Lost portages of Irvine Lake
A solo canoe trip into
Woodland Caribou
Provincial Park

Martin Kehoe
Part 1
Wallace Lake near Bissett, Manitoba - upstream on the Wanipigow River - Crystal Lake - NE on Broken Arrow Lake to the Haggart River - down river to 200 meter portage - NE to southern tip of Donald Lake - across Donald to Royd Creek
GPS Waypoints Listings at the bottom of the part 8
Click on a Picture
Creek to Irvine - Woodland Caribou Park

Back on the Wanipigow river again! My Wenonah Prism solo canoe is loaded with enough supplies for 32 days. Last year I did some, off the marked portage route exploring, and so enjoyed it that I asked Claire, the Asst. Supt. of Woodland Caribou Provincial Park what she would suggest. With no hesitation, she said that Irvine Lake would be good and that it was an area that the park is interested in developing for canoe travel. With that seed planted it did not take much study to see that all those lines on the topo maps painted a pretty picture of the area around Irvine Lake. Sitting midway between Larus and Royd Lakes insured a lot of solitude in a very remote section of WCPP.

During my canoe trips I enjoy keeping detailed journals and Jim Hegyi has graciously put them on his canoestories.com web site. Since travel to Wallace Lake and the paddle up the Wanipigow is already detailed in a story at canoestories.com, there is no need to repeat it here. The months of May and June in 2005 have seen vast amounts of rainfall. In early July the rivers are at spring flood stage or worse and no farming had been done in Manitoba. All this rain is good news for anyone canoeing the Wanipigow. The river can get quite low at times once you get upstream of Siderock Lake.

The wind was having its way on Wallace Lake as the crossing commenced with a 143-kilo, 400 lb., load in the Prism. To keep from filling with water my route was adjusted which put me west of the river channel.  It was a small price to pay for a safe crossing.

Click on a Picture

The winding paddle up the river was just started when a motorized canoe coming out stopped as we passed and we had the usual canoe country chat. As they pulled away, one man asked if my first name wouldn’t be Martin. I said it was and he said he was Jim Dickieson. Jim had given me the information that allowed me to travel and write the story on the Siderock to Obukowin portage that is also on canoestories.com. Jim and his partner had just finished clearing and flagging those portages for Manitoba. All travelers of this route will be very thankful for the work that has been done on these long treks. They wished me a good trip and we again departed.

Jim had told me that the two best camps on Siderock were occupied but upon leaving the river channel, four canoes were pulling away from my favorite site on the point. They were an Outward Bound group wrapping up a 26 day outing of traveling up and down the Gammon and Bloodvein rivers. That had to have been some adventurous paddling with all the high water. Jim had mentioned that he did not think paddlers realized how treacherous those waters were this year. Their leaving was a bonus for me and an enjoyable swim started my evening in camp.

A thunderstorm passed in the night and a clear bright sky greeted me in the morning. Two canoes came out of the grass, which hides the river entrance into Siderock Lake. One of the paddlers was Howard Holtman who had written the first journal that started my relationship with WCPP. They were returning from Haven Lake where Bluewater Aviation in Bissett had dropped them last week.

The high water allowed for passing over all the beaver dams and rock gardens. At the rock gardens, you could see that you were traveling up hill and some were hard to climb. Even with an 8:00 am start, lunch was enjoyed on Crystal Lake. A swim was taken to cool off and then the 825-meter portage to Broken Arrow was undertaken. A campsite from a past trip 800 meters from the portage was my destination for the day. This is to be a laid-back trip and a relaxing morning in camp the next morning fit the bill nicely.

Rock garden on the Wanipigow River The Wanipigow River
Rock Garden on the Wanipigow River The Wanipigow River

This is my first time traveling east from Broken Arrow to the Haggart River. It is a very scenic byway and provides a great route through many narrow passages. The steep hill marked on the map is really steep and needs to be respected. Camp was made at 3:30 because of the heat. It is hot on the water but when you get up on the open rock, it is a real scorcher. A short swim is needed after every walk across a portage and even having done that it is time to stop for the day for safety’s sake.

Sunday July 10 is hot even before the sun is up. My precious Dove Dark Chocolate pieces are soft at this early hour. The first portage is finished by eight but my clothes are wringing wet with sweat. The only way I can continue is to constantly lie in the water to cool down. The sky has clouded over as the last pack is carried to Donald Lake. With rain looking likely, a spot is chosen for lunch that will make a good camp for the night. After lunch, camp is set up but it is not a storm delay. It is a heat delay, for while lunch was being prepared a south wind came up and blew the dark clouds back north. As this is written, I am sitting in the shade with a brisk wind off the lake and it is still stifling. Unknown to me at the time it was 100 F.

The hot weather was sure to end with a big bang so the tent and canoe were strapped down tight before my eight o’clock bedtime arrived. Clouds had moved in to block the sun and after sitting in the lake for a while to cool down sleep was coming when four motorboats showed up to troll and bang and talk right in front of my tent. A gamble had been taken and lost that no boats would come all the way down in this bottom end of Donald. Darkness and thunder finally chased them back to their cabins on the north end of the lake. Cool air moved in and for a half hour, it looked like a peaceful transition. Then the thunderstorm cells started rolling through. Sleep is impossible in a tent during such storms so time is passed counting the seconds from flash to boom. At five seconds to the mile, most were over a mile away but soon some arrived with no time difference, just an awesome crack and flash. During one half-hour lightshow, I had to close my eyes because the constant pulsing was getting to me.

Monday morning a light rain quit as camp was packed. My intended route was to take the Gammon River to Hammerhead and then on through Gammon Lake to Royd Lake. One look at the ominous roiling waters of the Gammon River near the portage to Hammerhead Lake and the canoe was pointed towards the mouth of Royd Creek. The waters were high and flowing with a good current but it was no trouble paddling upstream.

Copyright by Martin Kehoe, March, 2006    http://canoestories.com/kehoe/irvine1c.htm