Bloodvein Trip 2004
By Hoz Joven
July 12-23, 2004
220 kilometers from Artery Lake to Bloodvein Village on Lake Winnipeg
Access: Wamair bush flight from Matheson Island
Egress: Free Government ferry from Bloodvein Village
Sunday, July 11
Partly cloudy, low 70’s. Worth Donaldson and I arrive at Matheson Island around 3pm after driving from Indianapolis, Indiana. We meet the other trip participants on the local beach, where we plan to camp the night. Jim Shaw and Larry Allsop from North Vernon, Indiana and Dan Benthal and Ken Cole from Chicago, Ill. All have varying experience on prior wilderness trips but we have not traveled together as a group.
L-R front row: Jose Joven, Larry Allsop, back row: Ken Cole, Dan Benthal, Jim Shaw, Worth Donaldson
(click images for larger views)
The rest of the day we arrange our packs, explore the island, check in with Wamair and pay our flight costs. There is some initial confusion between our quoted rate and what the fellow figures at the Wamair office. His price is higher. The owner, William (Willie) Mowat comes in from a flight and straightens everything out by explaining the web site has the old prices and since we established our quote per those he intends to honor the lower of the two, a lucky break for us. Later we try our luck at the Island Delight Restaurant. Cheeseburgers, Poutine and the friendly waitress has been to Indiana! We spend a few minutes browsing their book shelves and I see a pictorial history of Matheson Island. In it we discover the Mowat family goes back several generations on the island.
Monday, July 12
Overcast, mid 50’s. Paddle distance 16K 7am morning flight to Artery Lake. Three planes, 4 canoes nested one single. (Dan and Ken are in a tandem, all others paddle solo canoes.) It is interesting to see how the three pilots tie our canoes onto their floats. All seem to have a slightly different procedure and we wonder which is the safest.
We are surprised upon landing at Artery Lake by Claire Quenzence, Assistant Park Superintendent of Woodland Caribou Provincial Park. Wamair has not purchased permits to land in the park and are issued tickets. I had arranged via the internet for our group to stay one night in the park before heading down the Bloodvein River and it seems Claire took advantage of knowing when our group would be coming in to bust Wamair. There are some tense moments between she and our pilots. I notice Claire is wearing an official looking uniform and has handcuffs on her belt. Ummmm, what a way to start a trip!
|Worth Donaldson making a tobacco offering at the Artery Lake Pictograph panels.
The pilots unload our canoes and gear and grudgingly accept the tickets. Claire motors off in an outboard to “check on some campers and clear a trail or two”. We assemble the nested canoes and paddle upstream to view the pictographs. We are rewarded with an amazing large panel of Indian paintings, including a rare bison. Whoever did that painting must have done some traveling of their own since bison were found 200 miles to the south and are not native to this area. I see what looks like a long haired man with a lightning bolt coming from his head. The group jokes it is Willie from Wamair, and he is mad at ME.
Light rain after 12pm., everyone decides to start paddling downstream immediately and we forego our night in WCPP. On the way into Manitoba we are met by Claire who apologizes for “putting us on the spot”. I tell her I felt uneasy about the incident, but I understand she has a job to do and hope everything comes out fine for the park.
Cross the border into Manitoba and run a small rapid. We camp early in the rain RR at Rapid #11 (rapid designations from Hap Wilson’s “Wilderness Rivers of Manitoba”). Dan and Ken set up 2 tarps so that the crew has a dry area. Ken is handy with a sewing machine and makes a lot of their gear from packs to tarps and even a full spray skirt for the canoe. I catch 2 jackfish in the small surrounding bays. Release one and Jim Shaw fries the other for supper. The woods are wet but Ken saws some logs. I split the wood and Larry builds a fire. In bed by 9pm. Rain off and on all night.
me and a jackfish
Paddle distance 16K. Up at 5:30, on water 8:30. Cloudy, high 50’s. Tough day with ten rapids and four waterfalls. We portaged all but the easiest C I’s. The river is high and many of the chutes seem too fast or violent to attempt. One mistake would result in a dunking and no one wants to swim.
I catch and release 2 pickerel early in the day. North wind (15-20mph) on Bushey Lake crossing. Most of the crew follows Dan and Ken straight down the middle of the lake. I ferry diagonally across to attain the lee of a peninsula, and then angle southward catching up as we exit the lake. We camp RL a few kilometers before Stonehouse Lake.. Weather turns partly cloudy, mid 70’s. We must make an average of 20K per day to exit on time. A couple of the crew has “schedules” to keep and already expressed concern (!), nothing like having a schedule in the wilderness. We are only 5K behind and I feel we can catch up easily downstream.
This crew likes to race through the day. I am the only one fishing rapids. Jim and Larry have traveled Quetico before and the experience shows. They are very organized in camp and on the portage trail with 2 packs each. Jim does all the cooking on a Coleman single burner with food he has dehydrated at home. Larry is in charge of washing the dishes and packing up their gear. Both seem hesitant to run CII rapids but that’s not a bad thing.
Dan and Ken are the only ones in a tandem canoe. Dan stern, Ken, bow. Dan seems the more experienced of the team. He calls the shots in a rapid. Kens cross bow draw looks like he is flipping pancakes. I try to demonstrate correct technique but he doesn’t want to hear it. They too seem hesitant to run over C I technical. Dan does the cooking on a Coleman single burner and Ken cleans up. They have brought a shit load of gear and I am glad I don’t have to carry it. They have packs, two five gallon buckets (with butt pads), day packs, and many loose odds and ends. Their canoe is loaded to the gunnels. Ken has made a neat cargo net out of one inch webbing with fastex buckles to hold it all down.
Through the years Worth has pared his kit down to 2 packs and a five gallon bucket. He is trying out a new Hennessy Hammock this year instead of a tent. From all the snoring coming from his hammock at night I assume he is comfortable. In the morning the hammock is very easy to dismantle. He usually has it down in minutes. He is heating water to rehydrate food in a Kelly Kettle which uses twigs. The KK works great and he usually has hot boiling water in less than 5 minutes.
I have my usual 2 packs. I am cooking on a homemade hobo stove made from a coffee can that uses twigs. It has a computer fan with aluminum foil duct to stoke the fire (powered by a 9 volt battery). I also carry a Pepsi can alcohol stove and one small bottle of alcohol for when the woods are too wet. The crew is giving me some grief about my cooking arrangement but it is working for me, and I don’t have to carry a couple liters of fuel. I am limited to simply boiling water though, and if I want to do any real cooking or baking I will have to start a fire.
Paddle distance 17K. Up 5:30 on water by 8. No wind, sunny, turns HOT (high 80’s) in the afternoon. Two long tough carries. I hit the wall on lower Stonehouse Portage. Sweating profusely I become dehydrated. Even with my Exestream water filter bottle I cannot keep my fluid intake up. Larry helps carry my canoe last half. Larry and Jim lead all day. They bury us on the portages. Ken and Dan are fast on the water but slow down on the portages, often snookering anyone behind them. Snookering refers to tying up the landing while you are unloading or loading gear. Those behind have to wait. Worth and I are carrying the rear on the water and trail. No lunch today, just traveling. I need to put some snacks in my pockets at breakfast.
Camped at “X” Rock Rapids at 4:30. Everyone is tired. A group of scouts from Austin Texas make room for our crew. They have been here 2 days. Worth and I share a no cook dinner. I make summer sausage tortillas, Worth egg salad and carrot salad.
We are still behind but I am sure we will have easier reaches downstream.
Paddle 19K. I fell last night and twisted my knee. This morning I can’t carry my canoe. The group says they will help me and not to worry. I don’t like being a burden and consider pulling out at the next lodge. They can notify Wamair to come pick me up when they get out. Jim, Larry and I are on the water by 8am. The put in is almost a cliff and I have problems getting my two packs down. Larry has carried my canoe to the other side and placed it in the water. It is cloudy with the temperature in the mid 60’s. Within minutes of leaving a strong storm sweeps up the lake. We are driven to shelter under rocks. Thirty to forty mph wind, rain, lightning, thunder. As it lets up we continue on and by noon the sun is shinning!
Worth joins us and says he thought he saw something floating awhile back. Jim discovers his PFD has blown out and he must go back to fetch it. We all wonder why Worth didn’t pick it up when he came through. Jim returns a half hour later with his PFD, having found it in the sheltered cove where we took refuge from the storm.
Jim, Dan and Larry carry my canoe on the portages. I struggle with my packs. Any misstep causes pain in my left knee.
We make a great camp at “Round the Bend” a CII-III rapid. More chatting in camp now, Worth and I are the only ones sharing food though. Larry builds a big fire and we spend the afternoon exploring the camp. Two paddlers from Minnesota come through. They have a tandem canoe and are dressed alike. Bedtime, 9pm.
Paddle 30K. Up 5am on water 7, Jim, Larry, Worth and myself. Dan and Ken take longer to get ready each morning and we leave without them. Since they paddle a tandem they usually catch up easily in the first hour.
A great day, overcast and HOT, high 80’s to 90. I catch three pickerel at the bottom of a cascade and release them all. We run several CII’s. Worth pulls an involuntary 360 on a rapid. His boat (Swift Raven) is very forgiving. We encounter 2 “Bush Cops” at Island Rapids portage. They are coming upstream from Kautunigan Lake and are clearing portages, checking campers and have a square stern canoe with a 3hp motor. Just before Kautunigan I start trolling and catch and release several pickerel. The fishing is so good I have to quit or be left behind by the crew who are already far ahead. Again, I am the only one fishing.
Our longest day, we make camp 6pm at “Shan-gri-la Rapids.
Paddle 22K. Up 5:30 on water 7:30. Hot and overcast all day. Small clouds PM. Light NW wind. Make camp early at Chap Falls. AAA+ site. I catch 2 pickerel and one catfish. Jim, 3 pickerel and a big jackfish (released jack). Dan, 1 jackfish. Everyone eats fish tonight! I carry my canoe at Chap Falls and decide knee OK. I will start carrying my canoe tomorrow. Larry has been a lifesaver helping me on the portages.
I play the rapids below Chap Falls, riding the eddy up and peeling out into the big waves. It is a wild bucking ride to the bottom.
Bugs are the worst they have been. In bed by 9pm.
Paddle 20+K. We run many CI-II rapids. Some have no portages and so must be run. I feel the group has been too quick to walk when a sneak or a little aggressive paddling would get us through some of the rapids.
Bugs are getting BAD. Everyone is wearing nets or DEET. I continue to tough it out but may have to give in soon. I hate putting on DEET and my bug suit is hot. I have a head net I occasionally wear but I also dislike it. I can’t see clearly through the mesh.
Jim, Larry, Worth and I get on water at 7, just in time for a short fierce thunderstorm. We don rain suits and 30 minutes later the sun is out. As the rest of the crew unloads their gear for the portage I surprise all by running Mekinako Rapids on the right. A short ledge and small souse hole and I am through. I see Worth lining up to follow me and shout “Don’t do it!” My coming through without dunking was a 50/50 proposition. Worth backs off and heads for the portage trail. We line a few CIII-IV rapids and run the CII bottoms. Larry and Worth follow me down the Canyon Rapids sneak while the rest carry the 240m portage. We have a short 55 meter carry and then run a CII bottom. We are at the bottom of the canyon when I hear Jim up top shouting. The water is crashing in big waves all around but we are safe on a rock ledge. I shout up “Help, send the helicopter!” Just kidding, Larry and I get a big laugh.
We camp on a rock shelf at the bottom of #60 rapids. Dan finds 2 olive barrels, a food cache. Looks like fresh food. We leave undisturbed. Worth has a bursting seam on his sling portage pads and asks if I have a sewing needle. I open my repair kit and pull out my Myers “Awl for All”. I have been carrying this tool around for years on wilderness trips and this is probably the third time I have used it. In no time we have the pad sewn good enough to finish the trip. While it is out I also repair a piece of webbing for Larry’s PFD. “Hoz Harness, Webbing and General Repair” is open for business!
Ken and Dan mention the early start time. Seems they want to sleep in or at least be able to finish their coffee in the morning. Ken got only 5 sips the morning before. I reply Jim, Larry and myself are early risers and that I would mention it, but that Dan was one who had to be back in civilization for a presentation and if we wanted to stop around four each day (as all did) we would have to get on the water early. We are on schedule now, but there is always the threat of bad weather or high winds.
Lots of rapids coming up tomorrow, in bed 9pm.
Paddle 20+K. Showers 2 am last night. I exit tent in tennis shoes and skivvies to use bush room. Bugs attack me like a fur coat, one that bites and itches. It is horrible and I am driven insane, shit on myself, pee on my shorts and hurriedly get back in the tent. I light a piece of Pic and wait for the mosquitoes to start dropping. The next morning they look like black poppy seeds on my sleeping bag and tent floor.
As usual, Larry, Jim, Worth and I get off at 7am. Dan and Ken are finishing their breakfast. They catch up in first hour. Again they complain to me about getting up at the “Break of Dawn”.
We run several CI-II rapids. While the others carry the 480m portage at Kashaweposenatak. Rapids (#72) Worth and I try the shortcut through RR. A brink of the falls take out, 60m carry to an eddy pool, paddle across and carry 60m over a rock shelf. I scout and start down first. Fooling around at the take out the current whips my canoe around and I am drawn backward down a short sluice channel to a small pool. All I can do is hold on and hope for the best; at least I miss the major waterfall! Worth later said he saw my canoe go over backwards, a surprised look on my face, and my head disappear down the chute. At the bottom my canoe is half full of water but I am OK. I pull up on a rock shelf and bail it out, then run a small ledge and paddle across the eddy pool. Worth catches up and we carry the rock shelf. It has a spectacular campsite with 4-5 ft waves cascading down on one side. We take a several pictures and spend a few minutes in this fantastic place. Let the chumps sweat the long trail!
We start to see individual camps along the river. Most have improvised visqueen plastic tents. Every third one has a canoe. We start looking for a campsite and find they all are taken by one young woman! What is this, “The Sirens of the Bloodvein”? Asking a few questions we find they are a group of Voyageur ladies out on a 28 day wilderness journey. This reach is their solo night and they are spaced out along the river. We begin to get concerned about a campsite as all are tired and would like to set a camp. It is sunny, 90 degrees with no wind.
The group passes a small camp on RR and I ask if anyone checked it out. Our maps show it as a 1-2 tent site. Dan calls, “Why don’t you look at it?” I paddle over and climbing up see room for tents and Worth’s hammock on a long unused site. Jim, Larry and Worth come back to join me but Dan and Ken continue on. We shout to meet us in the morning at the next rapids. We joke to each other they want to sleep in and we will probably wake them up as we come through. My thermometer reads over 90 degrees and after setting our camp we all swim. Again, bed by 9pm.
Up at 5 and ready to go at 6:30 but a big rainstorm comes through and we “turn turtle” by climbing under our canoes while the rain falls in torrents. Only Worth stays out in the rain enjoying the show. We get on the water by 7:15 and find Dan and Ken 2k down. They are just starting breakfast. We chat and then leave knowing they will catch up in an hour or so.
Downstream at a small campsite next to a rapid we encounter ‘Wapoose”. Wapoose lives in Winnipeg and has been out 12 days on a solo journey from Wallace Lake. To us this is a wild wilderness, but it is his backyard. What a lucky guy. He and I have corresponded on Canadian Canoe Routes website (myccr.com) and made a tentative arrangement to cross paddles on the river. He has been waiting here the past 2 days for us to come along. It is nice putting a face to screen name. I am surprised to learn Wapoose is traveling by the old Berard maps, which are simply a large scale line drawing. It is a known fact they are not very accurate and that Berard took liberties with their transcription. Wapoose says they have added to the excitement of his trip, especially when he pulls up to a rapid marked as runnable and he finds a waterfall! After introductions and a chat he says he will break camp and catch up to us.
About navigation, everyone travels differently. I have given each member a set of topographical maps to follow our route. We also have rapid diagrams from Hap Wilson’s book but each rapid must be checked before running. While on the river I paddle from landmark to landmark, looking for a major turn, a marked campsite or a rapid to locate my position. Without checking, I usually know within a five kilometer reach where I am at all times. I notice the others paddling while continuously staring down at their maps as if they want to pinpoint their exact location each minute of the day. Still I often hear, “Where are we now?” “What rapid is this?” and “How far to the next campsite?” Really, who cares? There is only one way, down river.
Larry smells ‘something dead” in one slow reach. Later Wapoose says he saw a cow moose there that had been shot and was covered with alder branches.
We take the south channel to Namay Rapids. It leads through a marsh with jack pine, spruce and birch on the high ground. There are several beaver dams. The water gets thin and some are concerned we have taken a wrong turn. At spots I can see a slight current in the weeds and know it will eventually lead back to the river. I only hope it doesn’t run out of water and we have to get out and push/pull our canoes! Eventually we come to a definite channel between rock walls, a very beautiful spot.
Namay Rapids is a great camp, with plenty of room for several crews. We choose the top rock shelves. Soon Wapoose comes along and we invite him to camp early with us. Three Voyageur Ladies come in. They are the counselors and will wait for the rest of their group to come along the next day. They set camp below and invite us to have carrot cake baked in a reflector oven that evening. A group of young whitewater paddlers come in. They had been ahead of us but we portaged through their camp early in the morning while they were still asleep. They entertain by paddling the right side of CIII Namay and set camp on the lower shelf, spending the afternoon playing in the lower wave train. Suddenly, this river is getting crowded!
|Native from Bloodvein Village climbing Namay Rapids in his fishing boat and 40 hp engine. 800 meters of wild bucking ride.
Two Natives in a Lund fishing boat with a 40 hp engine come upstream and after the passenger gets out the driver powers up though the 800 meter, C II-III rapids, bucking and flying over the waves. In two tries he makes it and picks up his passenger at the top of the portage. What a show! Everyone is excited. Later in the afternoon they come back and run down the rapids.
It has been our habit to bathe, swim and wash clothes when the weather is nice and we have an early camp. This is no exception. Soon we have several lines throughout the camp with drying clothes. I am running around in my skivvies and tennis shoes.
Jim finds soft spots on my bow and stern from the rocks. Duct tape would be a temporary mend but I open my repair bag and mix some JB Weld to cover the thin spots. They are beginning to wonder what all I am carrying in my pack.
We have carrot cake with the Voyageur Ladies that evening. They had run out of oil and so greased the pan with peanut butter. It was delicious! They apologize for taking all the camps along the river. We learn that each year they bring a group of young ladies up from Minnesota for a month long expedition. The girls spend a month getting ready for the trip, drying and packaging their own food, gathering the gear. Their packs are huge and at the start weigh almost 120 lbs! The head councilor says it takes two women just to get one pack up on their back. It is a growing experience and spirit quest. Someone mentions it’s like Outward Bound. The head councilor replies, “Well yes, but Outward Bound does it for the money. We do it for the FUN.”
Back in camp I ask all for a late start tomorrow hoping to alleviate some tension with the Chicago boys. All agree to be up at 8 and on the water by 9-10am.
In bed by 9pm.
Partly cloudy, windy and cool. I am sleeping in when I hear pots and pans banging outside. It is 7 and everyone is up and cooking breakfast. It looks like they have snookered ME. I hurriedly get up, pack and have a quick breakfast of coffee and oatmeal. We are all on the water by 8. Wapoose and I run from the first eddy. The weather deteriorates and we have hard paddling into a strong wind. Wapoose has a double blade and makes good progress. The rest of us just keep smiling and grinding out the centimeters. We get windbound for 1.5 hr. Wapoose struggles on, we catch up later in the afternoon. Horizontal mist/rain and wind to 35mph.
Three Natives come upriver (same as yesterday?) Probably to fetch the moose. Later they come down with a partial carcass and we meet at the water station. They notice my black Zaveral paddle. I have painted a thunder god on one side and smiling sun on the other. “That’s a nice paddle” says one. “It gives me power” I reply. The wind and rain are too much to stop for long.
We camp early on a bluff. We are 8k from Bloodvein Village. Dan and Ken set Tarp City. Everyone is tired from the strenuous day. I say, “What did you think; it would all be Voyageur Ladies and carrot cake?” Wapoose gathers some tinder for a fire. The rest of us bring logs to add. We all make tea, hot cider and soup. I bake a small bannock over the fire. It is dry but I take the worse pieces for my soup and offer the rest to the crew. In no time it is consumed with gusto. It turns cool and I pile on the fleece. We spend the afternoon and evening chatting around a smoky fire.
I take a walk behind our camp and find an enchanted forest of moss and lichen. The recent rain and cool weather has rejuvenated the mosses and they look like miniature cities in the clearings. I take care not to disturb them as I follow a game trail through the woods.
A misty rain falls off and on all evening. I am in bed by 8:30 tonight.
Cold last night and this morning. It is evident we will be out today, a day early. Since he drove I ask Worth if I can spend a day searching for my relatives in Winnipeg. We have never met but my Dad told me I have Filipino family who have immigrated there. We all are on the river by 8 for an easy paddle to the Bloodvein Village. We line one rapid and run another. We see a brand new lodge that is due to have its grand opening tomorrow. The native owner is very proud saying he built it entirely by himself. The wind starts to rise as we paddle into the Village. We can see the Ferry out in the channel just coming into the dock. Soon we will have to start the long drive home. .
Ferry, the Edgar M Wood coming into Bloodvein Village.
The ferry has a big truck to unload before we can start across Lake Winnipeg. By the time it is done the wind has risen to 30-40 mph and there are big whitecaps on the lake. We wait all day for it to subside. We walk the village, eat at the convenience store and when the restaurant opens Wapoose generously buys us a hot supper.
The Indian kids come by to check us out. They climb into our canoes and rustle through our gear. I give all the gum I have away and wish I had more. One conversation goes like this, “Where you from?” “The US.” “Is it nice there?” “Yeah, but not as nice as here.” “Is that where they have dollars?” “Yeah.” “Do you have one? Can I see it?” Then when you show them a dollar, “Can I have it?” What you going to do?
At 6 the ferry leaves to try and cross. Waves are 4-6 feet high and he cannot make the turn to run down to Island View dock. We wind up heading north to Princess Harbor, about 10 K further north of Bloodvein Village. Princess Harbor is a neat little place with a few nice cottages and well kept grass lawns. The first mate says only 5 people live here now. It used to be a thriving fishing village but most have moved away and abandoned their cottages. We stay 2 hours and finally make the crossing as the sun is setting, arriving Island View docks at 11:30. The captain of our ferry lives on Matheson Island and takes our drivers across to retrieve the vehicles. Jim, Larry, Dan and Ken decide to camp the night at the dock. Worth, Wapoose and I head out for Winnipeg after building a pyramid of canoes on top of Worth’s SUV. We arrive at Wapoose home 3am Friday morning, waking Mrs. Wapoose. They invite us in to crash on the living room floor. The next morning we awake to coffee and I make some calls to find my long lost relatives. I find four cousins and their families. In no time we are being wined and dined. Worth is accepted as the token “white boy” at this Filipino fiesta and has to eat many strange new dishes. I have a few Antwone Fisher moments. Friday night we stay at cousin Manny’s house and rise early Saturday to head home. We make good time and drive straight through to Indianapolis in 18 hours. Too soon, this trip is over.