CANOEING THE BLOODVEIN RIVER MANITOBA CANADA
“18 kilometres to the end of the river and you want me to start paddling backwards?” Sat in the front of the boat Gareth was to say the least a little incredulous. He turned in the boat to look me in the eye, I guess just to check that I was still sane and the heat of the day had not addled my brain. We had paddled a number of rapids over the last eight days this was the first one that allowed us the luxury of stopping the canoe midstream, changing its line and then running the rest of the wild water down to the bottom of the rapid and safety. To me it seemed a great opportunity not to be missed; Gareth would learn more about moving a fully laden canoe in the midst of a wild river and for me the moving of the boat on the rapid would be more of a challenge than just running down the rapid. I also like playing a game with each rapid; seeing how little water we can ship in the process of negotiating our way down the river. It was going to be a risky manoeuvre but if we could get enough power in the back paddling we would master the rapid and win the game.
We had arrived seven days ago at the top of the river by float plane, unloaded the gear and then we were left with eight days on the water before reaching our pickup, where the Bloodvein empties into Lake Winnipeg. With a cough and a splutter from its engine the float plane announced its imminent departure. Once it had taxied out to clear water the pilot gunned its engine and it left the water in a graceful curve, the sun glinting off its aluminium body. We watched it disappear over the trees. We were left with the sound of adventure; the sound of the wind in the pine trees and the lapping of the waves on the rocks. The four of us were alone; Dave was the local guide and owner of the outfitters, Michelle was training to guide on the Bloodvein and Gareth was a friend who I had met on a trip in the Yukon last year. Oh yes there was also a small black dog called Snoopy who was a seasoned traveller in the Canadian outback. We had the cast for an Enid Blyton novel.
First things first, we had lunch. We had travelled with one canoe tied to the float of the plane, the other was a Pakboat that was built from a rubberised skin stretched over an alloy frame and that had to be assembled. It took us 30 minutes to put this canoe together and I must say that Michelle, Gareth and I were a little sceptical about its use on a wild grade 2-3 river with an eight day paddle out but Dave and Snoopy seemed quite confident. After loading the canoes it was great to be on the water and moving through the scenery of the Canadian Shield. Built on a base of pink granite that was once higher than the Himalayas, 3 billion years of erosion has worn the area into a low undulating region whose highest elevation is only about 500m above sea level. Scoured by glaciation the area has a very thin soil lying on top of the bedrock, with many bare outcrops. The vegetation is dominated by Jack Pine, Juniper and Silver Birch. The Bloodvein is a pool and drop river, where short steep drops are followed by flatter areas where there are tranquil marshlands full of wild rice and sometimes a browsing moose. It is the home to eagles, vultures, ducks and geese and mammals such as black bear, wolf, beaver and otter. The area has been travelled for thousands of years and there are pictographs (old graffiti) to be seen along the route. The Bloodvein is part of the Canadian Heritage Rivers System. Established in 1984, as a co-operative program of the Government of Canada and all of the provincial and territorial governments. The objectives of the program are to give national recognition to the important rivers of our country, and to ensure the conservation of their natural, historical and recreational values for the benefit and enjoyment of Canadians. Unlike the UK it is designed to promote their use for all and not restrict it for the few. There are no forestry roads, no rail links, the only way in is by floatplane and the only way out is by canoe.
The weather in early September was warm so shorts and T-shirts were de-rigueur for most paddling days with the option of no shirt if temperatures rose during the day. Evenings were cool and a fleece was required but it was three season sleeping bag weather. As we descended the river it provided constant entertainment with a rapid around each corner; some we could paddle on sight, otherwise we would stretch our legs and scout the drop. All our expertise in moving a full loaded canoe down a river was brought in to use as if we did not paddle we would line the boat fully laden or empty and as the last resort portage. Although this was the most arduous means of moving the gear the portages were never any great distance and they did provide interest with such as wild flowers and animal tracks. On the flat sections we travelled at our own pace but came together at the rapids for safety and to take photographs.
Doubles paddling is very good as it allows you to chat and put the world to rights and have two pairs of eyes watching for wildlife along the way. Travelling thus, with your mind taken off paddling, the miles are eaten up very quickly and you are soon looking around for a suitable place to camp. In paddling the Canadian Shield there is little need to do big mileage for the sake of it as the scenery does not change that much for thousands of miles. We were usually at a camping spot by 3 pm which gave us ample time to leisurely set ourselves a comfortable campsite. We then had hours in which to read a book, fish, swim, look round the area and generally relax. All the sites chosen were by rapids and on a couple of occasions we took time to play on the water with the unladen canoes. The noise from the rapid had the added advantage that we all slept well as it drowned out Gareth’s snoring.
To Gareth, trained as a marathon and dragon boat paddler, back paddling in a boat was an anathema, but having gauged my sanity he decided that he would listen to my reasoning. From the safety of the eddy above the rapid we both stood up in the canoe and discussed the line we would try and take and the paddling tactics we would employ that would , if all went to plan, get us to the bottom of the rapid dry. Talking over, we tightened our buoyancy aids, checked that all was secure in the boat, donned our helmets and pushed off. We moved upstream in the eddy to give us time and room to obtain the optimum position for the start of the rapid. From the stern I angled to canoe into the current and Gareth executed an elegant cross draw to pull the bows downstream. Once in the mainstream I could feel the Bloodveins power as it accelerated towards the first fall of the rapid. From memory I knew we had to get tight to the right side of the second rock in the middle but it had to be at a precise angle to set us up for the turn after we had passed the rock. Sitting at canoe level everything always looks different but navigation was helped by the rock we were aiming for was intermittently showing. In moments the Bloodvein hurried us to and past the rock and as planned right on cue Gareth started to back paddle, I set the angle and then also started to backwater. Sat in the maelstrom of the rapid, with a very large stopper waiting for us to come and play, the boat seemed to take an age to slow but slow it did and eventually we started to ferry left. I shouted forward that we needed more power and Gareth duly turned on the turbo charger to buy us more time. Reverse paddling for all our worth we ferried left and away from the hole that would have certainly given us at the minimum a rough time and at worst a right good drubbing. It was great to finally be able to stop and ease down the remainder of the rapid and the safety of the slack water at the bottom. As always doubles paddling the sense of exhilaration is pre-eminent and we were both grinning as we climbed out of the canoe. From their positions as backup. Dave and Michelle were stood with big grins on their faces, gave us a thumbs up, packed their throwlines and started to walk back to their canoe at the top of the fall; it was their turn to test themselves and we would be safety backup. Just another great day on the river!
FROM WIKIPEDIA The Bloodvein River is a river in Canada. It flows west from its headwaters in Red Lake in northwest Ontario to the east side of Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba through the boreal forests of the Canadian Shield. It is around 300 kilometres (190 mi) long. Lakes along its length include Knox Lake, Pipestone Lake and Artery Lake.
First Nation peoples have used the river for centuries, and their petroglyphs and rock paintings can be found on some shoreline cliffs. The river along with many other rivers on the east side of Lake Winnipeg is part of a unique wilderness area untouched by major developments such as logging roads, mines, or dams.
The Bloodvein River became Manitoba’s first Canadian Heritage River in 1987. For most of its length, the river is within Atikaki Provincial Park in Manitoba and the Woodland Caribou Provincial Park in Ontario. It is included on Canada’s Tentative List for World Heritage sites and has the potential of being part of a United Nations World Heritage Site.