Both trips left the island about 9:30 am to paddle to the mainland base. Two trips – mine with 5 canoes and Wellington had 6 canoes. Everything was loaded and we on the road at about 10:30. We proceeded to the Warroad border crossing, got gun permits ($25 ea), and proceeded with no problems. Continued to Southern Indian Lake via Winnipeg and Thompson. The only problems were a dead battery the bus at the first fuel stop followed by a jump and an exploding spray paint can in the luggage compartment.
We arrived at the put-in (N56 48.672 W98 55.470) at about 5:30 am after some rain and heavy fog. The put-in spot is roughly 615 miles north of Kooch. After breakfast and unloading the bus we were on the lake at 7:10 am. The winds stayed fairly calm all day with a little light rain. Made camp about 4:00 around half way down the lake -21 miles (straight line) on the east shore of the lake just before a small island south of Camp Seven Island which marks the entrance to a sheltered channel along the east shore before Camp Seven Island and before the lake turns hard to the east. Nice evening after setting up camp in the rain. Fishing produced a few Musky. Wellington camped a few hundred feet away on the site I used in 2006. Elevation 873 feet. N57 03.763 W98 36.021
Up at 5:00 and on the water about 6:30. Wind was from the North and moderate so there would be waves in open water. Had lunch on the east tip of Long Point. The open water crossing northeast of Long Point was fully exposed to waves and wind. Wellington trip caught us just as we were leaving. From lunch on, we had head winds and when in open water, waves. We did the best we could to hide east of Salute and Strawberry Islands but wind was still a problem. Finally about 5:30 near the north end of Strawberry Island we gave up. The wind was too high and the waves too big. We had gone 21 miles. We camped at a fishing camp on a bluff on the east shore about 1.5 mi south of Turtle Island. N57 15.412 W98 10.763
Up at 5:30 and on the water at 7:00. Right away we saw Wellington’s trip about 2 miles behind us. It was warm and sunny with a N-NW wind. Paddled through Namayo Narrows and to the portage over the road to the bay above the South Control Structure. Proceeded to the North Dam via the bay between the two control structures and portaged on the left. The water in the Churchill was about 1.5 to 2 feet lower than in 2006. We waited at the campsite just past the dam for Wellington and had lunch. After meeting with Wellington, we decided they would take the lead and get a day ahead of us. We would catch them on the North Knife River no later than Teepee Falls. The wind built all day from the N-NW and it was good to be off Southern Indian Lake. We shot the two rapids between the dam and Partridge Breast Lake. Elevation 811 feet at Partridge Breast Lake. It turns out we had turned right too soon and we in a large east bay of Partridge Breast Lake, not in the north stretch that leads to Manitou Rapid. We camped around 5:00 by a small cabin on the south shore of this east bay. We were about a mile from Manitou Rapid and had gone 12 miles (straight line). N57 19.988 W97 53.304
Slept in till 6:30, had a slow morning and got on the water about 8:15 and quickly figured out we were in the wrong bay and backtracked to fix that. The turnoff to Manitou Rapid is easily found as it is behind a very high round moderate size island covered with large trees. We all shot the first drop of Manitou Rapid on the left and eddied out. Jim tried the second big drop and swamped so the rest of the boats portaged this drop. We then all shot the third drop with no problems. The paddle from here to Gods Rapid is my favorite part of the Churchill - the scenery is great. Portaged Gods Rapid on the left on a nice portage trail with a really tough put-in at the end below the rapid. We then paddled about a third of the way down Missinipi Lake and camped on a rock bluff on the right shore about 3:30. We had gone about 9.2 miles (straight line). It had been sunny and warm all day. This is the same campsite I used in 2006. We had an otter come right up into the camp to check us out. Elevation 782 feet. N57 23.970 W97 40.549
Up at 5:00 and on the water at 6:30. No wind or clouds till about 10:00 then the usual building N-NW-NE winds. We paddled Missinipi Lake to Northern Indian Lake and headed up the north bay toward the Oldman River. We had a head wind the last 6 miles or so up the large bay on Northern Indian Lake. Made camp about 2:15 on an island about a mile from the mouth of the Oldman River. We had gone 17 miles (straight line). Again, the same campsite I used in 2006. It had been sunny and fairly hot all day. The water level was still fairly low – a concern for the Oldman River. Owen Small caught a huge Northern Pike fishing from shore. After dinner we had high winds and rain plus thunderstorms most of the evening. Elevation 784 feet. N57 25.767 W97 14.174
Up at 5:00 and on the water at 6:40. This is normally a very long hard day. It was mostly sunny and warm all day which was great for pulling up the Oldman River all day. The water on the Oldman was about 3 feet lower than on 2006. I would guess it was about a foot lower than what I guess to be “normal level”. We pulled up the three individual single bar rapids before the pothole. Not too hard with the low water. Watch the navigation in this pothole to find the exit which is hidden behind an island on the right (north) shore after the first bay on the right. The next NE stretch takes about 4 hours to paddle. The current increased before the next single bar rapid. We pulled up this rapid. At higher water there is a portage on the right around this single bar rapid. We then had quite a few pull-ups to get to the entrance to the un-named lake where we normally camp on the left shore on the point. The three pot holes between the single bar rapid and the campsite were very shallow and very hard to get through. We had to push a lot even in the middle of the potholes. We camped about 6:40 so we had a 12 hour day. We had gone 18 miles (straight line). The wind had been N all day but light and it was nice that it was sunny and warm all day since we were wet most of the day. Elevation 829 feet. N57 40.988 W97 09.047
Up at 5:00 and on the water at 6:40 under clear skies with no wind. We paddle down (southeast) this un-named lake and then up the Oldman River to Small Lake. Lots of shallow water and pull-ups to get to Small Lake. The exit of the un-named lake was so shallow it was almost impassible. We had a stiff headwind on Small Lake from the W-NW. We then re-entered the Oldman River. The first few miles were shallow but with little current. Once we got the first rapid we pulled-up or portaged all the way to the campsite – about 2.5 miles of hard work. This first big rapid needed a portage on the right – there is a trail. The campsite is on the right shore on a bluff just before the rapid before the only opening (wide spot) in the river. (Next to the NV on the map) Watch for an area coming down a steep bluff from the right that looks like a land slide happened. The open area in the river just past the campsite has an island in the middle. The exit off the Oldman River is in the bay on the right of this open area. If the river turns West then South, you went too far and missed the campsite and the turnoff. This campsite is usually black fly thick and it was again this year. We made camp at about 2:45 after 9.8 miles (straight line). Elevation 920 feet. N57 44.774 W97 23.210
Welcome to portage day. Up at 5:00, cloudy and warm. On the water at 6:45 due to portaging around the rapid on the Oldman River upstream from the campsite to start the day with dry feet. The portage trail is right out of the campsite with the put-in right near the island in the open area. The exit from the Oldman to start the start the first portage is out of the wide spot on the right as far up the bay as you can get and on the right out of the small stream. The first portage is the longest of the day and the bugs were bad. There were a total of 13 portages all day. Some have decent trails. If you can’t find the tape markers, use a compass. The second portage from the last is very tight with trees and hard to get through with a canoe for the first third or so. It was warm and sunny all day and after the third portage, the bugs were gone. We camped on the island in the un-named lake just after the last portage after going only 6.8 miles (straight line). The water level seemed to be about 3 feet lower than 2006 at this campsite. We are now on the headwaters of the North Knife River and it is downhill to the Bay from here. Elevation 918 feet. N57 48.866 W97 15.167
Up at 5:00 and on the water at 6:50. It was very warm. We paddled down the un-named lake to the stream that leads to Knifehead Lake. The first sign of trouble was there was no water in the stream between the two potholes just out of the un-named lake we had camped on. We started down the stream out of the second pothole dragging the boats. After a few hundred yards it was no longer possible to even drag the boats. We found an old portage trail on the left and portaged about a quarter mile to get past all the stream narrows and the boulder garden. In 2006, we paddle all of this stream. I suspect that even at “normal” water levels some dragging and portaging would be needed. From the end of this portage to Knifehead Lake we were in and out of the boats dragging but no more portages. The next section of the North Knife River out of Knifehead Lake had very low water. We ended up dragging a lot and having two portages. We also had thunderstorms and had to hold up on the island with the falls on both sides were Kooch trips sometimes camp. Rain continued from about noon until 3:00. From here to North Knife Lake we had a few more drags but we got to the lake about 2:30 to find light tail winds. We did not stop at Webber’s Lodge as we needed to get as far down the lake as possible with the favorable winds. The winds did come up to about 25 mph from astern so we sailed for a couple of hours before the wind died. We stopped at about 7:00 for dinner for an hour on the east mainland at a sand beach with a fire pit and picnic tables. We continued down the lake until we made camp about 9:45 near the northern tip of Chemin Island on the mainland. We had gone 27 miles (straight line). Elevation 865 feet. N58 11.033 W97 01.859
Up at 5:00 and on the water at 6:40. It was warm and the wind was already getting going from the west. We paddled out of North Knife Lake into Begonili Lake after fighting the winds some in the last large opening on North Knife Lake. We got to the mouth of the river at about 9:00 to find very shallow water. Had we not pushed so hard on Saturday, we would have been windbound on North Knife Lake today. It was hard going for the first half mile or so on the river due to very low water and boulders. My guess is that the water was 2 feet below “normal level” and at least 4 feet lower than in 2006. There were two short “lift overs” and one drag down before we got the big esker on the left just before the river makes the hard east turn. We had caught Wellington already and camped with them at the esker about 5:00. We had gone 22 miles (straight line). The rapids had been low water all day but the lines were the same as at high water in 2006. Elevation 741 feet. N58 28.639 W96 47.787
We slept in to 7:00 to give Wellington a chance to get ahead of us. On the water at 8:45. Wellington had about a hour and a half head start. At the six bar rapid with the long portage on the left, we scouted and decided we could run most of it with two short portages. We portaged the first drop on the left and then ran the rapid to the island between the two falls and portaged over the island. Then shot the rest of the rapid. I would never try this approach at high water and would even tend not to try this approach at “normal” water level. The mile of the rapid below the island at the falls was very shallow and we had to drag a good bit. The single bar rapid between here and the big falls was a ledge followed by a rapid. We lifted around the ledge and then shot the rapid. Got to the big falls about 1:00 and camped there on the right. We had gone all of 3.4 miles (straight line). We caught Wellington at the falls where we camped. He had a swamped, wrapped boat we helped get loose. No damage, just a little lost food. It was sunny and hot with a stiff west wind all day. The falls was just a trickle compared to 2006. Elevation 658 feet. N58 30.213 W96 43.034
Up at 5:00 and on the water at 6:20. It was cloudy and slightly cooler. We portaged the falls and put in the pool below the falls to run the rest of the rapid below the falls. Do not try this at high water. There is a portage trail on the right out of the tent area that goes around most of the rapid below the falls. We paddle east to the next 4 bar rapid. There is a portage trail on the left around the falls. The falls was again just a trickle compared to 2006 when it was a river wide falls. The run out below the falls was very shallow and long. We had to get out and drag some and push a lot. This falls and one other rapid in the 6 bar needed portaged. We camped at the falls on the left side which is the last drop of the 6 bar near Ceider Creek at about 2:30 with Wellington. We had gone 17 miles (straight line). There were a lot of smaller rapids today that we shot. The day ended up sunny and fairly warm. After dinner it appeared we were going to get a bad storm but it missed us. Elevation 470 feet. N58 35.333 W96 17.100
Up at 5:00 and on the river at 6:30. Cloudy and warm. Proceeded down the river to the east. At the first marked rapid by the 140 on the map there was a short portage on the right around the ledge. The second marked bar rapid shot just fine. I have lined this rapid on the left at higher water. Lots of un-marked rapids today that were all read-and- run. Camped at about 3:30 on a gravel bar in the major horseshoe turn about 15 miles upstream of Teepee Falls. This is a good campsite and I had used it in 2006. We had gone 27 miles (straight line). Wellington camped just downstream on an island. We had a strong west wind all day today. This is the best scenery day on the North Knife. Elevation 280 feet. N58 32.901 W95 32.331
Up at 5:00 to light wind and cool weather. Had a lazy breakfast and on the water at 8:00. Paddled to Teepee Falls. No portages, line downs or lift overs today. We shot all the rapids today. The river is still very low and dropping more daily. Camped at Teepee Falls about 1:45 after a 14 mile day (straight line). Wellington got there about an hour later. Contacted Jack Backstone to set-up the pick-up at the Bay. Elevation 168 feet. N58 34.992 W95 09.046
Up at 5:30 and on the water at 8:00 after a lazy breakfast. It had rained a good bit overnight and was cool and cloudy. Lot of rapids today until the 2 bar rapid near Nowell Lake. We shot everything but did take water in a number of the rapids. Be careful, some of the rapids are harder than they look. We had a stiff W-NW headwind the second half of the day. Camped about 2:45 in the big bend about 1 mile south of the final east run of the river. About 15 miles to the Bay. There is a large area in this bend on the right that is a good campsite. Wellington camped with us. The water is very low – maybe down 3 feet below normal. The wide areas of the river are hard to get through without dragging. We had gone 20 miles (straight line). Starting tomorrow we need to paddle as a group due to the bears. Elevation 90 feet. N58 51.561 W95 59.844
To the Bay. Up at 5:00 and on the river at 6:20 with both trips in a big group. Lots of rapids for the first 8 miles or so. All were read-and-run but some were harder than they looked and the boats needed bailed often. In one rapid, a polar bear came out of the woods and charged the 4th boat (out of 11) (Hattemer/DeMaza) in the line. It turned back about 20 feet from the boat when it saw the rest of the boats coming. We also saw a Caribou which let us get very close.
After 11 miles (straight line) we found the cabin (N58 53.273 W94 41.606) on the right shore just below the confluence with the South Knife River. The river was getting wide and shallow in this area and we were dragging and pushing often. At the cabin we switched to the GPS and got out the Google Earth blow-up. Go past the cabin in the main river flow, the river turns right (east) and splits around two islands – go right around the islands. Then the river opens wide to the east for a short time and then turns E-SE. A short time later in the E-SE run there is another island in the middle of the river expanse. Go to the left of this island. Shortly past this island the river turns back East. Just after the river makes this East turn, turn left into a small opening (1.8 miles from previous cabin – straight line) (N58 53.273 N94 38.646) that is maybe a canoe length wide. If you miss it, the next two left turns will also work. Shortly thereafter these narrows will open to a large wide stream that runs E-NE. Follow this wide area to the Bay at which time you will see the cabin at the Bay on the left. Since the Knife was very low and we arrived at low tide, we had to drag a few times to get to the Bay and then to get from the river mouth to the cabin. From the previous turn to the cabin landing is 1.8 miles – straight line. I suspect that at “normal” water levels and high tide you could get there without getting your feet wet. The Google Earth blow-up worked great and should be carried by all trips. Elevation 3 feet. (N58 54.234 W94 36.160 – cabin landing) We called Jack Backstone for a possible pick-up that night at high tide but the wind on the Bay was too strong. He asked for a 6:00 am pick-up the next morning – two hours before high tide. Total GPS distance was 259 miles but this is point-to-point so the real distance is likely 450 miles.
First group up at 4:45. No wind or waves – also no water in the Bay – still to long to high tide. The first group left about 5:45 and picked their way out onto the Bay through very shallow water. We did manage to not have to get out of the boats. Jack was there and we loaded up at 6:10. All three groups got out on one high tide that went high at 8:10 am. The distance from the Bay cabin to Churchill is about 24 miles. Got settled in at Caribou Lodge. All groups there by 10:30. Once all three groups were there – showers. The train had not been running – track problems. Met with Jody from VIA and got us on the Tuesday train. Got Andrew Marshack to the hospital to treat his finger infection.
Trip Home (Tuesday - Saturday)
The 8:00 pm Tuesday train left at 1:50 am on Wednesday. The tracks were so bad, we could not go more than 6 mph for the first 12 hours or so. Got to Thompson at 1:30 am on Thursday. The Pas at 9:30 am Friday and Winnipeg at around Midnight Friday. Got to Warroad just fine and over the border with no problem. Needed fuel in Warroad and had to wait until 4:00 am to get fuel. Back to the landing about 6:30 am on Saturday morning and found Bart waiting for us. Loaded the barge with gear and made it to breakfast on the island.