BOGART: "I don't blame you for being scared - not one bit. Nobody with good sense ain't scared of Whitewater..."
HEPBURN: "I never dreamed that any mere physical experience could be so stimulating"
The African Queen, 1951
BLOODVEIN RIVER, MANITOBA - July 2008
Six friends travel an old Anishinabe and voyageur route.
On Kautagan LakeUnloading the plane. Kautunigan Lake. We flew in from Winnipeg on a beautiful new amphib and landed at Kautagan Lake mid-morning. As we had three canoes, it took 2 separate trips. The rest of Day One was spent setting up a campsite and getting both us and our gear ready for 8 days of camping, 120 kilometers of tripping, and 41 rapids.
First campsite on Day One. The first of many wood ticks. Our first camp would be typical of the ones to come. Our tent sites were on large granite pans with no way to use tent pegs. Light lines looped around rocks became the standard.
I got my first wood tick, one of eleven for me on that trip. It was a simple procedure to just grab them with tweezers as close to the head as possible and gently pull them out. Sometimes a little skin stayed attached but all-in-all it was quite painless and relatively easy.
Down the RiverUnrunnable. Let's portage. Hap Wilson and Stephanie Aykroyd's book. Don't leave home without it. Hap Wilson's book 'Wilderness Rivers of Manitoba' was invaluable. I can't say enough good things about its accuracy concerning portages and campsites. Obviously, water levels can change the classifications of rapids and lines, but even then Hap's comments on ledges, souse-holes and possible lines to run the rapids were excellent.
Our weather the first day — really hot and sunny — was also a harbinger of things to come. Dehydration was a problem for the first few days, until we got into the routine of sipping water at every available opportunity.
Scouting a ledge. A bit overloaded in a 16 footer.
We stopped and scouted every rapid, but it really didn't slow us down all that much. Besides, it's a great excuse to get out of the canoe to stretch, have a snack, take a few pictures, or even grab a lunch break.
When scouting the first few rapids, we over-analyzed everything and definitely portaged more than necessary. But, by the end of the first few days, it was only the ledges or keepers that mandated a hike.
Campsite. Sunset at another great camp. We had just finished supper at the Chap Falls portage one evening when eight very bedragled but hardy lads from Minnesota came through. As they had been subsisting on biscuits and whatever fish they managed to catch, we started ladling out our dessert — Eric's fruit crumble — into waiting hands. They were canoeing 12 hours a day and single pass portaging, which was definitely not our style! We saw no one else until the last day before the take-out.
Bear cubs up a tree. Mamma bear protecting the cubs. At one ledge, which we had to line over, we spotted 3 bear cubs up a tree with Mom at the lowest level. Her position effectively stopped the cubs from coming down and anything else from going up. The pictures aren't great as we didn't want to get too close and make Momma bear nervous.
We had hoped to make camp and spend the day playing in the last of the good rapids. But, with the rapids pretty well washed out and four bears for neighbours, we pushed on.
Pictographs near the last set of rapids. Last view of the Bloodvein River. Pictographs! We finally found pictographs, one of the main reasons that we picked this river for our yearly trip.
We arrived at the Bloodvein Lodge a day early but William, the owner, kindly opened it up for us anyway. He also took us out fishing for pickerel, then pan-fried them to be enjoyed along with his wife's excellent bannock and pasta salad. It was a great way to finish the trip and put memories of freeze-dried food to bed.
Tourist in Winnipeg
Lower Fort Garry. Corner bastien at lower Fort Garry. I made the mistake of only allotting a few hours to the Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site. It's actually worth a full day if you like talking to the re-enactors and enjoy poking around in all the fascinating corners. It is another of the Canadian Historical Sites that Parks Canada has painstakingly refurbished and beautifully maintains. It's Canadian history that feels alive; you can smell it, walk it, and feel as though you're a part of it. Very well done in both planning and execution.
Exquisitely crafted Metis beadwork. Old york boat at lower Fort Garry. As well as giving an excellent impression of what the lives of HBC employees were like, the site also gives a realistic understanding of the Voyageur, which is a far cry from romantic notions. The Canôt de Maître, the York boat, and especially those 3 to 6 tons of trade packs that all needed to be carried over the portages, are all indicative of a very hard life. As Sir John Franklin said, it was "unending toil broken only by the terror of storms".