday was another day trip day, but was significantly longer than our previous trip to North Falls. We paddled east across Drope Lake and through Frog Narrows and McMorris Bay before turning south towards Jim's Fishing Camp at the bottom of the Portage past Nistowiak Falls. Here we hiked about half a kilometre to view one of the tallest waterfalls in Saskatchewan. The power of Nistowiak Falls was only intensified by the high water and we sat an marvelled at their beauty as we ate lunch before returning the way we came.
We anticipated Frog Narrows to be a challenging point, as the water was moving a little faster than normal through the channel. While paddling downstream made for a bit of fun, heading up it was more difficult. Daryl and I, along with our partners in the bow of our canoes, headed up first to do some scouting and make a plan while the rest of the group hung out on an island in McMorris Bay and enjoyed a nice afternoon swim. Listening to advice we had been given by others in the area we paddled up the eddies on the left side of the river and then tucked into shore just before the last point. The water was moving quite quickly around this point and we weren't sure if we - or the other boats in our group - could make it past. We found a good spot for the boats to come in single file, and after we sawed down a dead tree sticking into the water, made a plan on how we would quickly get people out of the boats and pull them onto the rocky shore. Once we got everyone onto "the rock" as we called it, we would show them how to line their boat up the shore a little ways on the other side of the point before getting in and paddling out of the eddy.
With a plan made we returned to the group to brief everyone on the situation before leading them back upstream. Everyone did a great job following us one by one and our plan to get everyone on shore couldn't have run more smoothly. We efficiently and safely got the whole group past the point and back onto the lake water. With our stomachs rumbling we completed our paddle back to camp for our final steak dinner and evening snack of chocolate fondue.
Day 6: Little Stanley to Stanley Mission
I woke up early on Wednesday morning to go for a swim and soak in every last bit of time I had remaining in the wilderness. I could tell that it was chillier out than past mornings, but nothing could prepare me for what was waiting outside my tent. The entire island had been engulfed in the most beautiful mist just as the sun was rising over the lake. I walked around camp totally mesmerized, surprised to also see dozens of fresh spider webs sparkling in the morning light. Diving under the water that morning I was completely overwhelmed by the majesty of nature and my sheer privilege to experience it like I have.
After breakfast we packed up camp and I lead the group back out of the eddy protecting us from the rapids and towards the town of Stanley Mission. We had one more bit of moving water to tackle just before the church, as a channel between an island and shore was full of swirling eddies. I tried to pick the best line, and I didn't do too bad until the very end where I found myself between strong water moving diagonally towards us on either side. I could have let up and moved into an eddy but I'm a little stubborn sometimes and called at my bow paddler to dig deep and paddle through it with me (praise the Lord for her not giving up or completely hating me after this!). After what seemed like way too long of looking at the shore not moving past us, we finally made it out and I looked back to see that the rest of the group following my poor example and fighting their way through the middle of the current. Luckily everyone made it through and we were just about at the church where we stopped for our final lunch as a group before returning to the docks in Stanley Mission. There we packed up the vehicles and trailer and drove home to Christopher Lake.
This trip was one of the most rewarding canoe trips I've taken and it had a lot to do with the people in our group. Everyone was so kind and generous with their abilities, always pitching in to help with anything that was needed. From preparing food, carrying heavy boats, managing the water supply, catching fish, digging trenches, providing instruction, leading activities, and doing dishes, everyone had something valuable to offer. We became a unique little family throughout the week and I am beyond grateful for the experience I had because of that. Thank you.
If you are interested in enjoying an experience like this, contact Camp Kinasao to learn more about their upcoming trips.