18 Days on the Bloodvein River

18 Days on the Bloodvein River

18 days on the Bloodvein River

After a very last-minute personnel change and some very late itinerary changes, the canoe trip from Lund Lake Ontario to the Bloodvein river bridge Manitoba was looking like it was actually going to happen! The prospect of an 18 day self-supported canoe trip through the wilderness of Canada was something I had been dreaming about for a long time.


We left Ross on Wye at 2am for an early morning flight to Winnnipeg Canada. After some shenanigans with the parking company at Heathrow we were all parked up and sat in departures discussing our plan for our arrival in Canada. The main talking point was how to achieve everything we needed to in a very short time frame before our shuttle to Lund lake!!

18 Days on the Bloodvein River

I had deliberated over kit and stripped everything back as much as I could, in anticipation of long portages especially in the first six days. My main anxieties were around the super market in Red lake, and whether they would have the kind of foods that I knew worked for me on trip of this duration.
Four movies, one connecting flight and a short taxi ride later, and we were in our pre-booked accommodation in Winnipeg, a motel with a balcony and breakfast included!!

18 Days on the Bloodvein River

06/09/18 Winnipeg to Red Lake

After a little bit of sleep, we were back at the airport checking in our overweight bags for our short flight on bearskin airlines to red lake. After a short while we were fully aware of why the locals call them 'scare skin airlines'!!! We were buzzing for our arrival and raring to go, only to find that the outfitter had clearly forgotten about us! After two hours of waiting I managed to chat to a local who offered to take us the 40 minutes to the outfitter, Canadian hospitality at its best. A quick chat with the outfitter and we were walking nervously to the supermarket with our fingers crossed.

18 Days on the Bloodvein River

I think I walked up and down the five aisles of the supermarket close to ten times but felt I had the dried foods I needed and was confident enough that I could top up with a few days of fresh food the next day and I would be good to go.
That night involved lots of opening and transferring of food into zip locks bags, a much-needed repair for my river shoes, a very Canadian bar for burger and chips, a long shower and a little bit of sleeping.

07/09/18 Departure Day

A big breakfast was followed with a few last-minute jam and porridge sachets, and we were back at the outfitters for 9am to drop kit off before buying some last-minute fresh food. Canoes, bags and paddles were loaded, a quick chat regarding maps and prime fishing spots was had, and we were in the truck ready for our three-hour shuttle to the head of Lund lake. 30 minutes of tarmac and two and a half hours of gravel tracks and we were unloading at the top of a single track. The driver didn't hang around and after a few obligatory photos and comments about it 'finally starting', and that there was 'no one but us for the next 18 days' we portaged the 650m down the track to the lake. All the normal thoughts on the first portage were running around my head, why did I bring the Gransfors small forest axe, I need a lighter sleeping bag, did I really need all that food!!! I was fairly relaxed about how long the portage took and was aware that it always takes a while to get in the groove. I waited at the lake for JC who was working out the best way to portage bags and boat, to ensure he was only double carrying. I made the most of my time filling my pockets with fat wood and birch bark for helping with fire starting later.

I remember my first look of the lake and having a huge smile on my face, I was actually here and this is actually happening and there was nothing else to think about apart from enjoying it. We had a sat phone for emergencies but other than that no contact with the outside world whatsoever.
The weather was good and we were both short sleeved with sunglasses and paddling 3 km across Lund lake to our next portage. Paddling solo meant more carrying on the portages and more paddling in general but was something we both decided early on that we wanted to do.

18 Days on the Bloodvein River

With the good weather and fueled by a quick lunch, our spirits were high so we decided getting through the next 1 km portage before making camp, would be a great first day. Portaging has always been a part of any serious canoe trip for me. A way of getting to places lots of others wouldn't with a canoe and whilst it is really hard work, and often leaves you thinking what the hell am I doing, I never regret it for long. Walking trails that people have been carrying canoes down for hundreds of years was really special, and realizing when you do see the next expanse of water and check your map, that you actually are in the right place and you did take the right trail is also a great relief!!
We made camp a few miles onto the next lake on the downwind side of a little island, our first camp in Canada and it was a great spot. I set up my tent (MSR elixir 2) knowing that it had served me well over the last few years, and with the addition of a new Therma rest X therm and my rather large but very warm Snugpack sleeping bag, I was confident I was going to get my first good night's sleep in four days. I started to prep the fire with some help from my new boreal saw whilst JC enjoyed using his nice bew and shiny Wetterlings axe.

18 Days on the Bloodvein River

Fresh chicken thighs in a stew with loads of veggies and bread, washed down with a billy full of sweet tea was just what the doctor ordered. We were cooking separately to allow for funny dietary requirements. for me it was always the only way to go. As the trip moved on it provided a lot of amusement and a little campfire culinary competition!!
A little bit of banter after tea, a small treat from the hip flask and a loose plan for the next day was discussed, before bed and a truly great sleep.

08/09/18 Lund Lake to Knox Lake

Portaging was the main discussion over a hot breakfast which involved Coffee on the fire. We were pretty confident we could see our first portage which was a 900m right off the bat. We packed up camp and loaded boats and made the short paddle to the other side of the lake to begin the portage, and we soon realized that the portage was not where we thought it was. Forty minutes later we made a judgement that was luckily the right one. At times like this I felt glad that I was not doing the trip solo, it is always good to have another person to thrash thoughts around with and in this scenario, it meant we made the right one! Our system for map reading and navigating was one we had discussed, and as I had printed, cut up, laminated and personalized all the relevant pages from the hap Wilson guide book, I used these and JC would use the topo maps we bought and we would cross reference accordingly. This system worked great for us as we could both keep a general track of where we were, and when we needed it, different information could be sought from either the guide book or the maps.
The 900m portage was tough going and we went through all the normal portage thoughts again on how much stuff we were carrying, the psychological games that you play with yourself always me make me chuckle:
• It's ok, once I have carried the canoe I can go back for the bags and they are much easier to carry!!
• I will carry on with my bags like this for another ten steps and then when I change the straps it gets much more comfortable.
I couldn't help but to think about the 1600m portage that we would be doing that afternoon!
Over lunch with very sore shoulders and necks we even had a discussion about ditching some food, we obviously didn't gladly, but it was a discussion we laughed about in the latter part of the trip. Our next decision was whether to make camp a little early and start the 1600 first thing in the morning. I don't think either of us was ever going to do that, but having the discussion especially when you are travelling with someone Is important. At the beginning of a long trip I would always try and bank up some miles and I was pleased that JC also thought the same. The 1600m started boggy and didn't get a massive amount better, it is amazing how many times you can think that you are definitely half way now, or that I will definitely see the water after the next turn. On the long portages it was get your head down and make way for anyone carrying. Other than the obligatory banter when passing each other about how tired they looked, we just got it done and waited at the end.
When I had all my kit at the end, I had a little breather and then made good use of my time chopping firewood for that evening. I knew we would be camping at the next available spot which was hopefully an island about 1km away. When JC arrived, I made my way to the island to recce the camp site and start to set up camp, as the rain was coming in. The campsite was good so I put my tarp up first to keep my gear dry in the rain and then got my tent up. Cooking on an open fire when you are physically exhausted, wet and tired is when all those times doing it for fun really count, it means that when you really need to you can do it with a little more success. We ate a lot, talked a bit and hung a bear bag from a fallen tree which if I am honest, was more of a token effort before we collapsed in to tent and hammock respectively for a long sleep. That day we had portaged over 3km, because we were double carrying (canoe and bags separately) we had carried for 6km plus the 3km in between the carries going back for the canoe or the bags.

09/09/18 Knox lake to Murdoch

I was up first and after the previous days efforts did not feel like we needed to rush off, so built a fire and started boiling water whilst JC woke up. A short discussion over breakfast over our plan for the day and a little bit of smiling at not starting with a portage and we slowly packed up camp. It was windy at our backs, but it began to pick up a lot after the first ten minutes of paddling, it was blowing a minimum force 4 with big waves and lots of white peaks. I looked behind and was glad that I was not leading a group, but paddling with a friend who I had confidence in. A wind that strong on a lake that size can cause big problems. We used the islands for shelter and managed to work our way to the end of the lake, where according to the guide book we had a short stretch of river with class 2,3 and 5 rapids. After a little drag over a marshy bay and retrieving my shoe (which appeared to be holding up amazingly well thanks to JC and his grip seal) from a very large swampy hole, we could see the start of the river and our paddling became a bit faster, only to paddle around the first corner of the river and be met by a boulder field! We knew the river was running low but the prospect of carrying, dragging and lifting this stretch did not fill us with joy. The realities of what this low water might mean to the rest of the trip was not something either of us was comfortable verbalizing. So, after two hours of dragging, carrying, lining and a bit of paddling we made it to Murdoch lake. JC took a fall whilst carrying his canoe which hit home the realities of a trip this remote, and how we both needed to recognize when we needed a break. I had also had a sense of humour failure when my canoe had become stuck on a low branch whilst portaging! I do remember that for brief moments of paddling that short stretch of river, that the high banks provided some shelter from the wind.

18 Days on the Bloodvein River

When we arrived on Murdoch lake the wind was fierce and coming right at our faces, we managed to paddle against it hopping between wind eddy's for breaks but had a couple of narrows to get through and they really took everything we had. We decided that the next camp spot we saw was ours and an earlier finish was definitely the wise decision. We made camp on the point of a headland and whilst it was still a little windy, we were grateful of the rest and soon had shelters up, fire going and the Anker solar charger powering up our batteries. It felt like we had been dodging storms all day and at around 8pm, just as I was finishing off my food the heavens opened.

Luckily my gear was fairly squared away but anything that was outside got thrown in the tent, with me slightly damp right behind it. There was a brief lull about an hour later so I took the opportunity to hang my food, but after that it was back to the tent. Another hard day but by no means unenjoyable. We were still in the wilderness and whilst a little tired we were making good decisions, eating good food and managing more than adequately with whatever we could fit into one very large bag and one smaller one!! That feeling of self-sufficiency, and knowing that whatever happens we have to deal with it, is one of the many reasons that I love taking a canoe off the beaten track.

18 Days on the Bloodvein River

10/09/18 Murdoch lake to Laurus lake

Up early and keen to make up for any lost time yesterday we had a cold start (No Coffee!!!) and were on the water by 7.45. By 10.15 we had paddled over 10 km in changeable winds and the environment had become what I thought was even more wild. We began to see what I thought was bald eagles and this was confirmed when I saw the large white-headed bird leave his perch on the top of a dead tree, dive in to the lake and come up with a fish so large, he struggled to fly the 10 meters back to the beach to deal with it. An awesome sight and one I had never seen up close until that time. Only a short paddle after the eagle we came to our first pictograph site, it was an awesome site and one that upon seeing was impossible not to imagine the people painting these from there canoes, and wondering how much the landscape has changed since then. I also had to have a little chuckle to myself, that I felt pleased that I managed to travel comfortably through the wilderness with just the essentials and see that as a mark of true experience. These 'essentials' still meant a full supply of food for eighteen days! I wondered how my canoe and its load would compare to the canoe and the load of the person who made these pictographs many years ago!

We battled against a tricky headwind for a short while to get us to another short stretch of river, and we decided immediately upon seeing the boulders that the portage trail on river right was the sensible option. Although close to a 1km with an incline it would take us around this whole stretch of shallows with boulders and out onto Laurus lake. It turned out to be a good decision as we viewed the river form the portage trail it would have involved a lot of dragging, lifting and wet feet as the river was low like the day before. When I finished the portage trail, I started lunch and made the decision to use my precious emergency gas canister for a quick emergency coffee!! There began the discussion of how many times did we think one canister could boil my billy can for coffee and should I have used it or not. JC's thought on this matter were clearly not in line with mine as his emergency canister was kept safely tucked away for real emergencies!!! The coffee however was lovely, although I was unsure whether it was a decision I would regret later in the trip.

18 Days on the Bloodvein River

Onto Laurus lake and we had a short paddle before we hit the lake properly and we could both immediately see white caps on the water, and we realized that we would not be able to paddle into that wind. We managed to paddle the short distance into the shelter of a small inlet and decided immediately after walking around the point that there was no paddling against it. We took the opportunity to snooze for a little while hoping that it would not last long. After an hour of waiting I got bored so broke out the fishing rod for the first time of the trip. 30 minutes later after a few tackle changes and the loss of my new very expensive large pink lure, I caught a decent sized northern pike and when JC saw my success, he got motivated to try fishing for the first time. After some tactical tackle changes JC had also landed a northern pike, the first fish he had ever caught himself. He probably would have caught much quicker if he had had someone other than me offering advice on fishing!!!

18 Days on the Bloodvein River

The wind didn't get any less, and we made the decision at 4 pm to make camp and try to make an early start tomorrow. We cooked our fish over the fire that evening listening to the wind howling on the lake and the main topic of conversation was how we thought we were doing distance wise??? I remember going to bed that night feeling a little anxious about how far we had come, and what would happen if we were still wind bound tomorrow.

11/09/18 Laurus lake to Marys lake

The day started for me at 4AM when I woke because something had changed outside my tent, it was was the wind and it had stopped. My immediate thought was wake JC up and get going whilst there was a break in the wind, this thought did not last for long as I fell back to sleep for another couple of hours!!

We were still on the water by 7.10 with a bowl of porridge soaking in my bowl for later. The lake was like a mill pond and for the first time on the trip we felt we were really moving well; the scenery was awesome and we were through Laurus and portaging the falls at the bottom by 10am. One quick cast in the falls and I caught a walleye as soon as my lure hit the water, could things get any better!!! (I actually thought I may be getting better at fishing!!) We both donned full waterproofs as the skies were very ominous and it had started spitting, but after such a great start our spirits could not be dampened. By lunch time that day we were seeing the first signs of the forest fires that had been raging through woodland caribou that summer, and it felt very eerie to be paddling through that landscape. There were thunderstorms and lighting strikes in the distance and we felt like we were being chased for most of the day. Shortly after lunch we got hit by some torrential rain so heavy that we were forced to bail the rainwater from our boats every five minutes.

18 Days on the Bloodvein River

A 35km day and we felt pretty pleased that we had made that much progress in that weather, but rain is always more favorable than wind in my opinion. It did mean a late finish and one of those days where you search for a campsite for longer than you want, and up settling for something because daylight is running out. Everything was soaking and getting a fire going was really difficult, the first and only time the whole trip that I had to use any kindling I had bought from home, but I could sense JC wondering why I was persevering when we were both wet cold and hungry and I had cotton wool soaked in Vaseline in my tinder pouch!
The walleye tasted great and we were both looking forward to an easy paddle to artery lake the next day, a lake we had both heard of before as it is where a lot of people begin there Bloodvein trip, and we were looking forward to seeing more pictographs.

18 Days on the Bloodvein River

12/09/18 Marys lake to Artery lake

We had slow start to our day that meant a fire and hot coffee, everything we owned was damp and cold including ourselves, so we definitely needed it. Putting on my wet and cold paddling socks and shoes was taking longer every morning. Because of our efforts the previous day we had only a short paddle to artery lake and we made it in fairly quick time, we fished below the falls into artery with no success. I lost my favorite white minnow lure (I had caught fish in Canada and Sweden with this one) and snapped the handle off my reel, I definitely wasn't getting any better at fishing!!! On this kind of trip breaking things can be a real problem but carrying the right things to make repairs is important, I have always enjoyed this part of a wilderness trip and always managed to make do somehow. I get a good sense of satisfaction when I have to take out my well thought through, and I think relatively minimal repair kit to fix things. So far on this trip my shoes, tilley hat, fishing reel, both water filters, my head torch and a misplaced solar charger had provided us both with small challenges to overcome. We found a great camp site on artery lake and had everything out and drying by 2pm in glorious sunshine, our camera batteries were charging on a very dodgy Chinese solar charger! My tent was up and I was sat with my back against a log looking onto artery lake making some much needed repairs.

18 Days on the Bloodvein River

Artery lake is an amazing spot and the pictographs at the top of the lake were definitely the most impressive of the trip so far. After a lazy afternoon sorting a few things we cooked up a great dinner on a great fire. Early evening was showing the signs of a storm coming in so we made what preparations we thought necessary and I settled into my tent for what I hoped would be a long sleep.

18 Days on the Bloodvein River

13/09/18 Artery Lake to Stonehouse

My hopes of a long sleep were smashed quite literally by the biggest storm I have ever tried to sleep underneath! The whole of my tent was lit with lightning strikes and the noise was all consuming. Trying to count between the lightning strikes and thunder was pointless as there was no gap and it was like that for over three hours. At 2am I braved the storm as I wanted to check the boats, I checked knots and was happy enough to run back to the warmth of my sleeping bag. I finally got back to sleep again when the storm cleared a little around 3 am, I really couldn't believe how awesome my MSR tent was to hold up so well under that storm.
We woke to a drizzle of rain and packed everything up wet, no point hanging around on that kind of a morning. Whilst we were sad to be leaving woodland caribou as it had been a real wilderness and amazingly remote, we were excited to be heading into Atikaki provincial park where the Bloodvein becomes a lot more river like, and the rapids and stretches of moving water more frequent.

The day was full of problem solving with options of portaging, lining, running the rapids or a mixture of any of the three. Our first choice would always be to run the rapid, but our decisions had to be based on what was safe and remembering we were in the wilderness, so what was runnable at home was not runnable here. Our next part of the decision was based around if we can't run the rapid, which way takes the least energy and time?? The constant drizzle that day made walking on the rocks near the rapids interesting, and after a few slips on the rocks - one which resulted in a very wet legs we slowed any getting in and out of the boats down. We were using traditional canoe skills in the true wilderness and we were both loving it. The sensible decisions to line and portage were becoming tougher and tougher as we kept thinking I would run that rapid all day long at home, we new we were doing the right things for the environment we were in.
That night I got into a damp sleeping bag inside a wet tent and remember thinking that everything was good, a little damp but all good.

18 Days on the Bloodvein River

14/09/18 Stonehouse - Round the Bend Rapid

Quick start to the day as we needed to get warmed up and that was going to happen from paddling and getting ourselves moving. We were using all of our experience to negotiate our boats down some tricky stretches of moving water, and employing all kinds of techniques to make this happen. We even lined the boats together on one rapid to negotiate a tricky wave/hole at the bottom and pull the boats safely into an eddy, we surprised ourselves at how successful we were!!
At 10.30 the sun finally came out in full force, it had been threatening to for a while but we had not wanted to mention it just in case we jinxed it! We had an early lunch with kit drying everywhere, and dressed in nothing but trousers I even had dry river socks for a while.

The afternoon was a lot of the same and we even ran what we considered our first decent rapid of the trip, it was a good length with some technical moves on it and a steady grade2/3. There was glorious sunshine and we were moving steadily down the river when we made it to round the bend rapid it was an island with a great camping spot and there was not much discussion involved in the decision to stop. I prioritized some washing lines to give everything a really good air out. It had been a while since I had a shower so with the sun shining, I decided today was bath day. I prepped the firewood and laid a fire ready to go to make sure I could get warm quick if I needed to, and armed with my razor a small bottle of soap and my shemagh I headed for the river. Once I put my feet on the rock beside the river, I had no choice as I quickly slid into the river and had to rely on JC to pass me the soap!! It was cold but the kind of cold that made you feel good. It was a quick shave with a broken razor and an attempt to scrub some of the dirt off of myself then a very ungraceful crawl out of the river to prevent slipping back in. I ran back up to our camp site put on a lot of clothes and got the fire going.
A lovey pot of stew with sweet potato and chorizo definitely hit the spot it was nice to still have a bit of fresh veg, and I was the first to crumble and open my beef jerky much to JC's satisfaction. I spent a bit of time checking my food situation and was comfortable that I was doing well, it might mean a couple of less conventional breakfasts but I definitely had enough. The food trading/bartering had been going on for a little while and was a source of a lot of banter and amusement.
I got into a dry sleeping bag that night inside a dry tent and absolutely loved it, I was in an awesome spot, spending my whole day doing something I loved. I was even dry which was proving to be really novel on this trip.

15/09/18 26 - Trapper Sams

After a great sleep we woke to more thunderstorms and it was hard work keeping stuff dry when we were packing. It would be fair to say that amongst my close friends they may say I have a mild form of OCD, especially with things being organized and put back in the right place!! I believe this to be a great help when on a trip of this nature especially when we had as much rain as we had. We started in full waterproofs and got paddling to warm up, the wind was being our friend today which was nice, and while it wasn't really blowing us along it wasn't hindering us which was nice.

18 Days on the Bloodvein River

The water levels have definitely got a bit higher and we had started to run more rapids, lots of technical little chutes and avoiding rocks just below the surface that caught both of us at different points of the day. We ran a couple of memorable rapids that day that really stretched our technical skills to avoid getting any wetter than we already were! We eventually passed where the Gammon river joins the Bloodvein and after a day of rain and not much resting, we made it to Trapper Sams Cabin. It is a little hunting cabin on the shore of the Bloodvein, one which travellers are welcome to stop and sign the diary to say hi. After a 40km day of paddling in the rain, a roof over our heads and a place to hang some dry stuff was too tempting and we made the decision to stay in the cabin for the night. It was very rustic but we were very grateful and made ourselves at home as the rain was hammering down on the metal roof.

16.09.18 Trapper Sam's Cabin

We were making the most of a dry camp that morning and having a nice slow start that involved porridge and hot coffee sat at a table, when the rain really started to pick up. There was a lot of banging that we initially thought was pine cones getting blown off the trees and hitting the roof, until JC exclaimed whilst looking out of the window that it was hail stones. I could not believe what I was seeing when I looked out of the window at the river, there was hail the size of tennis balls falling from the sky. We could not believe our luck at being in the only place we had seen on the whole trip that had a roof when hail stones larger than I had ever seen before were falling form the sky. It was not a tough decision to stay put for a couple more hours, if we were in our canoes at that time we would have been getting hit by the hail and it definitely would have hurt. We stayed put and after a couple of hours of looking out of the window, walking down the river to look around corners, talking distances and how far we had left to go, we made the sensible decision to stay put for the day.

18 Days on the Bloodvein River
18 Days on the Bloodvein River

Nothing looked like it was getting any better on the weather front, and we had a roof over our heads. The next thing to sort out was how to fill the next ten hours before we could go to sleep for the night again. I was lucky enough to have bought my kindle along, JC had to make do with old copies of readers digest! I was also getting concerned with my emergency gas canister running out as we still had 8 days left! The rest of the day involved eating, reading, gear repair/drying, afternoon sleeps, some food trading, and lots of discussion about not wanting to get stuck for another day. I went to sleep that evening wondering what the weather would be like in the morning??

17.09.18 Trapper Sams to Oteega Falls

We definitely dragged our feet leaving Sam's. Four sturdy walls and a tin roof was not an easy thing to say goodbye to when we were stepping out in full waterproofs for another day of what looked like rain. At least there was no hail and the wind though strong was nothing compared to the day before. The day was one of those days where we felt like things just weren't moving too fast all day, lots of shallow long rapids with lots of lining, dragging and lifting. I spent a lot of time that day wondering what I could improve to keep my feet warmer, as I had been struggling to keep my feet warm all trip and that day could not get my hands warm either. Amongst all the shallow rapids that day there were a few decent sized rapids and we definitely ran our biggest rapid of the trip so far.

18 Days on the Bloodvein River

We also surprised what we think were otter, when we came around a corner. There were five of them scurrying up the bank, we quietly waited around to hopefully see them again, but they were clearly smarter than us and waited until we had gone to come out. We stopped at around 3.30 as we realized we weren't going to make it to where we had planned, we had only covered 20km so a bit disappointing distance wise but we had had another great day. We had ran some good rapids and even seen occasional moments of blue sky!! I put my tent up and made my stuff ready for my bed, I decided that I was going to be warm that night so started chopping and cutting enough wood to make sure this happened. Our camp site above Oteega falls was a great one, if a little windy, but a large hot dinner really hit the spot and we treated ourselves to a larger fire than normal to warm ourselves up.

18.09.18 Oteega falls to Skunk Rapids

We woke to a warm morning and the chance of some blue skies, there was mist rising from the river which meant we got on as quick as we could to paddle through the mist and take the rare opportunity for some very cool photos. The blue clouds were short lived and with some grey clouds coming in, we made the most of the good weather and stopped to dry tents and tarps on a rocky outcrop. We made the most of this break and had a good snack, put our waterproofs on to prepare for the rain which was definitely coming.

18 Days on the Bloodvein River

This day was a tough one mentally with long stretches of flat water paddling into a headwind, and only 3 rapids in the whole day to break up these flat stretches. We had made 35km that day with a headwind, the last five were not intentional but we couldn't find a camp spot, so the only option was to keep paddling. These last five km were frustrating, I was tired and we were looking for a camp spot after a long day, when I got out of my boat for about the 8th time to check out an island, I was less than satisfied but thought that I could not paddle another km so we had to make do. With my tent up and the fire started, I had time to look around and realized that our little island was actually a great spot. Funny how a bit of fatigue can bring on doubts and negativity, there was even a beaver dam 30m from our island and I saw beaver swimming from the dam around our island. I went to bed that night thinking about my last five days on the river and how we only had a 100km to Bloodvein bridge, 20km a day average should be no problem.

18 Days on the Bloodvein River

19.09.18 Skunk rapids to Manitou Rapids

We left our little island by 8am and paddled quietly pass the beaver dam. Mornings had got super quick know and we were really in the groove. Breakfast was simple porridge or granola in my bowl with some water and the lid was put on to give us 30 minutes of good paddling to build up an appetite before we ate it afloat. The morning was filled with great rapids and we ran more than we had on any other day, lots of technical stretches of moving water that stretched for over 100m, perfect. Nothing could dampen our spirits, even when we had to choose a way a round an island and the way we chose meant over an hour of dragging, and lifting our canoes!! We had more rapids soon after to keep us moving well, moving so well that we passed up a camping spot for another one a few more km's down the river. We were rewarded well for this decision.

18 Days on the Bloodvein River
18 Days on the Bloodvein River

On a long windy stretch I was a 100m or so further down the river and JC was trying to quietly get my attention to point out a black bear cub on the side of the river. As we got closer it got scared and climbed the tallest pine it could and began crying in distress, this obviously bought mum crashing along the side of the river at great speed followed by another black bear. What a sight three bears along the side of the river all viewed from the relative safety of our canoes on the river. Now we just needed to see a mouse that would top our day off beautifully.
Portaging a rapid ten minutes after seeing the bears did make us tread a bit more carefully than before and involved a lot more looking around than any other portages in the trip!! After that rapid I paddled around the next bend to see a dark shape a few hundred metres down the river with its head underwater.

I carried on looking as I was still unsure what it was, when I got closer and it moved, I realized my hopes were right it was a large moose. I stopped paddling and drifted on towards it quietly and got within 20 meters before it had had enough and stood up to trot away, and as it did that, I caught a movement in the corner of my eye and looked around to get a brief sight of a huge bull moose with some very impressive antlers. We could not believe our luck as we pulled into another fantastic campsite that night. Loads of great rapids, bear and moose all in one day and when I put my tent up the sun was shining, so much so I hung my sleeping bag out for a good airing! I Baked my last fresh potato in the fire that night with a large bannock-based pizza, what an amazing day. There was absolutely no cloud cover at all that evening and the brightest of moons meant we were able to walk around camp comfortably without headtorches. I went to bed expecting a good frost in the morning and had all my batteries and electric devices firmly wrapped in my shemagh inside my pillow. What an amazing day of wilderness canoe travel, possibly one of my best ever???!!!!!

20.09.18 Manitou Rapids to Kash Rapids

18 Days on the Bloodvein River

Well I thought it was going to be a cold night and it was, it was one of those nights where you wake up and realize your nose is freezing, so try to get deeper and deeper in to your sleeping bag each time. When I finally felt brave enough to risk the cold and get up it was very cool to see thick frost and ice formed on my tent. We left our tents and tarps up to dry with the morning sun and got a fire going for a very rare slow start with cups of coffee, a rare treat for this trip so far.

18 Days on the Bloodvein River

When we finally got on the river it was like a mill pond and the reflections were amazing, we had two proper portages of over 250 m around a couple of rapids today. At the start of one of these portages there was an old sun-bleached orange Coleman canoe. It had more repairs on it that I had ever seen in any canoe before and as soon as I saw it, I was really hoping to meet its owner at the end of the portage trail. I imagined a short guy wearing a patched-up lumberjack shirt and jeans with a tobacco stained grey beard. I rushed along the portage trail to meet this 'man of the woods' but unfortunately it was not meant to be, the story behind the beaten-up old canoe and why it was there was only mine to imagine.

For some reason it felt like a long slog and after 20km we had decided that we had had enough and it was time to stop. We worked out we only had 45 km to go and we were comfortable we didn't need to push too hard, realistically if the worse came to the worse we could get it done in a day. Getting towards the end of a trip you start to think about the trip and emotions are mixed between: what an amazing trip, can't wait to see the family and I wish it wasn't over. But I reflected a lot that evening on how well the trip had gone, and how well things had worked out travelling with JC. There had been no disagreements at all and no tension at any point throughout the whole trip, we had had a lot of laughs and problem solved everything together. Rare for a trip of that duration because it had definitely not been easy going all the time.

21.09.18 Kash Rapids - Namay Rapids

Another slow start today and more coffee at breakfast, we were definitely comfortable with the distance we had left! It was a tough day as we were paddling into a force four for the majority of it. We had also started to slow our pace and take a few breaks as JC was having some problems with a sore shoulder. We did run some more good rapids though, one in particular had a great play wave at the bottom and I couldn't resist, even though I new it meant wet feet as a minimum. We made a couple of attempts to confirm our finish on Monday with the outfitter, but he was as useful as he had been previously with regards to the location on the maps of where the new bridge was. We decided our best course of action would be to get to where we believed the bridge to be on Sunday, and stay there the night to avoid any complications and incur any extra charges that we had been threatened with!!!

18 Days on the Bloodvein River

We arrived that evening to Namay rapids and got set up in a great site above the rapids, and we were early enough to have a fish around the rapids. I managed to get a decent size pike which we cooked later over the coals I was beginning to get a good taste for them, even though the bones made eating them a bit of a challenge. We had a great fire that night and cooked up some good food and after studying the maps, we decided it would be reasonable to stay put tomorrow as the location that we thought must be the bridge was only 15 km away. Two nights from the end the main topic of conversation was how the trip had gone, what we could have done better, what went well and more importantly where the next trip would be.
I went to bed that night with extra layers as the temperature had definitely dropped, looking forward to not having to get out of bed for anything in the morning.

22.09.18 Namay rapids

I woke up to some very dark patches on my tent, I was conscious it had rained overnight but was confident my tent would not absorb water, so when I opened the zip my suspicions were confirmed. Iit had snowed enough to leave a decent coating on my tent. We had had every extreme of weather this trip, enough sun to burn our skin on the first couple of days, loads of rain, the most amazing electrical storms, wind up to force 5-6, hale the size of tennis balls and know snow!!!

18 Days on the Bloodvein River
18 Days on the Bloodvein River

I got us set with enough firewood to cook a good breakfast and went about lighting the fire. My first attempt failed because I rushed and didn't prepare the kindling very well, this made me laugh as today of all days I had as much time as I wanted. I had a little chat with myself, got my kindling organized and made up some feather sticks from the wood I had kept nice and dry in my tent. By the time JC woke up I was on my second pot of coffee and second bannock lathered with peanut butter and jam - what a breakfast. We sat by the fire most of the morning, drinking tea and chatting before I decided I deserved a mid-morning snooze and went back to my tent and sleeping bag for some reading and a snooze for a couple of hours.

When I woke up I realized JC had been busy chopping wood we had enough to keep a nice steady fire going all day, JC then informed me he was not moving more than five meters from the flames and I didn't blame him it was cold, we both had lots of extra layers under our down jackets. Then began the unspoken competition of who could make the best lunch with what they had had left!! I managed a couple of pizza wraps baked in tin foil on the coals and was very pleased with my efforts, they were delicious and just what the doctor ordered. So much so that JC upon seeing my culinary skills got making himself some.
We spent the rest of the day chatting and relaxing by the fire we had definitely earned it, and neither of us was too motivated to do anything else with the temperature how it was. So, after a couple more pizza wraps for my tea, I was in my tent by 9pm and my little thermometer said it was already 0 degrees.

23.09.18 Namay rapids to Bloodvein Bridge

I woke up to ice formed on the inside of my tent from condensation!! Canada was definitely telling us that it had had enough of us know and that it was time for us to go home. A slow start with some coffee helped but we were both looking tentatively at the rapids below, we were getting on at the top and running them straight away. There was nothing too difficult about the rapids, but they were bouncy enough for us take on some water if we didn't paddle the 'dry line' well, a prospect neither of us wanted as we were both cold already. However, that is exactly what happened to me, I was probably rearranging my bags or something typical like that, so I messed up my approach and hit the first little hole instead of gliding past it on the left. It didn't get much better after that and the result was a nice bit of water in the bottom of my boat so cold feet, legs and hands after sponging and bailing out the water. The next rapid soon after was even worse, my camera slipped of its tripod on my approach so I chose to pick it back up and completely messed up my approach to the drop going into a wave sideways and taking on more water again. I was less than impressed and could tell JC was trying his hardest to not find the situation openly hilarious. I had a little chat with myself whilst JC laughed at a distance. There were more grade two rapids to come and I finally managed to paddle the next few rapids how I would expect to!! I was really enjoying the last few rapids of the trip, so much so that I couldn't pass up a nice surf on a large wave that would likely mean my feet staying wet, but it was the last day.
After another couple of rapid's, we rounded a corner to see a small aluminium boat with an outboard and two moose hunters on board. They were spending some time up the river trying to get a moose, we stopped and had a chat for 10 minutes and it felt strange to be speaking to someone other than JC after 18 days. Another km down the river and we saw another two moose hunters stood on a bluff beside the river. We stopped for a quick chat and I checked what the etiquette was for two canoeists paddling past two guys hunting, did we need to get their attention before we approached? Should we be on a certain side of the river? They were very relaxed and said there was no etiquette whatever we thought was best. For a guy from the UK it was all a bit relaxed with blokes stood around wielding rifles, with handguns strapped to their hips!!
We had one more island to decide which way to go around and ended up dragging and lifting our boats for an hour around a long boulder field!!! Our last little bit of punishment from the Bloodvein river before we finished. The Bloodvein bridge was in the distance and we had done it, 18 days in a canoe through the wilderness.

18 Days on the Bloodvein River
18 Days on the Bloodvein River

We didn't arrive in Winnipeg until the 25th we were left by the bridge with little communication by our outfitter, it meant a long time standing by the side of the road and a night of no sleep under our canoes! We were picked up by another outfitter 22 hours late! and arrived in Winnipeg 5 hours later. We had made a booking in a hotel with a Sauna and a pool so whilst frustrated at arriving late we had a great shower, swim, sauna and another shower before going to get something to eat. My main priority was phoning home to speak to the kids and their Mum. I was so excited and had so much to tell them as did they, 18 days is a long time to be out of communication and that phone call definitely ranks as one of my favourite of all time.