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No Pain, No Gain

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The Maskwa River.

Maskwa means Bear in Cree, but for this weekend it meant Bear-ly any Water.

We got away around 9:30 Friday morning under patchy cloud with a forecast of 30% chance of rain Friday, 60% rain and thunderstorms for Saturday. It did drizzle a bit on the way to the Maskwa Project, which is a camp on the river which bills itself as a Minimalist Wilderness Retreat. They have self made yurts and tent camping spaces, some other little buildings and are putting in trailer sites, so I suppose they need more funding to keep, keeping on. On the site but just upriver is a canvas wall tent set up. Someone must like being very minimalistic.

It is 142.5 km from our driveway to the Project. Not too bad at all for what is a wilderness river once you get a few portages upriver.

FLIES!!! Where did all the flies come from. The Project had flies everywhere. Hundreds of thousands of flies that would walk around on you and check you out but not bite. It got to be very annoying quickly. We were on the water by 11:30 and the flies came with us.

The river seemed to be pretty flush as we left but it does flow into the Winnipeg River and the damn gates had been closed, so it may have been holding the water back. It is a short paddle to the first portage and we finally got to see our first Eagle this year, it was perched above the flowing waters at the first portage. This port is river left going upstream. It paced out at 150 and the put in was a bit awkward due to the low water upstream. Seeing as this is a typical pool and drop river, we had sufficient water between the falls and rapids to continue, but the water was down about 2 feet.

We carried on to where Christy had gotten in April. The Falls she had called it and there was water falling but not in the volume she had seen. First use of the chainsaw as Christy hacked out a lay down that blocked the start of the trail.

We carried this portage and spend a bit of time finding a better put in upstream which Christy cleaned up with the axe. It is 540 paces, the first 200 uphill. The top end could still use a better entry point but we made do with what we found.

TICKS!! It was here we found the ticks. There is a couple hundred paces of travel through waist high grass which is likely where we picked them up. There were several crawling on our pants and tops so we needed to rid ourselves before they set up home.

Just upriver we ran aground on some flat rocks and did a tick check. Two old ladies almost stripped bare in the middle of the river picking ticks off each other. To this point I had 4 and Christy had 9. Before the day ended I had 5 to Christy's 13. More ticks in one day than the previous 5 years combined.

I didn't have any agenda for this weekend but Christy had hoped out loud we could get all the way to port 15 which is 28km in. My agenda won out.

Now, we know from speaking with a FN Water Steward, Charles Simard, a number of years ago that the First Nations people who used to ply these rivers used oak trees to mark the start and end of portages and in between on long ones, in the same vein that we use blazes, as well as camp sites. I had forgotten to look at #1 but there were plenty on 2. Start, finish, middle. Lots of oak trees. Why oak? They are not indigenous so would stand out over time and they still do.

After #2 we ran out of clear portages completely, so due to the quad trail that uses the bridges at 2 and the usual spoils of partiers, they likely keep the trails open a bit as there are tracks most places but it was apparent nobody really uses the river anymore.

It wasn't far to the third rapid, which would not be difficult to wade at these water levels but the purpose of this trip was to find and resuscitate the ones we knew had to be here. So we looked but did not find an oak tree on either side, but chose the right bank as the likely choice since the river turned right just upstream. Christy went inland looking and I waited before playing Marco Polo to guide her back. She hacked and I sawed and soon we had a decent path around that rock pile. It was short, too short it turned out.

Back on the water we round the bend to the right and find another one. Easy wade again, which is what I did as Christy walked the sloping rock shore. She noticed a potential clearing just back from the bank and then joined me at the top of the swift. The satellite photo's did not show this, but when looking closely later we could see some of the rocks so the picture had to be taken during higher water. At some point someone had cleared this one out creating an easy run down the west side. We found that again further upstream and figured that maybe it was FN to move cargo easier, or when they first started to log the area and it made it easier for the river men to get the timber downstream.

We carried on.

Stunned silence when we got to 4. Oh crap. How are we getting up this? It was long, high, rocky as hell and had trees stacked like cord wood in all the wrong places. Rock hopping would be required at the bottom which we did after beaching the canoe to go explore. Wading, rock hopping and then walking up the slope to the top where there is usually water. I did notice the prominent oak tree at the opening to the clearing but it was getting to be later in the day and we needed a campsite.

Once again I won out, which is unusual, so rather than humping gear over all the boulders we went back to #3 and checked out the little clearing. Moss, grass, nice spot. Funny how it is ringed with oak trees.

I did my chore which is set up camp while Christy got the kitchen set up down on the rock by the river. The space as it is would hold a couple small tents or our Wanderer 4. A little more clearing and it would fit several tents. Where I set up would be perfect for a canvas wall tent. It is a south facing exposure and protected on 3 sides.

We were both a tad weary at this point having spent 6 hours going 4km but it had been a satisfying day or achievement which would only improve.

Although we had the perfect spot for a campfire, we could have it beside the river and just push it in at the end, we adhere to the Provincial Open Fire Ban between April and November. A rock ring is an open fire although if it is an emergency it is permitted. Besides, we were worn out.

I spent the early evening penning the journal entry while Christy cooked then another tick check and hashing out the day's events and plans for tomorrow before fading into a 10 hour sleep.

End of day 1
 

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Saturday morning found both of us groaning with aching muscles and no desire to move right away but Christy found the energy to go start the coffee. We had brought the single burner propane stove and it is just so convenient other than packing the little bottles of fuel in and out.

While she was doing that, I fired up the GPS again to check the time and poke around with it and the maps. While doing so I found that from the start of the portage we cut yesterday to where camp was set up was a straight line. So I went behind the tent and found what looked like a old path. After breakfast I showed Christy since she could not see it, I walked down into the bush and found myself at the blazes she had cut where the path went left to the river. It took no time to cut it out so it came straight into the back of camp. 140 paces right into camp.

Good start to the day. With that bit of work taken care of, we planned a simple fishing day and threw appropriate gear into the boat to go up and fish the pool below #4.

It would turn out later we had far less gear than was necessary as we extended that excursion. After only finding snags below the falls we walked up with rods and tried the top. Nothing much happening there either so I walked over into the bush with the GPS and started looking for other oak trees. We found the top of the path fairly easily then started working downhill.

The high water mark here was a fair ways up the slope and based on the wood pile at the bottom we knew we had to back in the bush a bit away from the edge. So we started from an oak tree and tried to work down in a reasonably straight line. Each time we stopped there was another oak and I would waypoint it. At one point Christy headed off uphill a bit figuring it had to go that way as I waited, and I turned around to find an oak tree behind me. We eventually just followed the oak line and have a path of waypoints for a future trip to cut out the port. It will be mostly uphill but shorter than #2.

With that done, we lined and waded the boat to solid ground and portaged over the exposed rock to the top to go find #5. Due to my map running out a bit upstream I had put a flag on it with the accumulated distance and along with a printer malfunction so I could not read the text, I had assumed that flag was where the next port was. Not so.

We paddled a long time, it seemed long since the scenery never really changed, just trees and bush. We did spook something large in the forest and crashed away a short distance before silence, likely a moose. Mostly just birds and one buzzed me. I heard it and Christy said it was a green hummingbird.

Getting close to an hour and still no sign of the rapid and were considering turning around when we heard some quads in the bush. I remembered the old road came right alongside #5 and sure enough, around the next right turn it was there. Turned out that it was about 4 km upriver from #4.

Oak trees on the left bank but we did not explore at all since we had no tools with us. Again though this rapid had been cleaned out of rock so it would be a straight shot down the center in higher water.

On the return trip, for fun, I pulled out the GPS to see our speed. We had a serious headwind and little current but still managed a top speed of 3.7mph without much effort. Then we carried on relaxing and fishing along the way but a break in the blazing sun with a little sun shower. It was refreshing but did not last long. As we came upon a right turn it began again in earnest and then the single dark cloud opened up on us. We turned the corner and could see down the stretch raindrops bouncing off the river surface. I pulled on my rain jacket but Christy had not brought hers so we pulled in to the bank to try to get under some foliage. As I was hunched over in the bow seat for protection, I suggested she step out to get under the bush cover and when she did she sank almost to her knees in the mud.

Between her being buried and the pounding rain it was hilarious. We just waited for that cloud to pass before she worked to extricate herself. She needed to sit in the boat and slowly pull her feet out to keep her runners on. Gobs of mud in the boat despite her efforts to be rid of it.

That was one of those bright spots that will be referred to again, as it harkened back to the Marshall Lake trip where I had stepped onto the bank when needing to land a 37" pike and sank to my calves in the mud. That was a fancy dance as well.

We heard the quads again as we arrived back at the top of #4 and they seemed amused or amazed perhaps to see a canoe out there. The area is full of old logging roads which are all quad trails now. So as we prepared to port back down to the river, the twenty or so of them guzzled their beer as we deftly hand bombed the boat back down the rock spine. They continued to watch as we expertly lined and waded back out to open water.

I had picked up another tick but that was it for the day. Back in camp it was still threatening rain and was quite windy but we had dry clothes, wet stuff was drying and Christy put on a pot of coffee before making up fresh stew for dinner.

What we have found so far for campsites is, only at the portages are there possibilities. At 2 and 4 there are clearings on the left side which would work, #1 has nothing and 3 is excellent. Nowhere along the river between 4 and 5 is there anything and even at 5 there isn't a spot. The old road does come close there so a short walk may produce but we didn't look. Based on the satellite photo's there may be ample room at #6.
 

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We had another 10 hour sleep night and initially had light cloud but the sun broke through during the day. We were headed out this morning and after coffee and fried egg sandwiches headed back out the new portage. We fished our way out all day and took our time.

#2 brought us back into serious tick country again. All that long grass must be where they lay in wait for long legged creatures to saunter by. Christy had suggested I video the portage like Robin does with his GoPro but I only had my p&s for that but gave it a try. The resulting video would give some people seizures due to the camera constantly adjusting focus but it was worth the try.

I took my time and got some photo's of the falls I had wanted which required rock hopping a bit since the trail stays away from the river. It was worth it and must be spectacular with more water.

Once we got below #1 we were back into civilization quickly since this portion is boat-able. Christy was dragging a jig along a weed edge when a large fishing boat and 2 jet skis came upstream so we just packed it in and boogied back to the project.

We packed up, picked ticks off and headed home. Back at home the gear went into the shop since there are likely hitchhikers on which can crawl off out there. Christy found 3 more ticks on her when she showered and I had 2 buried in me.

How many ticks is too many? 3 days out, I had 10 and Christy had 23. Usually I get more than she does but I treated my pants with permethrin last year so maybe there was still some effect even after being washed a couple of times, Christie's are untreated.

Nice to be home and recovering. Out this way the Province does nothing to open or maintain portages in wilderness areas like Atikaki or in this case, Crown Land. So it is only paddlers that take care of things. We do our fair share and enjoy the times we can open up new areas for others to enjoy responsibly.

I will be 56 next month and am a 40 year smoker. Christine will be 59 in September and had a heart attack 3 years ago.

The Wilderness Chicks, Christine and Karin
 

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So I'm working on the two video's I shot. Saturday night I shot 2 minutes of just sitting in the tent recording the flies that were inside and trapped between the fly and tent body. That did not stop until it started to get darkish and cooler. Never saw them when overcast or later in the day as the sun sank. But once the sun was out they were fast and furious. Speakers are helpful to understand fully what we put up with.

https://youtu.be/mw4TNIEIn9Q
 
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Thank you for taking us along on your trip, I enjoyed it very much.
.......Birchy
 
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You two did awesome! Thanks for posting the story and pictures. That must really make it tough not having the ports all nicely groomed prior to your arrival!
 
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Beautiful country. I enjoyed that portage #2 video you shot, felt just like I was there, except I would've been breathing harder.
I forget which canoe that is? How did that work for you on this trip?
I'm surprised with the wet spring and summer the levels were so low. Nice work on the portage clearing.
Thanks for this tr. Good stuff.
ps
Dang it. I always miss out when you two get into the mud wrestling. lol
 
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Birchy, it was my pleasure, I enjoy doing the trip reports. Saturday night we sat in the tent after the fly noise abated and I read back my notations with the first trip in the journal when we did 4 days on the Rice 4 months after Christie's heart attack up to the present trip. I need to find the one I kept for the prior years.

Ice, you can get up past #4 now and easily past 5 if you wanna give it a try. Christy has plans for a little bridge on #3, make it more like Algonquin Park. Next trip we will have chain oil and a jug of gas and maybe a gas powered weed-eater with a saw blade for the brushing out.

Brad, glad you liked the video, my first try at stuff like that. Must be a GoPro in my future. Did you watch the flies one? That is the Swift Mattawa we keep for tripping. 15'8" of Kevlar fusion and integrated Carbon/Kevlar gunwales. All cherry trim brings it out to 40 pounds. We will bring that one on the next Marshall Lake shindig.
 
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Some extra photo's from Christine. She took the photo of me before I could suck in my tummy.
 

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Yepp, good trip. I always like cutting out ports. We decided last minute to just take the saw with full tanks and no extra gas or bar oil. That turned out pretty good. I need to get one of those split cans with the two sides to it for this fall. It is probably a good thing you didnt come along Ice...you would have been bored to tears. This is more up my alley. It will be a killer good trip in a couple of years though once it is all cut.

Hey Brad ,that portage video was right on the money. Totally like being there. Next time we will film the mud wrestling, just for you.

It doesnt really show it in the pics but our camp at #3 was so peacefull and quiet I didnt want to leave.It is very interesting how at 3 and 5 the rocks have all been moved aside to create a clear channel. Right now it is almost not deep enough to float a canoe. I imagine it to be a bit different in the spring.
I have a shakedown trip for a couple of young (15) ladies who want to go canoeing and I think this would be a great day trip for them.

Christy
 
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Love those photos. The Lord of The Flies video creeped me out. Seen too many Hitchcock movies.
That kitchen site is sweet. I could hang out there. So long as the dinners kept rollin in like Friday's and Saturday's.
I've never heard of any living thing (oaks) being used as portage markers. Really interesting.
Do you think those rocks were moved aside at #3 & #5 by FN hands? Practical approach to travel. All that driftwood suggests a good flood in spring too.
I like that Mattawa. Still lots of freeboard with all those steaks, potatoes, tools and saw? Good. The trip we almost took on the weekend called for the big Coleman. I agree the propane cylinders are a bit of a pain, but man do they make life easy for the head chef.
 
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I have a huge regret in not being able to join you two on this trip! Looks like a great area to play in and may get better the farther you get! I normally am on groomed trails so this would have been fun (Only have a folding hand saw with on my trips) I will have to save this for when work is back to normal! Your trail-side meals look awesome too! Good luck on getting the next generation of canoeist started properly, looks like they found some great mentors!
 
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Ice, you might need to change your routine if you came out with us. We tend to plod along and enjoy the scenery and fish the occasional fishy looking spots. Finding and opening ports is also time consuming but worth it. We had the chainsaw, axe and Coghlans folding bow saw for this trip. We only take the chainsaw(s) when purposely knowing we are cutting out ports. A machete would be handy up there as well.
 
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Having tripped with you two, I can picture every move you describe. That field of grass should have a sign with a tick painted on it at both ends, just like Mr Canoehead on the portages. Yikes.
It's nice that you eat so well, I would love an egg sandwich with lots of mayo out in the bush, gonna make one right now...haha Those steaks looked great, time for a cold handle.
Thanks for the nice write-up and pics. Nice to see you both out there.
You should get a Go Pro, a few extra batteries, a bike handlebar mount for your spare paddle and take tons of video, especially fishing, camps, ports and wildlife. Great fun editing thru the winter imho. (I subbed to your Youtube channel);)
 
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YC, you planning to drop by one your way through? Just let us know when you are close and we'll send directions.

Robin, I found a used GoPro 4 with many accessories on Kijiji this morning but it is an old ad. If he still has it I will pick it up. What program do you use to edit?

Al, thanks, we do enjoy the port cutting. The aches and pains are worth the satisfaction.
 
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YC,

Robin, I found a used GoPro 4 with many accessories on Kijiji this morning but it is an old ad. If he still has it I will pick it up. What program do you use to edit?
.

I use "Movie Maker" but I bet there are better programs out there, I'm happy with it and just don't care to learn all over again.
 
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