Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Following Verlen and Valerie-XVI-Lake Winnipeg and Beyond

Neither Verlen nor Valerie described their trip from the Churchill River through Frog Portage and the Sturgeon-Weir River and lake system to the town of The Pas. I looked at the chore of trying to describe it by working backwards through the descriptions in One Incredible Journey for the 1971 trip or The Ultimate Canoe Challenge for the 1981 trip but since I am only following them, not trying to tell their story, I decided just describe their route as shown on the 1971 trip map and take to my virtual helicopter.
The map shows in order from north to south Frog Portage (Verlen said it had a good trail), Lindstrom Lake (text) or Manawan Lake (map)?, Wood Lake, Pelican Narrows, Mirond Lake, the Sturgeon-Weir River, Amisk Lake, more river then Sturgeon Landing on Cumberland Lake, the lake and then the river to its confluence with the Saskatchewan River. Time out while I fly their route to The Pas...
Verlen in Newsletter Number 6 December 1986: "Early in the morning of September 9, we departed The Pas, Manitoba, paddling side by side in our solo Sea Wind canoes down the Saskatchewan River...We enjoyed the novelty of downstream paddling for the next one and one half days knowing that it would be the last until we reached the Wabash River at Fort Wayne, Indiana...(maybe wrong, as I will demonstrate later)  It may sound strange but in the first six months and 5,000 miles, we have paddled less than 300 miles downstream.
The Saskatchewan River widens out into Cedar Lake and Cross Lake. It is about 100 miles across these lakes. They are the backwater of a huge dam at Grand Rapids, Manitoba. Here the water spills into Lake Winnipeg and flows out the north end to go down the Nelson River to Hudson Bay. But we went the other way. It took us 10 1/2 days to go nearly 300 miles across Lake Winnipeg to the Winnipeg River.
On September 24 we started up the Winnipeg River. There are eight dams in the 180 miles from Lake Winnipeg to Kewatin. It is beautiful canoe country. There is a government boat lift into Lake of the Woods at Kewatin but it was closed. Lake of the Woods, with its thousands of islands and 80 miles across would be an easy place to get lost. To complicate matters we had a heavy fog all one morning. We watched our compass very closely and had no problems......we started up the Rainy River...it was high this year. We had to line our canoes about 50-feet around he main drop on Lone Rapids and make a short portage on the right at Manitou Falls." They are now in Rainy Lake.
I am starting to get nostalgic as I tap out these words for the Krugers are about to paddle the exact same waters (if not the same water) that my brother John and two fraternity brothers from the Colorado School of Mines paddled in two 18' wood and canvas canoes 38 years earlier. It was 1948, 15 years before Verlen even paddled a canoe for the first time. 
The Krugers are paddling down Rainy Lake to the twin cities of Fort Francis, Ontario, and International Falls, Minnesota. We paddled up Rainy Lake but instead of going into the Rainy River we headed north upstream through a series of lakes and straits and rapids for two weeks to a five mile portage over the Height of Land. Sounds just like what the Krugers had been doing. They lined up a rapids and portaged another to get into Rainy Lake and we waded our canoes up a rapids to get out of Rainy Lake.
I decided it was time to enlist my seagull system and follow our 1948 canoe trip in memory of brother John and Ken Matheson, who have been gone for many years, and in honor of Ned Wood who sends me political and patriotic Emails every so often and an annual Christmas letter about his 9 kids and their families.
I used Digital-Topo-Maps.Com and followed up Rainy Lake to the Manitou River system of rivers, lakes, straits, rapids and portages to the ghost town of Gold Rock at the head of a 5 mile portage across the Height-of-Land. Things have changed in 62 years but it is still almost all wilderness. There is a marina at the rapids where we first had to portage and roads cross our our route in a couple of places. Gold Rock still looks abandoned. Lake Wabigoon leading up to Highway 17, the Trans-Canada Highway, still looks wild.
 I think I spotted what we named "Slimey Island", a wet, rocky, inferior campsite in Lake Wabigoon to which we returned all beered up after an afternoon at an Official Province of Ontario "Purveyor of Beer" by a Hudson's Bay Store in the hamlet of Dinorwic on Highway 17.
I then seagulled upstream over the Wabigoon River to the portages to Long Lake and the Turtle River, which in 1948 we followed all the way back to Rainy Lake, shooting rapids (no PFDs) and portaging around falls. In the process I crossed roads that weren't there in 1948.
Although I choked up a couple of times, I'm glad I did it.
Next: Through the Boundary Waters to Lake Superior.

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