Cedar Lake marks the end of the Saskatchewan river. It is a man-made lake about 90km downstream from The Pas, dammed at Grand Rapids where it falls into Lake Winnipeg. It has a rather unfriendly reputation for paddlers owing to the large amount of deadwood choking the edges making landing and camping very difficult. To cross directly from the river mouth is around 50km of open water and island hopping. Not something for us in our little canoe, so we were planning on taking two days to get around the edge.
On our second day out from The Pas we reached the lake. It was clear that the higher than usual water levels extended here also, with all the potential island campsites at the entrance completely water logged. Fortunately the day was stunning with bright skies and mirror calm water giving a feeling of paddling in the sky. After marvelling at the sheer size of the place (this is still a small lake by Canadian standards…) we set out across the first 4km of open water to an attractive patch of green opposite where we thought we might camp. Not a log in site along the lush green shoreline…that turned out to be reeds. Miles of them. So not only can you not get onto the bank due to wood, it seems you can’t actually get to the bank at all due to the reeds. After another 15km, three hours, a cup of tea and much motivational talking we found a way through the barricades onto a thin spit of land covered in trees. Hacking through the undergrowth like a Tasmanian devil with a machete, Cas fought her way into the brush and pronounced it fit for a camp, with a little work. After a few minutes work we had a space large enough for a tent, the beginnings of a fire, and moose ready to fry. Thanks again to Chris, it was amazing. We hoped the local population didn’t recognise the smell, as there was plenty of evidence of its brethren around us.
After a latish start whilst waiting for the overnight wind to drop we set out for the portage track, around 45km round the shore on the south side of the lake. We didn’t really know how this would go but knew a long day was coming – we move at around 6 kmh on flat water. All started well, with light winds and easy nav, only interrupted by the presence of a causeway across an expected piece of open water. A corrugated tunnel provided a way through for Mike and the boat, almost canalboat style, but we both forgot about the GoPro, which was filming the escapade. We now have some rather gaulling footage of the camera first losing it’s lens cover, then getting badly scratched, then being snapped off its mount and taking a swim. Fortunately it was clipped on elsewhere and still actually works, but we’re both feeling pretty stupid.
The final 10km of the day were some of the toughest so far. Cedar Lake is, like many of the lakes in this area, very shallow. A light breeze can kick up some steep waves in very little time, which can make for an unpleasant ride in a canoe. We surfed, spun and sweated our way to the portage across a series of bays and headlands, allowing us to really get to grips with how the boat handles in rougher water. We’re pretty impressed.
Our reward was to arrive absolutely shattered but elated on an open, sandy beach with an empty cabin and a clear view of a very smooth, flat and straight track leading into the woods – the portage!
We camped in the tent in the cabin just because we could, and because it kept the mossies and mice away. The tent really has become our little house, and staying anywhere else feels rather weird.
With the canoe loaded on the trolley we set off up the track the next morning. Rather than follow the rest of Cedar Lake to Lake Winnipeg we’re heading south to Lake Winnepegosis. It has a less fearsome reputation than its bigger brother, though we suspect it’s going to be no pussycat. It is also over a watershed, which means the portage track is uphill. Predictable, obviously. But not something that had entered our minds until we were hauling 150kg of kit up it.
The track was good however, and provided a nice assortment of black bear tracks and scat to remind us they do exist (we saw no evidence of them at all in Saskatchewan). We reached the highway in around 2 hours excited about seeing the next lake. We remained excited about it for the next two hours as we hauled along the highway trying to find a way through the narrow but completely impenetrable band of brush separating it from the road. The following two hours were less exciting, as I gently melted in the afternoon heat and Cas topped up her tan. But, once again, we met some great folk.
First to stop was Roy, returning from Winnipeg to The Pas. A more enthusiastic, jovial and encouraging man you could not hope to meet whilst hauling a canoe along a highway in Manitoba. And he gave us oranges. A whole bag of them. Possibly the best present ever at that point in time, he clearly knew what was needed. And he gave us hope, telling us of some gravel tracks a few kilometres down the road.
Next to stop was Felix, a provincial worker on his way to Winnepeg. He stopped to check we were ok, gave us a cereal bar and went on his way. Then he came back, with a plan to tow the canoe behind his hire car and save us a bit of walking. This we tried, though the simple bearing-less trolley couldn’t stand the speed and we soon bailed for fear of melting the wheels. So on he went. Only to return again with a series of directions and distances to the first track he had found for us that went to the lake! What a star.
Finally, local man Dave stopped for a chat. He lived in Easterville on Cedar Lake, and so knew the area well. He told us of another track just down the road that we could take. And so, after around 6 hours of towing and pushing our boat, we stumbled and fell down a steep and overgrown forestry path to reach the shore of Lake Winnepegosis.
What we’ve learnt:
- Portaging isn’t so bad on a good surface.
- If we run out of food we should head to a road.
Favourite piece of kit:
- Western Canoe and Kayak expedition portage cart. Amazing trolley.