The Cold and the Miserable

Wednesday morning at Big Eddy Camp started early. Very early, because no curtains means I’m up with the dawn. Cas wasn’t impressed when I went to make tea at 4.30…but was happier when I came back with it. 

We had a big day planned anyway, as Solomon and Renee had offered to put us up at their place in Cumberland House. An offer we couldn’t refuse, but we knew meant a long day, with 8km of upstream paddling at the end, on a forecast of wind and rain. And boy did it rain. With wind. Without wind. After a pleasant initial couple of hours it just poured. The river passes through the Saskatchewan River Delta, one of the largest inland deltas in the world. Which means miles of flat, marshy land with side-streams leaving and re-joining the main river, making navigation more challenging than usual and limiting stopping points. We eventually did find some cabins to stop at and dry out, after around eight hours of constant soaking. 

After chasing off an over-inquisitive mink who was after our lunch we continued on to Cumberland House to meet Renee, but first Solomon’s 93 year old mother, Josephine. The granddaughter of a Scottish immigrant from the islands, she was keen to chat and passed on some of the sort of advice you can only acquire after that many years. She was justifiably proud of her family, whose achievements include Solomon’s canoeing (4x world C2 champion), along with world champion dog-sledders and an Olympic boxer. Renee then threw us in the shower, fed us, washed our clothes and provided pyjamas. Cas’s picture of me in the Rudolph ones is not going on here… Huge thanks to the Carrieres for their hospitality, it made a memorable and relaxing end to a pretty tough day. 

The river after Cumberland House really gets wild. This is the most remote we have felt so far, with no sign of human habitation for miles. The lack of campsites continues with thick bush right up to the banks, and flooded islands in this unusually high water. The odd unoccupied cabin in the woods provided the only cleared space to pitch a tent, and we celebrated two months of married life on the lawn of one of these under a Canadian flag. A long day from here (11 hours straight in the boat), crossing into Manitoba en route, had us just short of The Pas. A second province crossed! Saskatchewan was pretty, peaceful and unbelievably friendly, and we have many fond memories both on and off the river. 

The Pas is our last re-supply point before the lakes, and Cas is despatched to the supermarket the next morning whilst I look after the boat at the town boat launch. Now we were told back in Alberta that Manitoba folk like a chat, but I barely stopped chatting for two hours straight. I guess the site of a fully loaded canoe on the bank turns heads. First a friendly cabbie, then a chap waiting for a hospital appointment. Of particular note were Chris and Percy who were filleting their catch of walleye from the morning, who not only gave us half their fish for dinner that night but went away to buy us coffee and returned with a cut of moose from Chris’s freezer! We now know that moose is delicious. Huge thanks also to Sharon, who kept me entertained with stories of her early life in South Africa and time living in Melrose whilst her partner was working at the BGH!! Small world. She gave us two rolls of toilet roll, which is like giving us gold. Buying anything less than a years supply doesn’t seem possible in supermarkets here and we were about to donate the surplus to the local community. 

From here we head to the lakes. Cedar first, about two days downstream, then the larger challenges of Winnipegosis and Manitoba. We’re definitely ready for a change from the river, we’ve been on it a month after all, but I think we might change our tune when we’ve spent some time on the lakes. 

What we’ve learnt:

  • Mike’s jacket is not as waterproof as he would like. 
  • Paddling upstream into a headwind is only possible with Haribo. 

Favourite piece of kit:

  • MSR Windburner stove. Has saved us now on numerous occasions. 

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