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Cree River Summer 2023

Great to have you back with this next episode, Erica.

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.

Did you have a GPS with loaded-in topo maps? That gives a bird's eye view. Even if the map details aren't perfect, I've always found that it can show me the general direction I need to go, and the bread crumb or waypoint trail tells me where I've come from.
Cree River Summer 2023 - Part 6

August 23, 2023

OK, I got ahead of myself. One should check ahead on the notes before announcing a challenge like my first rapids, which to be honest was more like a riffle with a bitty V down the center. I have sore muscles and a certain internal fatigue. I have several chores to do: repair the bow cover, charge up the electronics, general hygiene, create a bridle per instructions from Rolf. I note the duffel bag is way too heavy for me to lug up hills and back down to put into the canoe. So I stay in place for one day.

This morning dawned cold and gray. I can't complain. I just had two wonderful days.

I noticed a fresh blaze near the native fish camp and followed it up the hill and into the woods. Then lost the blazes, even though the woods were open. I wonder if it led to a primitive road or snowmobile trail.

Some large flat granite rocks seemed to be stacked in a formation that might have been intentional. If so it was not clear what purpose it might have had.


I decided to try to walk down to the first set of rapids. I thought the scouting would be good practice. I could walk along the shore in the game trails. But this was not much easier than tramping through the Labrador tea tangle at the nonexistent portage. Every few yards, there were downed trees or other brush that I had to break my way through or around. I'm sure the moose had no trouble. Considering some of the rapids on the Cree River are 5K long, scouting from the shore is going to be impractical.

But I could clearly see the V running down the center of the river. On RL where I was, the water was too shallow for the canoe. Far across at RR it looked like the water was smooth. I thought it might be possible to slip down RR. Of course, this is ridiculous. If the water is piling up in a V at the center, there is not more water on RR. Sometimes I wonder about my ability to think.

Thirty years ago, or more, when I went paddling in Quebec there were no roads and no satellite devices like SPOT and Zoleo. You pushed off the shore and that was it. You were on your own. I have read many posts in this forum about their usefulness and even where in one case, it saved recep's life. I still did not want to use one. My husband, who declined to go on these extended trips, insisted I take one. We had many discussions on this. He said he was afraid I would die and he would have to come up to Canada to get my body and how horrible that would be. He said he was afraid of losing me. I capitulated for this trip and took a Zoleo and promised to check in daily.

Here are some of the problems.

  1. I am likely as not to drop a device into a deep lake. I already did this once, with a heavy old style water filter. If I can't check in, people will worry something has happened to me. I greatly feared helicopters racing to rescue while I am paddling around safe and happy.
  2. It interferes with the main reason for being in the wilderness, which is to separate one's self from the rest of the world. It is hard for me to immerse myself in nature if I have to also have a little chat daily with people back home. Zoleo has a chat function.
  3. It is yet another piece of electronics that must be carried and recharged if on a long trip. And if you are bringing a Zoleo, you must also have your iphone with you, accessible and charged. The Zoleo will send out an emergency signal if you don't have your phone. So, I have a flashlight, the Zoleo and the iphone that need to be kept charged. I brought two high capacity battery packs. They need to be recharged to be useful. And a Big Blue charger, which if you have to have one is super. So this comes up with another 3 pieces of electronics. I start to wonder...
  4. And here is about the worst: it gives you a way out. Instead of facing the challenge of the trip, I find myself constantly evaluating whether or not I want to continue. This creates, in me, a level of anxiety that is higher than worrying about the challenges ahead. Even at this point, the fish camp could pick me up and fly me out if there was an emergency.

Bald Eagles are common at the source of the Cree River. Brilliant white and black against the gray sky. Their occasional screams pierce the air. I know they are eagles even when they are distant silhouettes. Eagles soar with their wings held out straight as a ruler. Vultures and other birds of prey have V shaped silhouettes.

I made my first acquaintance with Bald Eagles as an undergraduate at the Kibbe Field Station near Warsaw, Illinois. In winter the eagles gather there to feast on the fish killed going over the dam on the Mississippi River. At night, they roost in a natural bowl in the forest named Cedar Glen Natural Area. It is one of the largest wintering concentrations of Bald Eagles in the country. It was impressive to see these big birds drop like a stone to the water and pull up a fish.

After exploring, I read some and then watched the sun descend in the southwest.

Tomorrow, now, I face the first little rapid which was not as little as it seemed. It went on and on and one around each bend. The fast water goes all the way to each shore and under the Labrador tea. There are no eddies; the stones are all small. Yikes!
Did you have a GPS with loaded-in topo maps? That gives a bird's eye view. Even if the map details aren't perfect, I've always found that it can show me the general direction I need to go, and the bread crumb or waypoint trail tells me where I've come from.
The Zoleo is supposed to give you a topo map of exactly where you are. But on the Cree River, the Zoleo said it had no information and just showed me a blank. Apparently one can get far enough off the beaten track so the Zoleo can't place you on the map.
Garmin GPS lets you download Canada street and topo maps into the unit's memory, so you can always see the maps regardless of whether you have a satellite connection. Of course, you do need a connection to locate yourself on the map.
Cree River Section 5

Sometimes the best maps will not guide you.
You can't see what's round the bend.
(Bruce Cockburn, Pacing the Cage)

Here, the trip report takes a turn. For six weeks at least I have been unable to find my maps and the cut out section from the Archer book. Both these items contain notes to help me review where I camped and notes about the river and its shores. Rather than continue to delay this report, I will push on in much the way I did the river, never knowing for sure where I am.

I've never seen a place like the forested shores along the Cree River. The woods are open, carpeted with reindeer moss and various other lichens, and the trees are narrow unless they are fortunate enough to be on the edge and stretching into the extra light. The middle story is absent. It has a subtle beauty and I have to slow my heart and and brain to appreciate it. Full of greens of various shades.

This time of year, the most color comes from the bright red berries of Canada Mayflower. Occasional rocks are coated with lichens. There are none of the huge rocks or exposed bedrock as we are used to on the Canadian Shield.

Canadian Mayflower. In the spring, it boasts beautiful cream flowers.

I know the name of this lichen, but can’t remember it at this time. The interesting aspect of this lichen is the cup shaped structures which tell us the symbiotic fungus is an Ascomycete, the “cup fungi.” The brown inside the cups are the spores.

Ground pines are small replicas of the trees for which they are named. They gather in some of the damper areas of the trail. I found a small group of a kind I had never seen before. I took several pictures to increase the chances I would be able to identify them after the trip.

The moose have laid deep and easy game trails through the reindeer moss. This bench stretches for maybe a half mile before descending once again into wet meadows.

It is easy to see there is no midstory in these forests. Just tall trees and lowly lichens. The moose and others carve the easiest trails parallel to the shoreline.

AUGUEST 28, 2024 - maybe

Woke in bliss. Comfortable is too weak a word for it. I don't even want to move. Dozed on. Woke fully at 7 am. Held friends and family in the Light and expressed gratitude for feeling so good.

Yesterday the paddling flew by so quickly. It took forever to load the canoe. I lost my knee pads, so I cut up the Ridge Rest to pad my knees. A slice out of the center to accommodate the central D-ring.

The first challenge was to pull the canoe over the rocks to the current and into a small eddy behind a rock pile. The water is deeper than I can get into the boat. I positioned the boat near a slightly larger rock so I can stand on it and manage to get in spite of the current. (Another prayer of gratitude.) There is supposed to be an RI, then a couple of K of RII and then into Hawk Rapids which is mostly RI but has two RII ledges. This is all per Archer. But there are no signs on the river telling you when you are moving, rather quickly, from one “set” to another. It looks so neat in the Archer book maps and it is a total mystery on the river.

The water just goes and goes and goes and I, in Dancer, ride with it. I'm back paddling in the large waves, then brace and paddle on. Taking the curves, which cannot be taken on the inside due to rocks and strainers. Ran into some huge waves except they weren't waves exactly. I had never see anything like them before. It is like a big swell in Gulf; you go up, up, up and then the water drops out from under you. I am back paddling as hard as I can and Dancer takes them like she was born to it. I end up sideways to the current, maybe a bit backwards, it is all happening so fast I can't keep track.


This sketch is the best I can remember it. (I sketched it out that night when my memory was fresh.) But it could be wrong. It did not seem like a ledge - too smooth. Plus it was on RL and there weren't supposed to be any ledges on RL.

Now it is mostly shallow rocks. Got stuck and had to get out twice. This is tricky with the fast current and rocks about the size of grapefruits, all round and slippery. Carefully saying to myself: "Get out on the upstream side. Do not put yourself between the canoe and the rock. Don't get downstream of the canoe." I'm doing my best to wiggle the canoe in between the shallow or larger rocks. Sudden stop. Crunch. The sound turned my stomach sick, but I could not find anything wrong with the boat and it still floated (when there was enough water) so we soldiered on.

Some hits I managed to lean hard downstream toward the rock and the current set me free. I was proud of myself to remember that bit of white water wisdom.

Came across a huge tower of rock in the center of the river. Could it be Hawk Island? If so, I was close to the end. But it all seemed to go so fast, too fast to already be at Hawk Island.

Hawk Island. It is much taller than appears in the photo. There are rock cliffs on either side of the river and they are about two stories high. The island is also that high. Clearly at some point in time, the river blasted through the rock ridge.

If it weren't twisty enough, the river now becomes a network of criss-crossing threads of current through the rocks. How to decide which one to pick? The river is wide and sometimes you (or I anyway) can't see to the end. How to pick?

Crash. Again. I get out on the upstream side and before I can grab and end, the canoe slips broadside and hits another rock, this time on the other end of the canoe. I now have that which no one wants to confront on a canoe trip: A canoe stuck broadside to the current. You could said it was lucky the water was shallow and the current not as steep as some could be. And you would be right. But nevertheless, it was a bad place for me to be. How was I going to get the canoe floating again. The current was too strong for me to move either end of the boat.

I had just passed a bigger bunch of dry rocks and I had thought to stop there. Too late, I was now downstream of those rocks.

My journal states I "started to walk the canoe to RR." But there is no mention of how I got the canoe off the rocks. But apparently I did.

BUT the rocks I was stranded on were not actually ON RR. There were a couple of reefs of rock to drag over, but most concerning was a narrow but fast moving current, like a river.

I fell. This happened frequently so is not of great note, except for that streaming current. The water became deeper, which was predictable based on the fast dark current. Once I no longer had contact with the ground, the current takes us all away. (Keep your feet up, Erica!) I can see in an instant how this could turn out very badly.

I can't stand, so I crawl on the slippery rocks in the current. Holding my staff in my right hand and the canoe with my left hand. Stumbling badly. Another fall. The water lifts the staff out of my hand, even though the strap is around my wrist. It was gentle and like magic. It just lifted my staff off my hand and took it away. In a microsecond. I never did find it. (This reinforced my image of what would happen should the canoe be wrested out of my hand.)

I push, push, push across the current for the shore as we are being pulled downstream. I grab at some grasses growing between rocks in the river. It's not much, and they pull out a couple of times, but that little extra allows me to pull myself up to standing. Canoe is still in my left hand.

There is no eddy. I know some of you reading this are going to this that is nonsense. But I promise you there was no eddy. The current pushes through everything in its way. It is a long slow pull up to the rocks on the shoreline. I look longingly at the larger space just upstream, but getting there would require getting back into the current. I choose to stay.

My notes now say: "Remember the time I was getting back in the boat and my left heel got stuck in the bow cover? Remember the time you decided to run a rapid sitting?" The answer is, No, I don't remember either situation and I have no idea what I was referring to. I assume it was two other times I got myself into a comical set of circumstances.

I am sitting on a dry pile of rocks at the edge of the river. The sun is warm on my face. My clothes are drying out And it comes over me: I am finally on a canoe trip.

Research later showed me to be just downstream of Hawk Island. Tall bluffs of sandstone perched on either side of the river.

I am too tired to fight the river this afternoon. In fact, I am too tired to do much besides sit in the sun. I will find somewhere here to pitch the tent. Later in the afternoon I will discover I can't find my solar charger and the bow of the boat is (cringe) beaten up. But right now, in the sun, I am blissfully ignorant of these future challenges.
Quite a struggle, Erica. I think that ground pine (also known as club-moss) is Stiff Club-Moss (Lycopodium annotinum). I could be wrong, though.
You did identify it when I visited you post-trip. I have the information, just not right at hand. It's the one with all the various uses.

Edit. I looked it up. Here is the photo of the listing from your book. Lycopodium.JPEG
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A very readable and interesting confluence of multiple struggles: struggles on the river, struggles to find maps and notes, struggles to recover memories, and even struggles to identify obscure fungi. Aside from canoeing, we have such a diverse mix of expertise among the members here.

A canoe stuck broadside to the current. . . . it was a bad place for me to be. How was I going to get the canoe floating again. The current was too strong for me to move either end of the boat.

For anyone's future reference, if your canoe is pinned on a rock or double pinned on two rocks, rather than trying to pivot or push the canoe laterally against the current, it is often more effective to lift one end of the canoe vertically up into into the air. This may allow an easy pivot off or over the pinning rock(s). But lifting becomes more difficult the heavier the canoe is laden with gear or filled with water.
Super impressive & inspiring and that from just the first few paragraphs! Is "Rock On" a good rallying cry for trippers?

Downstream from Hawk Island. I think this is still August 28, 2023

I have been blessed, sitting in the warm sun, watching beautiful remote waters rush by, while I sit safe on shore.
Soaking up the sun.
You are probably wondering what those bandages are on each leg just below the knee. These are the open wounds sustained quite some time ago now when I was unable to get my knees protected when paddling rough water. But right then, it did not matter, I was on shore, in the sun and all was well.

Even though the weather seems bright, I need to set up camp. I need to find a place for the tent. I am in luck. By following a knife edge ridge of high ground around a kettle hole of some great size, there is a patch of long high grass with enough room for the tent.
Tent with Joe Pye Weed in front and surrounded by alders.

I set up the tent, bring over the packs with items for inside the tent, sleeping bag, mats, clothes, books, etc. Surrounding the grassy area and down to the river are alder bushes. This is the first I have seen of alder and I won't see them again. This river is primarily bounded by Labrador tea.

Back to riverside, I began unloading. While I still have bright sun, I want to charge up my phone and flashlight. I am looking for the Big Blue solar charger. It should be in the large Patagonia duffle. Nope. Part of the reason I invested in a waterproof duffle was so I could find things more easily. That nice horizontal zip the entire length of the bag. Being able to organize better. Everything has a place and everything in its place. Ha!

Big Blue is supposed to be top and center, easy to find, in the duffle. It is not. I take everything out of the duffle and spread in out on the small rocks. No charger.

Let me tell you a little about the Big Blue charger. I found it excellent in all respects. Even on mostly cloudy days, it managed to recharge my phone in an hour or so. It was rugged. You can hang it up. It works in the sun and with significant clouds. However, it doesn't work at all if I can't find it.

Frustrated and knowing I do not function well when my brain is frustrated, I sit down on a small rock and eat some of my homemade mango leather. I look through another pack. No charger. Sit down and eat another piece of mango leather.

I have two charged charging bricks, but if I can't find the solar charger, I won't be able to use my phone indiscriminately for photos, for example. I would need to save the charges for emergency communications. No more, or very few, photos!

I tried to envision the last campground and my motions in packing. This requires, for me anyway, a calm brain and mango leather. I got out the phone to try to figure out where I last packed up. I vaguely remember deciding to place it somewhere else and not in its usual top center location. God protect me from my urge to take things from where I know they are and put them somewhere else. Undoubtedly I had a good reason to do this. I don't remember what it was.

My brain cautiously maneuvers through memory. I envision Big Blue next to the blue bag. I remember opening the blue bag and remember sealing it up again. It must be in the blue bag. I am sick to my stomach because today, already, I have dumped out the blue bag next to the tent and no Big Blue. This is not a small inconspicuous piece of equipment. It is 8 x 12 or something like that and relatively heavy.

I pick my way back over the knife-point to the tent. My stomach is still sick as I go to pick up the flaccid blue bag outside the tent. I am sure it will feel light. Lo and behold! It is heavy! I dump out the contents - no Big Blue. I shake it harder, determined to manifest the charger by virtue of pure energy and it finally fell out. Many thanks to my guardian angel.

I find myself hungry for the first time on this trip. I will navigate over the knife edge and set up the charging and set up the kitchen.
Big Blue has four charging panels and it charges well even when all panels are not at the optimum angle.

Sunset after a long day of few miles.

I am going to continue with August 28 here, even though I clearly stayed in place one night. I suspect there was a tesseract or two interfering with the time warp. '

Despite the extra day, I have few notes, except for the highlights as follows.

FISHING! I caught a grayling! I was amazed. I couldn't believe I caught a grayling. The book and the guides had told me that grayling like the fast water and certainly I had fast water here with a nice tongue. My first cast struck a rock, which is something I frequently do. I snag more rocks than fish. But this rock was moving! To my knowledge rocks do not move. I had a fish on the line! WOW. Suddenly the line loosened and he got away.

Cast again - second cast now - and hooked a fish. this time he was on good. He bent the rod and I wondered if this light weight rod was enough. I pulled him into the shallows in the rocky shore. He was beautiful. He looked similar to a salmon or a trout. He was probably 20 inches long, but since I didn't get a picture, lets call it two feet. I was admiring him when suddenly he was free and swam off with the lure in his mouth. I was left holding a rod with a naked leader with a crimped end. My knot had failed.

At one point in time, I was pretty good with knots. I took a salt water fishing class and learned knots there, but those are only vaguely recollected. An app on my phone, cleverly loaded before I left on the trip, will show me a large variety of knots and I used one of these to fix the next terminal tackle to the leader. I have trouble pulling the ends tightly enough. It occurred to me later that I should use plyers and a clamp to pull the knot tight.

But the show was over. More casts only resulted in stuck lures. Some I managed to jiggle out, but others stayed stuck. Having lost a lure twice on the same rock, I decided I needed to go get it or soon my fishing would end due to lack of lures. I stripped and walked on all fours to the rock, which was about 10 feet out. Turned out it was the line that was caught and the lure was actually some distance downstream. I reeled it in by hand and four-legged it back to shore. Took a while to sort the line, but gentle picking did the trick.

Further casts were fruitless. Perhaps there was only one grayling in this little tongue and he already had tired of tongue jewelry.


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Erica, a very well written chapter with amusing detail. I'd never heard of and had to look up mango leather. That made me wonder if you are a vegan, until I later read your passion for (losing) grayling.

I don't have any charging electronics. However, I used to work for the other Big Blue. Is the practice to charge the charging bricks with Big Blue and then charge the phone from the bricks, or can you charge multiple things with Big Blue at the same time?
That was a humongous grayling, well done, well written day(s) in your life as a real canoe tripper.
Thank you for taking us along on your adventure.