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Cree River Summer 2023

Paddling Pitt, somebody on this forum posted a video of a Maine guide paddling with long, smooth strokes. i’m not sure how else to describe it. I just know that in recent times people seem to be using shorter strokes, with the 90 degree angle to the canoe.

Glenn, Cree River is in northern Saskatchewan. On a map, look for the town of Stony Rapids. Just to the east of Stony Rapids is Black Lake. The Cree River flows into Black Lake from the south.

Glenn, the photos were taken with an iPhone SE and I kept it in a pocket of the life jacket.

To everyone - thank you for reading and commenting. I am glad people are finding it enjoyable.
 
of course reading your report is fun and enjoyable!
Just the idea of the vast expanse and distances flashes me ... traveling days by car and then even by seaplane - just to get to a lake at the other end of the country. Unbelievable.

I am heavily impressed about that!
 
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I'm following and feeling a little tense, waiting to see if the weather settles down and you settle into a tripping rhythm.
I can stand a lot of foul weather but wind is the worst.
 
Just want to make a note regarding accommodation for other travellers to Stoney Rapids seeing as the Whitewater isn’t getting favourable reviews lol. Als Place and the Waterfront Lodge are both great places to stay. We stayed at the Waterfront this year and it was awesome! As a bonus it’s right next to the float plane base and you get to watch the planes come and go. The owner is a bit of a paddler as well.
 
Just want to make a note regarding accommodation for other travellers to Stoney Rapids seeing as the Whitewater isn’t getting favourable reviews lol. Als Place and the Waterfront Lodge are both great places to stay. We stayed at the Waterfront this year and it was awesome! As a bonus it’s right next to the float plane base and you get to watch the planes come and go. The owner is a bit of a paddler as well.
So what was your trip this summer?
 
I am really enjoying this, Erica. I can relate to the loss of solitude in northern QC - we used to fly-in to hunt/fish camp north of St. Michel. Now there are roads and cottages.

Edit: And "lost" is a fabrication. One always knows where one is, it's the level of precision that varies.

Just the idea of the vast expanse and distances flashes me ... traveling days by car and then even by seaplane - just to get to a lake at the other end of the country. Unbelievable.

Kahel, to give you some perspective, it would be like driving from Berlin to eastern Kazakhstan.
 
Just want to make a note regarding accommodation for other travellers to Stoney Rapids seeing as the Whitewater isn’t getting favourable reviews lol. Als Place and the Waterfront Lodge are both great places to stay. We stayed at the Waterfront this year and it was awesome! As a bonus it’s right next to the float plane base and you get to watch the planes come and go. The owner is a bit of a paddler as well.
Unfortunately when I was there Als Place was not open. The Waterfront Lodge is reportedly the best place, but they were not open or not taking guests when I was there.
 
So what was your trip this summer?
Porcupine.
I can attest to Erica’s comments on a lack of bugs. We were there mid July and didn’t set the bug tent up once and put deet on the kids a just a couple of times! It was unreal!
 
Porcupine.
I can attest to Erica’s comments on a lack of bugs. We were there mid July and didn’t set the bug tent up once and put deet on the kids a just a couple of times! It was unreal!
Same here on the Dubawnt. They got pretty bad after a couple of weeks though, late July or so.
 
Hello Erica,
I for one, and there are many others, are looking forward to reading more of your trip. So far, it's been a wonderful read. Hope you're well, and that the next instalment comes soon.
 
This morning I reread Erica's trip report, and rather than hurriedly rushing thru the words and photos like I too often do I chose a more thoughtful leisurely pace, much like her first few days of this trip. It made all the difference. Now I can hear the wind and waves, feel the cold, clear water, and eagerly anticipating another handful of lucious blueberries.
Of all the uncomfortable weathers we can encounter tripping wind is by far the most unsettling to me. I can accept harsh weather as just happenstance but high winds feel almost personal and punishing.
As far as fears go I only have one, and it lurks in the back of my mind constantly, that of getting lost. So I can relate to her current situation here of assuredly knowing where she came from but momentarily unsure where she is now.
Thanks Erica for this TR so far, I'm really enjoying your writing. Also, including the topo map is wonderful.
 
Cree River Summer 2023 - Part 5

In the previous installment we left our heroine confused at an island in Cree Lake. But before we continue, I have to go back a bit. This is August 22, 2023.

My plan is to follow the shoreline up to the point of the peninsula where the fish camp is said to be. This should orient me. The day was lovely. Blue sky. Slight tail wind. My paddle feels strong in my hands and my shoulders are eager to push on. Once at the point, the plan is to paddle across to the west side of Cree Lake by navigating the islands sprinkled like freckles across the open lake.

But, as in the past, I can't seem to stay close to shore. I drift further out, the shore still on my right, but I can see the first freckle of an island off to the west and it seems silly to skirt the shore, so I strike out directly for the island. The weather continues fair and cooperative.

While still on the south side of the peninsula, I see what could be the fish camp. There are three or four rough cabins on a bench above the lake with sand roads leading down from each cabin to its own dock. I see no sign of current occupation. I know from past experience that the little black squares on topo maps could stand for anything from an abandoned wreck to a modern establishment. It also wasn't quite where I expected it to be, but again, these old topos don't always locate things accurately. I paddle on to the island.

Reaching the island, I pull into the shallow water to drink some water and consult the map. The water is crystal clear, deeper than it appears. The rocks glow in the light.

IMG_1506.jpg
A growing sense of panic develops as I cannot get the map, the compass and my visual observations to agree with each other. If I had just stayed close to the shore, this would not have happened, I berate myself. I recognize the thought does not contribute to a solution to my current situation. I line up the map with the compass, but the islands are not in the right place per the map.

One of the problems is inherent in navigating a large lake with islands and coves and peninsulas is that the observer is at ground level. Oh, if only we had the bird's eye view, like the map, or a *gasp* drone, so we could see that was an island and not a peninsula.

The best description I have read of this navigational challenge is in Davidson and Rugge's book: The Complete Wilderness Paddler. Chapter 8. Navigation. I cannot resist putting in a sample of their explanation. The authors suppose you have been blindfolded and dropped into one of two lakes. You do have a map and compass. Can you tell which lake you are on from your own point of view?LakesbyMaps.jpg Notice where the canoe is placed in each map.


Davidson and Rugge then state: If you think we are about to tell you that after reading our section on navigation, you'll be able to solve the problem, think again. Not even an experienced woodman would be able to arrive at an answer. That's because the views you would get looking at the countryside from the marked positions on either lake are identical. Look at our third map. It has the lines of the first chart superimposed on the second. Keep in mind our principle of seeing in straight lines: from either canoe, the only areas visible are the unshaded portions of the third map. The land to the west might be the Twin Islands on Penobsca, but it also might be the end of Pine Point on the north side of Misty Bay.


RuggeThirdMap.jpg

I included this excerpt from Davidson and Rugge because navigating large lakes with a lot of bays, penisulas and islands is much more difficult that it would appear. I also hope those of you who do not have this book will get it. It has a lot of good information in it.


So I'm sitting in the lee of an island in Cree Lake and do not know how to proceed. I paddled slowly around the island, thinking maybe a different view might be helpful. After all, I can't possibly get lost if I just keep the island on my right. Right?

The one thing I am not going to do is paddle onwards. It is enticing to think if I just paddle over here or there, I will be able to figure it out. Unless I am very lucky, this will just get me truly lost. Right now, I know where I am and how to get back. To me, that is critical. I scan the lake and islands with binoculars.

Suddenly, I was startled by loud sound of a float plane taking off. I caught sight of the plane as it rose from behind the trees to the north. This told me two things: 1) What I was looking at was an island and 2) from wherever the plane took off, there was likely to be people. I glassed the area and saw, far in the distance, a red square. This was likely to be a building associated with the plane, so I took a compass reading and followed it in.

Amazingly, the islands split and a small opening led into a circular cove, protected on all sides. I saw buildings and heard a generator. Good news. A working generator means people are around somewhere. Pulling up on the sand, I yelled Hello and walked around to various work sheds. But no one responded, so I wandered further and found a boat house and a pretty ritzy home above it.

Halfway up the steep stairs to the house I heard a motor and saw a small motor boat approaching. I knew they couldn't see me back in the trees, but my canoe was displayed on the sand. I figure I am going to be caught and thought to be burgling their house. Four large men can be seen in the boat that was now pulling up next to my canoe.

This could be really good. Or it could be really bad.

I popped out of the trees, yelling Hello! and waving to the occupants. I must have looked a fright with pants bagged at the ankles with water, booties, knee pads, life jacket, big hat. One man approached me; he seemed to be in charge. We had an exchange of information. He determined I was not a thief or vandal. I learned he was the owner of the fish camp, which was right across the way, invisible due to islands. Brandon showed me where I was on my map and I was just where I thought I was. We talked about the best route to the outflow of the Cree River. I was pointing out some island hopping.

But Brandon said it was no problem to go straight across the lake. It was a beautiful day with a breeze out of the south, ie. a tail wind. Brandon looked up at the sky and said the weather was not going to change and there weren't better conditions for paddling. I had to agree. "Keep the sun at your back," Brandon advised.

So after a quick visit to the fish camp, as Brandon suggested, I took a compass reading and headed south. It was 6 k to the south end of Cree Lake. I did have a bit of a tailwind. Could I make it without a break? I want to get off this lake. Although this breaks a couple of my hard and fast rules, I go for it.

For once, the map was cooperative and islands appeared where they should be. I do not know how long it took me to get across (I timed it, but then forgot if it was 2 or 3 hours), but no breaks were allowed. The wind and waves kept me working. My hands are tingling and my muscles ache. Hips, knees, and feet have been stuck in one position for hours now. My butt is screaming for a new position as the edge of the seat cuts off circulation. I found that I could stop paddling short periods of time to shift my butt, grab a bite of granola bar, a slug of water and paddle on.

CREE RIVER AT LAST (IT'S STILL AUGUST 22)

Cree River opens broadly from the northwest corner of the lake and unfurls into a large bay. A glorious bald eagle swooped overhead. Maybe the regal splendor is brighter due to shorter summer. A bit later, one dove dramatically to grasp a fish for dinner. I grabbed for my binocs when my attention was drawn away by a motor boat. Dropped the binocs to paddle out of the way of the faster boat.

I had sort of thought once I got on the river, I would not see any motor boats. This was not the case. If you decide to paddle this river, you will find motor boats all the way to Hawk's Rapids. The boat approaching me slowed down. The adult was Brandon's brother with his granddaughter. We chatted a bit. "We are headed to get some grayling," he said, but I think he was just checking on me.

I am simultaneously irritated by the idea they think I need checking up on and pleased to have someone caring about my welfare.

The river is broad and filled with islands. The current is strong. Brandon had told me the river was fast and to follow the current. I tried to keep track of the islands, but this did not last long as the fast water was tricky enough in places to demand my full attention.

I see an outlet and think, "Ah, hah! There is the river." I paddle toward and into the outlet and notice the aquatic grasses flowing the wrong way. My brain recognizes the anomaly. According to the map, no river spills into this lake. I am distressed that the water and the aquatic grasses are now going the wrong way. I see no other outlet. Consulting the map more carefully, I see there is a river, just a thin blue line, coming into the Cree. I locate the real outlet and paddle on.

I'd like to camp, but there's no place to do it. The river is bounded by hills of black spruce and jack pine or snarly wetlands. I see the first rapid approaching and do not want to run even a simple rapid at the end of a long day. A structure on RR indicates this may be a native fish camp. I pulled the boat into the snarl of Labrador tea at the shore. Debarking is wet. The current runs under the bushes. I tie up and explore. A rough pavilion sits near the top of the hill. Many paths run around and through. Much of the area was covered with reindeer moss, cracking and brittle dry. I did not want to trample the entire area, so I walked only on paths or in my own footsteps.
FishCamp.jpeg
Fish Camp

There is no flat place, even under the shelter, where irregular rocks lie where they were. I found a place on the hillside that was slightly level and it would have to do.

This would be my first experience dragging packs and canoe up and through the tangle of Labrador tea bushes. I found a spot with the slightest evidence of previous entry and tied up there. It would not be the last, nor the worst. I reached deep inside for the energy from the delight of reaching the river. I sorted carefully so that only things really needed were brought up as far as the tent. Everything else left down by the shore. I hauled the boat entirely out of the water and tied it up. All packs up and on dry land, nestled between tree trunks and bushes.

The brother and granddaughter motor up river and I wave. I've been on the river all day now and I'm exhausted. Tomorrow I get to face the first rapid.
 
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