Day 11: Eh, Trip Success

By Emily Dech

Today we woke up to construction on the bridge next to our campsite. It was a rude awakening compared to our usual mornings in the wilderness.

I was greeting with birthday wishes from the group, as it was my 19th birthday. We packed up and paddled for less than five minutes to the bridge where the van was parked next to it. We loaded up our gear and canoes and were on the road by 9:30.

We drove for a few hours and stopped at the Chicken Chef for a quick lunch then continued on to a hotel in Winnipeg. We then took our first showers in 12 days. It was amazing to feel so clean. We ate dinner at Steve’s Bistro, which seemed fitting since we had our own Steve on the trip. 

The past twelve days were phenomenal.  I was incredibly worried about this trip before I left. Worried that I wouldn’t be able to do the portages, that I couldn’t paddle 14 miles a day, that I would tip in every single rapid and so on. However, none of my worried scenarios occurred! Everyone in the group was always willing to extend a helping hand and the rapids became my favorite part of being on the river.

I’m so grateful for this opportunity and I learned so much about being in the woods, about myself, and what I’m truly capable of. I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday or expedition!

Day 10: Sound Asleep

By Joe Gadient

On day 10, we all woke up around the same time for a change and got on the water a little earlier than usual, because it was supposed to be a 23-kilometer day. 

It was a pretty easy day overall with only one rapid that had much size to it. 

After we ate lunch on a tiny rock island in the middle of a rapid, everyone laid down and napped for a bit.  Brad woke everyone up and had us all sneak off the rock and run the rapid while Steve was sound asleep. Brad then made his way back upstream to pick Steve up, who was only slightly mad, and we all took off. 

We all were a bit confused when we rounded the corner just after our lunch spot and saw the bridge that we were supposed to take out at on the next day.  We really had no choice but to camp right by the bridge with the sound of road construction that went through the better part of the night.

Day 9: Swim Like Crazy

By Chet Caneff

We were happy to wake up to another beautiful day and right from the start of the day you could tell it was going to be a hot one. We were in no rush to leave camp because we knew that we had a shorter day in front of us so we took our time getting prepared for the day.

Once we started our paddle, we were greeted by a great number of eagles that were surrounding us and very welcoming to us letting us get to within 10 meters at times.

As for the paddling, it was one of the easier days on the trip only encountering swifts (very, very small rapids not big enough to be classified as class 1). 

After all of these minor rapids, we came across a class 1 that had some waves that were fairly large due to the high water. Everyone navigated through the rapid with ease but when Lucas and I decided to go back into the rapid and try to surf on the wave, we got a little bit caught up in the bigger waves and started to take on water. The boat then became harder to paddle and we spun around quickly and flipped our boat right over.

We realized right away that a few things had fallen out of the boat including Lucas’ fishing pole, croc, shirt, and map holder. After searching around for a while and coming up with only the croc, we made our way to shore with our boat. The only problem was that we were in the water with it.

Once we got to shore, emptied out our boat, and got the water out of it, we re-loaded our gear. We were ready to get back at it, hoping to keep the boat right side up for the remainder of the day.

From the spot of our little incident, it was just a quick paddle to the spot we would be stopping for lunch. We were all excited to stop for lunch at this gorgeous spot at Namay rapids, and Brad brought up the idea of this being our campsite for the night.

We were all happy to stay and enjoy this beautiful rock point overlooking the rapid, and the very mysterious rock formations just on the other side of the river.

After lunch we all spread out on the rocks and took a celebratory nap in wake of the good news. I was woke up from my nap by Brad in his life jacket saying, “come on guys who’s going swimming with me?!”

Emily Nagel, Lucas, Steve, Chad and myself joined Brad on this little swimming adventure and was it ever an adventure. It was one of the best swims on the trip due to the speed of the water and the length of it. It was a good 300 yard swim with massive waves the whole way down.

After our swim we decided that was enough work for a while and we went back to drying out in the hot sun. I had fallen asleep and was once again woken up by Brad saying, “Who’s with me on round two?” 

Claire decided to join us, and this time we were going to get out on the other side of the river and explore these rocks. The rocks were very high up and you had to use some rock climbing techniques to reach the top.

Once we got to the top, we spent some time walking around and looking at the weird landscape. To return to the other side, we went over to the edge of the rock and simply jumped off and swam like crazy across the current.

On our way back to camp we found a very small garter snake that Brad picked up and tried to help Emily Nagel calm her fears of snakes by getting her to touch it. I thought she was going to do it, but in the end, she just couldn’t get herself to do it but we all had a good time giggling at her squirrelly-ness around the snake.

We made it back to camp and once again lay out on the rocks to dry ourselves off, only this time we woke up to another group coming in to the rapid and portaging around us. They were going to be setting up camp just downriver of us for the night. By this time it was getting later in the afternoon so we went to go set up our tents and start to prepare for the evening.

After we got that taken care of we sat down for a few games of cards before supper. For supper we once again had a fresh fish fry thanks to Brad catching some fish earlier in the morning before we were even awake. For dessert we had some boiled evaporated milk and that sure did hit the spot. After supper we got ourselves ready for the evening and played a few more games of cards before calling day 9 on the Bloodvien complete. 

Day 8: All the Cool Rocks

By Lucas Knowlton

We woke up from a very rainy previous night. Much to our surprise, we looked out and saw nothing but sun and clear skies. This was all the motivation it took for us boys to get up and actually get out of the tent for breakfast. Once again we had half a pound of protein granola, as the rest made pancakes and freeze-dried scrambled eggs.

Since we were still a little water-logged from the night before, everyone laid their gear on a large rock to dry in the sun. Within half an hour everything was dry and we were ready to begin our daily paddle.

We were at a campsite we called “scenic,” which would’ve been very luxurious if it hadn’t rained.

Either way it was a perfect day and we were ready to make the best of it. Our chosen goal on the map was marked Namay Falls — a campsite roughly 15 miles away. Everyone packed up their gear and loaded canoes and we were off!

It was a laid back paddle. Three class 1 rapids and a few swifts followed by a short group portage were the extent of the day. We stopped on a panoramic rock and had a nice, short lunch. Everyone was eager to get back on the water and get to camp.

We came across about a 13-foot tall rock that resembled a shark’s tooth, which Emily Nagel attempted to climb. She was about two-thirds the way up before she realized she had to climb back down because of shallow waters. Being the experienced climber she is, she made quick work of it.

Soon after, we were once again floating down the Bloodvein. Before we knew it, our 15 miles were behind us and camp appeared on a magnificent rock. This was yet another perfect campsite we were lucky enough to inhabit.

After a quick exploration we found a large teepee towering over wonderful homemade benches and a rock fire ring. Tents went up quickly as everyone was eager to relax at this beautiful spot.

Chet, Joe and I went down by the river to fish. Like the past few days, our attempts failed but we were more than satisfied with the relaxation we experienced instead.


Day 7: Thunder

By Joe Gadient

Day 7 started out pretty much the same as the other days: The guys waking up to everybody else pushing their canoes into the water.

It was the first day that we had rain while we were paddling, but we still managed to go 20 kilometers. It also helped that we didn’t have any real portages. We had about a 10-minute lunch because we heard some loud thunder as we were eating. So even though we went 20 kilometers, we made it to our next campsite around 2:30 p.m.

As we were pulling into camp, it started to rain a little harder, so everybody put their tents up as fast as they could. We all pretty much stayed in our tents for the rest of the afternoon and night.

Day 6: Balancing in the Bow

By Claire Carson

I woke up warm and cozy in my sleeping bag. We three girls got up, packed our stuff and left the tent. The day started off cloudy and buggy — although nothing like the first night at the campground.

Emily Dech and I had breakfast of freeze-dried eggs and ham, accompanied by fruit cups, although I enjoyed the wild raspberries and blueberries on the trail more. For my first time trying a freeze-dried meal, I expected it to be a lot worse.

After breakfast, the group washed dishes, brushed teeth and started packing up and hoping the guys would put away their granola and join us. Once we had our stuff in our packs, we untied the canoes and put them in the water, clipping the straps together.

Chet and Lucas almost lost their canoe — the rope somehow got untied from the back of the boat and Lucas was left on shore, holding a blue-and-white line, confused, while the boat bobbed complacently in the water. It took some maneuvering from the other shore, but they got the canoe back without sacrificing any gear.

When everyone was ready, we set off. We ran many rapids in a row, classes 1, 2, 1, 2, where we surfed and practiced ferrying, class 3 where we ate lunch and another class 3.

Surfing involves sitting on the top of the wave, the canoe pointing upstream against the current. To get in this position, the front person, or the bow, paddles forward hard to get momentum while the back person, or the stern, angles the canoe to drift in sideways.

When sitting, the front person has the illusion of not moving, but the back person is paddling hard to maintain the correct angle. Without the angle, the canoe will go sideways and float downstream, out of the wave, or, in a bigger wave, take on water.

On this rapid, the front people did handstands and balancing acts while the back people adjusted the boat. As someone in the front, I thought this was lots of fun. Brad, who paddled, might have had a different opinion.

Ferrying is a technique employed to avoid charging head-on into dangerous water. The canoe is pointed diagonally, either upstream or downstream. The back person maintains the angle to move diagonally across the river, while the forward person provides momentum, and grabs the eddies.

This was my first trip paddling any whitewater, and I thought the rapids were lots more fun than flat water paddling. I enjoyed scouting, planning the best path to take and which eddies to steer into and watching the rest of the group. Sometimes at the bottom of the rapids, the trail of bubbles curled back in on itself multiple times with the flow of the current, making swirled patterns like Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”

Beside the next rapid, Emily and I had lunch of peanut butter tortillas, granola bars and trail mix. The day was briefly sunny, then changed went back to clouds.

We ran the class 3 we ate by, and all of us got big air. Aaron and Joe tipped, and later the guys went swimming — by choice. The group picked up the boats with the gear and brought them over the last class 3. We liked the pickups better, because they were faster than portaging.

Camp was a flat, rocky peninsula with small tide pools and marsh growing in the back. It was a small area, so the one bathroom spot we found had been obviously used, with bits of paper sticking out from underneath rocks.

When we arrived, it was still afternoon, so we napped. The guys decided to fish and have dinner on a teeny island; they waded their stove and food and supplies out. Lucas rescued Chet’s water bottle, and used dried apricots to catch walleye. Island cooking looked fun until the sprinkles started, on and off, and everything was waded back to camp.

Emily and I ate pad thai packets for dinner, and Emily Nagel joined us later for s’mores. The instructors pulled out condensed milk, which the whole group passed around happily. It began to rain, but we got out our rain jackets nonchalantly and finished the dessert, washing our dishes and brushing our teeth.

When the lightning started, however, everyone said goodnight and went into their tents. The girls continued “The Glass Castle” (Jeannette Walls’ memoir about her dysfunctional family), taking turns reading a story or two, then drifting off to sleep while the rain pattered on the tent.

Day 5: Surfing on a Thermarest

By Emily Dech

Emily N., Claire, and I woke up to whooping and hollering. Turns out Brad had done some early morning fishing and had caught a 30-inch walleye!

We packed up camp and paddled toward the Kautunigan Lake, which is similar to Lake Pepin due to the fact that it’s not actually a lake but an area where the river widens. We found the perfect cliff bordering the lake for cliff jumping and did just that.

I had never jumped off a cliff before and was a little wary because I am not the biggest fan of heights. However, it was exhilarating and we all jumped into the refreshing lake multiple times.

We paddled onward and ran a quick rapid where Chet and Lucas took a spill. Since Chet and Lucas were swimming after their swamped belongings, we decided to eat lunch next to the rapid at a rock outcrop. Here we observed Brad run the rapid in his canoe solo, swim the rapid and swim it again with his Thermarest just for kicks.

After lunch Emily N. and Steve, Claire and Brad, and Chad and I joined in on the fun and surfed the rapid in our canoes. Not only is it incredibly fun to be perfectly balanced in the middle of a wave it’s also good practice to work on steering and on teamwork for more tricky rapids.

We continued on to Chap Falls, a class 4 rapid meaning that this one would be more difficult. We maneuvered through it and stopped at a campsite right below the rapid. Here the instructors asked if we wanted to make camp. We were surprised about this proposition. While it was a nice campsite it was only 3 p.m. and there was still plenty of daytime left for paddling. Not only that, but we were getting stronger and going a longer distance than our original plan didn’t seem to be that challenging.

So, we continued on until past 6 p.m. to Meekinako Rapids. With waves, rocks, ledges, current and an eddy there was only one skinny path to get through the rapid. Thankfully, no one tipped.

We decided to camp right below the rapid. The site was a little buggy but had plenty of room and a lovely view of the rapid.

We discovered that we had paddled 35 km that day or 21 miles. Wow!

Three days ago I wouldn’t have thought that was possible. Our day ended with a relaxing campfire and a round of Euchre.

Day 4: 180 meters - No Problem by Day 4

By Emily Nagel

The morning was a casual one and offered us time to cook, relax and make hot drinks.

I dropped the pot of hot oatmeal water on my foot, which brought about enough yelling and all-around commotion that the guys came out of their tent to eat their granola. No real damage was done, and we were on the water in no time.

Our first mission was to find a supposed trapper's cabin on the left side of the river. After about 10 minutes of paddling, we found a promising trail that we followed through mud and over logs for about half of a kilometer. Discouraged, we turned returned to our boats.

Not a kilometer downstream, there was the cabin standing right on shore. It was complete with a battery for power, sleeping bags, cooking supplies, a mirror (frightening to see!) and a guest log for passersby.

We came upon an island. Because the left side would require extensive portaging, we opted for the manageable, class 2, right channel.

As we continued, the landscape changed from rocky and mossy to boggy with tamaracks and birch trees. This was our most drastic change of scenery on the trip. When we came close to our lunch spot, we noticed a log structure that looked like a swing set. Upon investigation, we found it to be a meat-drying rack for wild game.

After lunch, we had a rapids that was easy on top, but became more difficult toward the bottom. We pulled over midway and performed an always-efficient group carry to the eddy at the end. Our only "official portage" of the day was the following rapid. The portage was a mere 180 meters; no problem by Day 4.

We planned to camp at "Shangri-La," but it was taken by a Manitoban boys camp group. The site was set on a fun but unforgiving rapid. Running it was a thrill, so — naturally — we had to run it over and over. Eventually, our luck ran out and Chad and Aaron flipped. Their boat was caught and held down by the eddy, and the two of them were pulled downstream. One simple T-rescue later, they were put back together and on their way again.

The boys camp did enjoy watching our show.

The last rapid of the day was right above our campsite. Because the top was messy, Steve and Brad ran our boats down the side and met us toward the bottom. We lifted the boats over one by one and plopped them in on the other side.

We arrived at our site moments later. The rapid ran right next to camp, so we did some swimming. We cooked, fished and went to sleep.

Day 3: Like the Old Beaver Trappers

By Aaron Wildenborg

We woke up to an alarm clock of breaking sticks interrupting the monotonous sound of the adjacent cascading rapid. Looking out from our sleeping bag cocoons, we saw the usual cloud of mosquitos residing under our rain flap. After smelling the aroma of the instructors’ coffee and hearing Brad’s cheery “Top o’the mornin’!” Lucas elected himself to grab the morning granola from the ‘bear’rels.

Breakfast in bed was delicious. After eating our quota of a little over a half pound of granola, we packed up, brushed our teeth and brought our canoes down to the river, loaded and set off.

Cool air and good-natured conversation helped the morning cruise by. After our daybreak row, we found a comfy rock on which to sunbathe and eat. We had some prime granola and midday rations of four granola bars each. After having our fill, we paddled to our first rapid of the day, a class 5.

A class 1 rapid is easily navigable and doesn’t need to be scouted.

A class 2 rapid is a little more technical and may be scouted.

A class 3 rapid is technical with high volumes of water and is very difficult in an open-top canoe, as the canoe will fill with water when you go plunging through the waves.

A class 4 rapid is not runnable in an open-top canoe and is a very technical rapid with high volumes of water.

A class 5 rapid has a high chance of death if a mistake is made and therefore is extremely technical.

Lastly, a class 6 rapid is not runnable by those who prefer to have a long life.

Since this rapid was a class 5, we opted to portage the 50 yards.

After hauling the canoes and gear on our shoulders, we reassembled in the water and carried on our merry way like the old beaver trappers of Canada. After a few miles, we parked our boats and scouted our second rapid of the day. We were a bit apprehensive, so we let Steve and Emily take the lead. They made it with no problems so we all jumped in and ran it with success.

A mile down, we inspected some hanging rocks before continuing to Goose Rapids, a combination of two class 2 rapids immediately followed by a class 5 rapid. We decided to portage. After a muddy 100-yard trek, we repacked and set off.

The next rapid, “Round the Bend,” was a class 2. We let Steve and Emily again demonstrate a smooth line through the rapid. Everyone else followed Steve’s line and received minimal water in their boats. Joe and I, on the other hand, were following Steve’s line except Brad was waving his hands and yelling to move closer to shore. We thought we should trust Brad’s instincts and were rewarded by ending up on the wrong side of a large rock in the river and were forced to bump and scrape our way down a narrow shoot next to shore. On the bright side, not a drop of water got in our boat.

A short way down the river we stopped above a high volume rapid. After scouting, we were still hesitant to try running it.

Brad decided to run the rapid and make it look easy. Unfortunately, he misjudged the power of the water and went sailing into the largest wave. Brad, Claire and the boat went into the wave, but only Brad and Claire surfaced. Surprisingly, they were still in the boat in what Brad proudly called a “submarine” move.

The group members looked at each other. It was clear the rest of us were up for portaging. We decided to do a “group portage,” which meant that we didn’t unpack our gear from the boats because it was only a 20-yard portage. Each person grabbed the gunnels of one boat and wrestled it down to an eddy below the rapid. After repeating this three times we set off again, this time with Brad and Claire dripping wet, thankful for the pleasant weather to dry off in.

Around the bend was “Crater Rapids,” a class 4 rapid. We portaged packs and boats about 40 yards.

Happy to be finished with our last portage of the day, we paddled eagerly to our last rapid, a class 1. We ran it smoothly and paddled to our destination, “Red Rock Café,” called such because of the rock wall across the site was a dull shade of red.

We started making dinner. We had brought fajita mix but no tortillas. After hearing the instructors complaining about lack of jigs for their fishing poles, we agreed to trade four fishing jigs for four tortillas. The fajitas were delicious, albeit not filling. Therefore, we cooked up some beef stroganoff to satisfy our appetite.

After we ate, washed dishes and swam, the instructors whipped out a tin can without a label. They opened it and inside was delicious caramel. You can boil a sealed can of condensed milk for an hour and a half and, voila, you have caramel. Everyone took a spoonful before jumping in sleeping bags for a good night’s sleep.

Day 2: Breakfast in Bed

By Chet Caneff

On Day 2, we were excited to wake up to perfectly blue skies again!

The thing that wasn’t too exciting happened to be the mosquitos swarming in front of our net. We were all intimidated to get out of the tent in fear of being eaten alive. One of us finally got the courage to run to our bear barrel (a food storage barrel with bear-proof latch on it) and grab our breakfast.

This morning we were having loose granola, a whole bag of it. We felt like kings because we were eating breakfast in bed on an ELC trip. Once we were done with our gourmet meal, we packed up our sleeping bags, changed into our swimsuits, took down the tent and pumped water from the river to fill our water bottles. After loading up our canoes, we were ready to hit the water.

You looked into the water and it looked like you were looking into a mirror, you could see your reflection absolutely perfect due to the lack of ripples in the water on this calm day.

The first rapid we came across was a class 2 that we ran with ease. The next rapid was Bruiseasy falls, a class 4 rapid that we had to portage around. The portage was 150 meters long and the trail was fairly flat and easy to carry our gear over.

After our portage, we paddled across Stonehouse Lake, a very long and narrow lake. When we were coming around a bend Aaron saw something swimming about an eighth of a mile away and pointed it out to us. We quickly came to the conclusion it was a bear once it reached the other side of the river and climbed out and onto land and hurried up into the woods.

After that little bit of excitement, we were on to rapid No. 21, another dangerous class 4 that we had to portage around. This portage was not quite as easy as the first one, and, unfortunately, it was the longest portage of the trip with a distance of 410 meters. The trail was no walk in the park, with many rocks and trees to maneuver through as well as a few steep inclines leading to a very steep put in.

What came after the portage though was one of the highlights of the trip for people with fishing poles. After only a few casts, it was clear that this was the spot to be if you wanted to catch fish — just below the rapids in the fast-moving water. After fishing out of the canoes for about a half an hour and catching many, Brad and Chad still hadn’t had enough so we pulled over and they fished from shore while we were eating lunch.

When we were done eating lunch we were excited to find out that we could jump in the bottom half of the rapid and swim it, so we walked our way up the shoreline and found ourselves a nice spot from which we launched ourselves into the middle of the current. From there we were just along for the ride; the water would take us wherever it wanted to until the strength of the current lessened and we could swim to shore. We all swam through the rapid two or three times before loading back into the boats once again.

The next rapid we came across was a class 1, and everyone made it through with ease.

Rapid 24 came soon after and was a bit more difficult. The class 2 rapid had some pretty decent sized waves in the middle of the channel, but if you could avoid those it was a pretty decent paddle. After that we had one more portage for the day — a 275-meter portage but once again was relatively easy to get our gear to the other side. Now we only had a couple of kilometers to go until we would be at camp for the night.

X-rock was a beautiful campsite that was elevated overlooking Rapid 26.

My group had creamy potato soup for dinner along with three fish caught at our lunch spot.

After supper, we went swimming to clean ourselves off a little bit before we watched the sun set over the trees. What a beautiful sight and the perfect end to the perfect day.

Day 1: Meet the Canadian Whitewater

By Lucas Knowlton

Day 1 startled everybody when they crawled out of their tents. One word: mosquitoes. They didn’t give up even when the DEET came out. We had spent the night in Bissett, Manitoba, a small village about 150 miles east of Lake Winnipeg.

We took full advantage of a nearby playground. Eating breakfast on the  swing set and walking around brushing our teeth were a couple of the many ploys we used to avoid the mosquitoes.

Everyone took down their tents as the excitement for our journey grew. Quickly enough, camp was gone and we were ready to go.

We pulled up to the Blue Water Aviation’s takeoff point at roughly 5 a.m. The pilot already had three of our five boats strapped onto the floats.

Chet, Steve, Emily Dech and Claire boarded the plane for the first of two trips into Artery Lake. The rest of us stood and watched the massive float plane take half of our group out of sight.

Joe, Aaron, Emily Nagel, Brad and I eagerly waited the expected hour for our turn. Finally, after what seemed like forever, we saw our pilot come back into sight.

We jumped on the plane and off we went. It was a 12-minute flight into Artery Lake in which we got a whole different perspective on the type of wilderness we were getting into.

After a smooth landing we hopped off and unloaded the last half of our gear. We waved our pilot goodbye along with the last sign of civilization for 11 days.

Chet and Steve were quick to reassemble the two 17-foot canoes in which we had nestled the 16-footers for the plane ride. We were ready to hit the water. Ahead of us we had 150 miles, or, as we would measure, 220 kilometers, to our final destination.

Our first day we scouted many of the rapids we came across, because for some of us, this was the first whitewater seen in a canoe. We ran three Class 2s where Brad and I jumped in and swam the rapid — the first of many. Steve and Emily also both caught northerns here.

We hadn’t tried much fishing before lunch, but we did more after. Good thing we did, because we found out how amazing it was. Almost every cast, you could catch a walleye that was big enough to eat. Chad, Brad, and Steve kept four walleye for a fish fry that night. The rest decided to hold off on a fish fry for the next night.

After fishing, we got back to paddling. Roughly five miles later we came to our first campsite. It was a very nice, elongated site with great water access and amazing views. Everyone was relieved to get out of the canoes. Tents went up quickly and dinners were made.