Trial by Canoe
These are the assembled and edited journal entries from a canoe
trip done by Eddie
that was to
stretch from Lake
all the way to Edmonton
mission was to portage canoe and gear up the Pipestone River and
beyond from Lake
about sixty kilometers. This includes two mountain
passes and ends on the headwaters of the Clearwater
. From there, the Clearwater would be navigated via
canoe 200 km to Rocky
and join up with the North
. This river would then take us around 250
km back to Edmonton
had previously hiked this route in the opposite direction on the Clearwater River Expedition
Well, it's just about 5 PM on June 1, 2010. We've arrived in Lake
and finished dropping off the pickup truck we rented
to haul the canoe out here. A short break seems in order before we
set off down the trail up Pipestone River. The weather is a little
dreary looking but it sure isn't damping my spirit. The last time
Scott and I were on these trails was in 2006
yet it feels like yesterday.
We have set up camp near Mud Lake but this is certainly not where
we intended to be. The trail was of course very well groomed in
the beginning but we somehow managed to veer off of it and ended up
right next to the Pipestone River.
We tried to make it work but the terrain proved impassible with the
canoe and gear. Ultimately we left the canoe behind to scout ahead
with our gear and ended up where we are right now. We'll go back
for it tomorrow. Portaging the loaded canoe through rugged terrain
is certainly not as easy as predicted. It seems we may have to
resort to separate trips for the canoe and gear for some stretches.
I sure hope tomorrow is more successful.
Groomed Trails Near Lake Louise
We are resting west of Mud Lake right now. We left our gear behind
in the morning to retrieve the canoe. Unfortunately we had to push
the canoe back up a rather large and steep hill that we brought it
down yesterday. Fortunately, however, we managed to find the groomed
trail again and got back on it. We stopped at our current location
and cut into the woods to retrieve our gear from where we left it in
the morning. That went quite smoothly and we are quite optimistic
about things now.
Never before has a granola bar been so satisfying. The dry breakfast
we made in haste this morning had certainly left us very hungry. We
burned through a lot of ground on the groomed trails but
unfortunately they starting to degrade. It's really quite amazing
how only a few kilometers away from Lake
the trails are already falling apart. We're starting
to notice quite a few grizzly and wolf tracks on our path.
The trails certainly keep getting worse. I guess we should
appreciate this luxury while it lasts because I'm sure it will end.
We've started hitting some fairly annoying mud. The wheels are not
really all that effective in the mud. We ultimately had to start
doing separate trips for the gear and the canoe. Scott and I clashed
on whether we should proceed like that. I just couldn't get over
having to walk three times the distance but ultimately he was right
Alas the rain hit us pretty hard today. It is making it quite
difficult to get a fire going but I am pretty fixated on having a
hot supper tonight. Ultimately we managed about twelve kilometers
today before camp. I'd sure appreciate a sunny day soon.
It rained non stop last night. Everything is good and wet. We cooked
up some bacon and oatmeal for breakfast this morning. The bacon was
the last of the fresh food we had so we made sure to savour it. We
were on the road by nine and made it to the Pipestone Flats in a
hour or so. It was certainly nice to get a break from the trees and
mud there. Ah yes the mud. It was again a very
As much as it was nice to get a break from the trees and mud, the
wind is starting to annoy me. We had lunch today using the canoe as
a wind shelter. Having to walk each leg three times has allowed us
an interesting observation. Consistently, when we pass our own
tracks made as recently as fifteen minutes past, they are covered in
fresh deer, wolf and bear tracks.
It would seem as though the entire woods know we're here and are all
running in the opposite direction as us. I suppose it is somewhat
satisfying knowing that the scent of human still instills fear.
We made camp along the Pipestone just where Molar Creek joins up
with it. To my great joy, the sun shone and we saw shadows for the
first time since we left. Some rabbit and grouse crossed our path
today but we opted not to consume them. Well, in all fairness, it
may be more accurate to write that they opted to not be consumed.
We chased them around for a bit but our attention was eventually
diverted by one of our knives getting stuck up in a tree. The meal
we settled for turned out to be quite a discovery. Pancake batter
that is cooked, and then re-fried in lard. I'm sure in the comforts
of a kitchen this wouldn't be such a delicatessen, but here it is
really quite fabulous.
We woke up today with lot's of frost but got some really good sun to
dry everything out. I took the opportunity to bathe in the Pipestone
River for the first time this trip. One really cannot bathe in a
Rocky Mountain river if there is no sun; it would be far too
unpleasant. We passed by an unmanned ranger cabin in the first run.
It was unmanned the last time
passed by it as well.
Molar Mountain in the background
Molar Mountain is showing herself. It's nice to see her again. The
familiar face of a familiar mountain seems to make even the
strangest place a familiar place.
Well, it appears there is a lot more snow here than we anticipated.
We are at a point now where much of the travel is over deep snow.
Apparently, there is snow
At first this scared us but we've noticed that sliding the canoe
over the snow is really not so bad. Unfortunately the snow patches
are fairly short so there is a fair bit of work involved in getting
the canoe on and off the wheels. Even beyond the snow, things are
getting really rugged. Some of the slopes we are going up are very
rocky and wet; their traversal is quite a feat of strength.
Tonights camp is quite comfortable. We have some really good piles
of dirt for sitting. What more can a man ask for? We covered about
five kilometers today. In the process, a nagging pain on the back
of my heel was turned into quite a nasty open wound. While training
for this trip my jungle boots completely fell apart so I had to get
a new pair right before leaving. It looks like they do not agree
with my heel bones. Fortunately Scott had the good sense to bring a
lot of extra gauze pads so starting tomorrow I will keep the wound
We woke up today covered in fresh snow. I slept under a tree for
shelter but it didn't work out too well. The snow on the tree melted
into a stream of water that found it's way right into the opening of
my bivouac sack. Some birds came to visit us this morning. It was a
pleasant change from seeing nothing but tracks. Putting those boots
on is sure getting painful for my heel.
The terrain grows ever more challenging as we venture forward. We
are both growing very weary of this damn canoe. Why o' why did we opt
to bring this thirty kilogram fiberglass behemoth? I guess it has
some sentimental value. It has already made one attempt at this
journey with us before. One really takes much abuse while carting
this canoe. I've been smacked in the face and abdomen by it so many
times I just want to smash it to pieces!
Today we encountered an obstacle that at the time seemed far too
great to defeat. We were forced to pass through a kilometer or so
of dense bush. They were tall, hard and dry and the only option we
had was to literally plough through them with the canoe. Once
through it we set up camp at what appeared to have once been
designated site near a good river crossing. We mixed pancake batter
with some peanut butter pemmican Scott made a week prior. It makes
good pancakes. The wound on my heel has somewhat stabilized. These
gauze pads appear to have made a significant difference.
Hiking the Pipestone Plains
We were awoken today by lots of sun. We opted to take our time this
morning and let it dry everything out. It sure knocks quite a bit of
mass off the load when everything is nice and dry. I certainly hope
it lasts. Oh the sun. I took a very pleasant late morning nap in it.
It was spectacular.
Snow is really starting to dominate the landscape now. We are
falling into the fools trap of constantly crossing the river. The
other side always looks easier to traverse until you actually cross
over. We didn't even manage two legs today.
The Pipestone is getting small
In the end we set up camp just after lunch time separated from the
canoe. The open wound on my heel has starting affecting me much
more severely. We crossed paths with a porcupine today. It did not
seem very threatened by us as it refused to get out of the way.
Our distance covered today does not even warrant mention. Instead of
travelling further, we have opted to try and construct some snow
shoes. The snow has become so deep in parts that it seems impossible
to traverse without them. I am feeling incredibly road weary
and I fear we may both be hitting some sort of psychological wall.
Perhaps we've bitten off more than we can chew?
Damp and wet. That is what we woke up to this morning. Everything
was damp and wet. Miserable. The snowshoes we fashioned yesterday
were of pine saplings and duct tape and our first task was to test
them out. Failure. They fell apart very quickly. We may revisit them
at some point. I cannot get passed this feeling of dread that is
overtaking me. Things are difficult now, and looking up at that awful
mountain pass does not inspire much hope.
All we really got done today was fetching the canoe and bringing it
up to our camp. I was surprised we even did that. We encountered
that stupid porcupine again. It almost seemed to be mocking us. We
ate lunch and went straight to bed. Perhaps it is what we need.
The sun is shinning and it is nine in the morning. I am feeling very
rested. We must have slept twenty hours or so. I feel great. The air
between Scott and me has become significantly more optimistic.
Perhaps the porcupine was just trying to tell us we needed a couple
days of rest. My heel has started to heal up nicely.
We couldn't beat the snow, so we decided to revisit our old loathed
technique of dragging the canoe upstream in the water. Unfortunately
things have become very
rocky now and the gradient of our
path has become very aggressive. Once we started to feel confident
in our progress, we ran into a rather large waterfall blocking our
path. We had to backtrack slightly and move the canoe and gear up a
very challenging slope.
Once up the waterfall things took an interesting turn. Snow no
longer just dominates the landscape. It is the landscape. We can no
longer bypass it. Our strategy has now turned to loading the canoe
with all the gear and pulling it by rope through the snow. Without
snowshoes this would be but impossible, were it not for a lone
grizzly bear that is leading the way for us. The tracks she leaves
cover a trail of packed snow in which we do not sink too deeply.
We've set up camp in a clump of trees that allows us access to
solid ground; albeit surrounded by walls of snow. We found some yellowbells
to supplement our pemmican and pancakes tonight. It is certainly a
treat. We've taken the opportunity to attack the snowshoes again.
This time with pine branches as the mesh instead of duct tape. The
mountain pass approaches and we carry on with cautious optimism.
It was very cloudy this morning when we set off with the snowshoes.
With only two or three kilometers to the top of the first pass, we
seemed so close. The snowshoes performed better than last time, but
they still didn't last too long. We managed to squeeze a kilometer
or so out of them. In the end our only viable solution was to
alternate between crawling along the snow on our hands and knees and
then reeling the canoe up the slope behind us.
Our lack of winter footwear is really starting to affect us. Our
feet are not handling the endless snow all that well. We find
ourselves needing to take frequent breaks to warm our feet up. Scott
seems to be the more affected and has taken to using plastic bags
between his boots and socks. For once I am grateful for the
excessively hot and sweaty feet I inherited. Our bodies and gear are
starting to show significant signs of wear. The gloves Scott brought
did not last long with the reeling of the canoe. Neither are our
Any hardships we felt we were experiencing in the past pale in
comparison to what is going on now. A fierce blizzard has struck.
About a kilometer away from the pass we panicked and threw down our
bivouac sacks in the snow and jumped in. Here we lay, marooned on
the slope of the mountain with zero visibility and only one option.
We must wait this storm out in sacks. Our sleeping bags are the
only thing that can keep us warm. It is only one in the afternoon
and we must rely on our dry food and remaining sanity to get us
through this. I guess more rest will do us good.
This stupid yellow sack has been pressed up against my face for the
last twenty-four hours and I hate it. All I see is yellow; even when
I close my eyes! Urination involves laying on ones side and slightly
unzipping the sack enough to pee out of it. Just the act of rushing
to get more food out of the canoe caused my bivouac sack to fill up
with snow. I got so flustered that I ripped the zipper clear off
Scott's day pack trying to get the food out. It is like a swimming
pool in here with all the melted snow. I thank the gods we have
synthetically insulated sleeping bags. I can't imagine the disaster
it would be right now with down insulation.
The snow subsided around six in the evening and we pounced on the
opportunity to find a better spot to camp. We spotted some solid
ground about three hundred meters away and dashed for it. The
distance actually took us about two hours to complete but we did
it. We sat for a bit on bare ground and some bluish sky seemed to
be showing itself over the mountains. Scott lost his toque and has
now taken to using his fleece pants to keep his head warm.
Unfortunately the blizzard soon resumed its assault on us and back
in the sacks we went. At least we're on solid ground and got a few
hours break from it.
The sun! It has graced us with it's presence and burned away the
storm. It was a very
cold night last night as my sleeping bag
was still completely drenched. We are in a mad rush right now to get
things dried off before we make for the pass. After those last two
days, our joy right now is simply inexplicable. The sun is just so
warm. I can't see over the pass but I hope it shows us mercy. The
idea that we have a whole other pass to get over is something I'm
trying really hard not to dwell one right now.
Here we sit at the top of Pipestone Pass. Eleven days to do what in
the past we've done in two. Our road beyond this would typically
involve going down into the valley and then back up Clearwater
Pass. The thought of it makes me cringe. I find my eyes turning to
the right toward Devon Mountain. Perhaps we can hug the contour of
the mountain all the way to the next pass instead of going the
traditional route. Scott is not convinced of it. I hope I can
change his mind.
It is beyond reckoning but we are sitting by the big Devon Lake in
Clearwater Pass right now. The clock reads only eight in the
evening and I certainly did not foresee us making it this far
today. The sun we so badly wanted turned out a mixed blessing.
A lake in Clearwater Pass
It kept us warm, but the high altitude and reflection off of the
snow has left our faces cracked and burned. Although a struggle,
hugging the mountain proved quite effective. By the time we got to
the next pass we were actually above
it. Of course, as
logic would dictate, our only course of action at that point was a
forty-five minute sleigh ride in the canoe down Devon Mountain into
the pass. It turns out that a canoe slides quite well in the snow
so long you are going in the downward direction. We're eating a hot
meal and it is not a moment too soon. We depleted a lot of our
granola bars and pemmican over these last few days.
Morning on the Devon Lakes
We took the opportunity to sleep in nice and late today. The sun
shone again in the morning and we decided to take all the time we
needed to dry the gear out. This pass sure is beautiful. It was
certainly a lot less white the last
we were here but even so, it is still a special place
for me. We didn't actually get on the road until about two in the
afternoon. We had hoped to ride the canoe across the Devon Lakes
but as with everything else up here, they appear to still be
We travelled late today. As much as we got sick of dealing with the
trees in the Pipestone River valley, here in Clearwater country it
is a different story. The difficulty in getting a fire going in the
alpine plains made the lowlands a target before the day is up.
Squeezing the canoe through the trees and their roots truly isn't so
bad when going downhill. I'm starting to not hate the canoe as much
knowing very shortly it will carry us instead of the other way
Although we set up camp very late, we sure found a nice spot. Big
trees, nice piles of dirt. Paradise. It is ten in the evening right
now the fire is roaring. A good soup and lot's of tea is in order.
The wound on my heel is actually feeling pretty good today. I've
used up all but one gauze pad but once we're in the canoe I
shouldn't need them anymore. It's hard to believe that the dinky
little stream of water we're hiking down will soon be powerful
enough to carry us all the way home. Who knows, we may even get to
put in tomorrow! I'm looking forward to sleeping in a nice dry bag.
We got an early start today and really motored forward. The air was
certainly optimistic. With every step we took, the river grew
broader and closer to our goal. We've reached the Indianhead ranger
cabin and that means we are at the border and leaving Banff
All this fierce sunlight following that mass of precipitation has
created an interesting phenomenon in the valley. Every few minutes
we hear the deep rumble of an avalanche not far off. We hike with
our backpacks for a couple of hours, then go back for the canoe and
discover new streams had started up behind us. As we sit idly and
peer at the river over the flood plains a reality presents itself.
All this extra water flow has made the Clearwater surprisingly
high. Typically one not would put in until Trident Lake but
perhaps we could just put in right now?
We are merrily floating on Trident Lake right now. We ended up
putting in in the flood plains. It has been nice and easy so far.
We are approaching the mouth of the lake and there are sure a lot
of logs jammed up below us. They are increasing in concentration
and getting closer to the surface as we approach the river.
The path ahead actually looks a little frightening. Oh well; better
We've set up camp for the evening and our optimism has all but
vanished. We came only a couple kilometers from Trident Lake but it
felt like forever. Time seems to stand still when your dodging
rocks and logs, and ploughing through standing waves that flood the
canoe. It would appear that this extra run off has turned this
otherwise peaceful river into a very violent beast. The clock is
past midnight so, yay, it is now my birthday. We hauled that bottle
of scotch all the way out here. We may as well try and celebrate
So here we sit now banked on the Clearwater
amidst a soaking pile of rubble that used to be our
gear and canoe. Upon our waking in the morning we decided to try
and scout out ahead to see what terrors the river had planned for
us. Ultimately we decided to set sail down the river and within
fifteen minutes, in a sea of chaos, the canoe was destroyed and our
gear was floating aimlessly down the river. We managed to rope in
most items but unfortunately a few key items escaped. Scott's hat,
that which has been with him on almost all our journeys, is gone.
The GPS device we had, along with almost all our paper maps, are
gone. My camera, though physically still here, is beyond repair. I
only hope the CF card with the other photos from this journey is
How did the crash occur? It all happened so fast that it is quite
difficult to reconstruct the experience from the shards of memory
that remain. From what Scott and I recall, we were heading around a
torrential bend in the river. Ahead lay a narrow channel upon which
two large stones stood sentry at it's edges. Inside this narrow gap
a log jam blocked the way and the canoe was soon caught up in it.
The massive flow of water behind us turned the canoe sideways and
pushed us over directly onto a jagged rock. The rock fractured a rib
in the boat and left a giant laceration beyond repair. As the canoe
filled with water it began to capsize and we gained footing on the
river bed and pulled ourselves ashore.
So as I wrote before, here we sit. Surprisingly, panic is not
ensuing. Nor is fear, but actually relief. We are back to what we
know; in our element. Dry land. We are now drying our gear out and
will leave behind anything not critical for our survival. We are
cooking up all remaining food items so we can maximize travel time.
We have travelled these paths before (in the opposite direction) and
I am confident that we should be able to navigate our way out of
here. It is perhaps sixty kilometers to the nearest road.
We passed out of the mountains today and into the foothills. Our
plans to follow the Clearwater
trail proved unrealizable as the valley is largely
flooded from the run off. We have been forced to bushwhack through
the high grounds that hug the valley. We covered a lot of ground
today. Hiked for perhaps twelve hours. I am very exhausted.
Morning brought us snow. Lot's and lot's of snow. The day was rain
and snow. Everything is flooded and wet. Our gear weighs double what
it should. I can't recall the last time I've been so cold. Every
time I felt like I would building up some body heat, we were forced
to cross some sort of waist deep flooded area. The water is all so
cold. Yesterday, we had cooked up all the remaining pancake batter
into a sort of quasi loaf of bread. It is already starting to mould.
The battle between my boots and heel has started up again. The agony
when putting the boot on is incredible.
Crossing from grown in cut lines to game trails, and back again, we
eventually stumbled across fairly fresh horse droppings. We
followed their tracks for quite a distance until we realized they
were made from unshod hooves. Finally, to much joy, we found a
empty beer can. Never have I been so happy to see trash out in the
woods. We then noticed a similarity between a particular
intersection of cut lines we were on, and a remnant of a
topographic map we had. We used the piece of map to navigate our
way to where we are now: a deserted camp ground.
We hoped to find someone here, but there is no one. We are, however,
still optimistic. Tomorrow we will head toward the road and hope to
hitch a ride.
The battle between my heel and the boots had ended. It appears that
my heels won. The boots were completely destroyed and I was stuck
wearing just sandals. Luckily only groomed roads remained on the
path ahead. Once we got to the road outside the camp ground we
were actually picked up quite quickly. It turns out a nearby
natural gas well was undergoing shutdown at the time. One of the
workers picked us up and we were provided a nice warm trailer and
some food. Artificial heating is really quite an amazing invention.
They were a very nice bunch of guys. We are in their debt. One of
Scott's toes has started to swell up for some reason; this may have
been just in time.
We got a ride with one of them on the next drive out to Rocky
. It was about a hundred kilometers. Once there
we hit the laundromat and took some nice warm showers. Seeing our
reflections in the mirror was quite a revelation. We had both lost a
lot of skin fat but may have actually gained muscle mass. Quite a
fitness program. I don't imagine the two large pizzas we ate
afterwards helped though.
So now we sit on the Greyhound bus, destined for our home town of
can't help but wonder how our stash of gear and a broken canoe will
fair until we next return to retrieve it. This isn't the first time
we've failed at
this journey, and it likely won't be the last.