Wednesday, November 4, 2009

2001 - Nistowiak Falls by Canoe: NSE Inaugural Trip

Portions of the following was previously published on

Churchill River - Stanley Mission to Nistowiak Falls. June, 2001 
The inaugural NorthStar Expeditions trip! Easy 4 day canoe trip.

For more information about paddling this trip see the books Northern Saskatchewan Canoe Trips by Laurel Archer, and Canoeing The Churchill River by Marchildon and Robinson. This trip is also described within the Sask Documented Canoe Route #12

We had a lot of fun on this trip and it whet our appetite for more. As was to become the pattern for later trips, we were later than we hoped getting away from the city. We made Stanley Mission without incident and parked our vehicle in the parking lot of the Northern Store, paying at the store a per day fee to ensure the protection of our vehicle. We're not sure what sort of protection this fee offers as there is no fence, no security of any sort, but it does seem to be the convention for trippers departing from Stanley to pay the $6 for peace of mind.

After a brief stop at the nearby Holy Trinity Church, we were on our way down the Churchill River. By that time it was already getting later in the evening and we began to look for potential camping spots almost immediately. Being the first time through the area for us, we didn't find anything. We eventually pushed a very poor campsite into the thick bushes just above Little Stanley Rapids. That night, we had a small fire and accidentally drank way too much of a bottle of Jaegermeister, and probably some Stroh. The next morning, somewhat bleary eyed and worse for wear, we peaked through the thistles and bushes to see ... a well-groomed, well-used campsite, complete with fire boxes, just a few yards from our spot in the brambles.

We set-out again, no doubt at a very slow pace, running Little Stanley Rapids (there is a roller portage available) and continuing across Drope Lake we came eventually to the narrows where the Churchill River flows into Nistowiak Lake. Although we had only come about 5.5 km (normally about 1 hour of paddling), we decided that  an island nearby would be suitable as a campsite. In fact, we were hit by a squall just after reaching the place we came to call "Camp Island". We took shelter from the hail and downpour sitting underneath a tarp draped over a large log. Camp Island is a convenient, if rather small, camp spot several kilometers (3.4 km) from Nistowiak Falls. Since the location gave us fairly easy access to the falls, easy access to the narrows where we anticipated good fishing, and an easy return paddle to Stanley, we decided it would do. A few meters away was "Shit Island", which is where you had to go to take a crap since there was very little room for that on Camp Island. You won't find these names on anybody else's map by the way.

Nistowiak Falls was amazing, I highly recommend paddling there at least once. We had good fishing at the base of the falls on Nistowiak Lake so we ate well that night back at Camp Island. We hiked not only to the top of the main falls, but to the very start where the Rapid River flows out of Iskwatikan Lake. I believe we also fished at the top, and in the pools near the top, but I don't recall having much luck there. We did however lose several hooks to some sort of steel structure that was a couple of feet below the water surface in that spot. As a side note, I heard of a floatplane once going over that topmost portion of Nistowiak Falls, a drop of several feet. That couldn't be good for the airplane, but it would be better than going over the falls themselves. My friend Branimir has taken some very nice photos of Nistowiak Falls, including this one. See also the Karpan's web site for more Nistowiak photos. (I'm sure Rob has some good photos too, so let's talk him into sharing them with us, eh?) I think this would make an excellent destination on ski or snowshoe too, and I've heard rumours that the Saskatoon Snowshoe Club has in mind to travel there this year.

On our return trip home we had a bit of adventure while crossing the Little Stanley Rapids portage. This rapid is bypassed by a roller portage - a boardwalk portage with rollers set into it. Boats are pulled up onto the rollers and can be nicely rolled along rather than carried. Like all portages, this one has an uphill and a downhill section. Rob and I had the great idea that it would make for a smooth and elegant launch if we boarded the canoe rolled into the water. What ensued was anything but! You see, with Rob and I on board and ready to roll gently into the water, Jay and Rod decided we could benefit from their assistance. However rather than guiding us gently toward the water, they ran the 20 or 30 feet as fast as they could, and pushed the canoe as hard and fast into the water as they could manage. With the speed and angle that we hit the water, the bow made a mighty splash and dove deep down. Unfortunately, Rob's camera case containing several hundreds of dollars worth of camera gear was open on his lap. Fortunately, the impact of the canoe largely splashed the water away from the hull and we took on much less water than it seemed we were going to. In the ensuing confusion, we were able to avoid being swept down Little Stanley Rapids sideways. One of these days, when they little expect it, Rob and I intend to return the favour to Jay and Rod.