Swan Bay, Reindeer Lake - Swan Lake
Distance 30.5 Km [448 km]
If the Queen had her “annus horribilis” in 1992 we had our “diem horribilis” today. If I never see the Swan River in Northern Saskatchewan again it will be far too soon.
We were awake by 6am after a wonderful nights sleep, the camp site may be rubbish central however its other features might just put it in the running for the best camp site this trip. Off to great start, packed and on the water by 7.45 am. We arrived at the far side of Swan Bay before 9am, however this was when the day started to go pear shaped. It took us over half an hour and three attempts to find the mouth of the Swan River and almost immediately we hit our first set of rapids and therefore John’s first lining on the Swan. This was to be the first of 10 rapids he lined up on this awful day. The average length of each rapid was 700 meters so we are talking about at least 7km of lining in a strong, aggressive current over slimy boulders which varied from basket ball size to that of a small fridge. The water in the Swan was mud and tannin stained with sunlight dappling on the surface so it was almost impossible to see where you were stepping, one minute it was ankle deep then next step it was over your head. It was a non stop struggle for John with the canoe constantly attempting to turn side on. Many rocks were hit and boulders dragged over because there was no option in the conditions. Poor old “Big Red”, our canoe, sustained more scrapes in this one day than she had in the trips undertaken in the three previous years. John was more exhausted than I had ever seen him and even more worrying totally disheartened. John is not by nature an optimist but usually on these canoe trips he is a magic mixture of upbeat and Zen, his relaxed mood is one of the things I love and value about our canoe trips. Between bouts of lining we paddled against the current.
Whilst John was battling the rapids and lining on the Swan River I bush bashed along its bank. There were moments when I though I had come on a remnant of an old portage but mostly it was struggling over dead fall, all criss crossed across each other, fighting through dense alders [God I hate alders], through burnt rabbit bush and falling into holes caused when the river has been in flood. Rarely could I see my feet, or more than a few metres ahead, occasionally there were patches of long grass up to my chest. All of this was done in a cloud of black flies and mosquitoes. We may have had wonderful insect free days whilst on Reindeer Lake but made up for it today. We both ended the day exhausted and covered in scratches, cuts, bruises and in my case insect bites.
Eventually about 7.30pm we made it out of the river and into Swan Lake, which turned out to have boulders hiding just below the surface even in the middle. We paddled up the lake looking for the camp site that many previous canoeists and adventurers had mentioned in their written accounts. We had no luck there didn’t seem to be anywhere you could put a tent so we turned around and came back up the lake to the camp site we are now in. I guess with the many fires etc. the camp site had disappeared. We finally struck camp about 9pm and though exhausted John had to try and put the tent up on rock, the irony of this was after cursing and falling over boulders all day there was nary a boulder to be found. We ate at 10.30 pm and fell into bed more tired than we thought possible at 11pm.
It would be easy to write off today as the worst ever but this country always serves up wonder and beauty in abundance. Today’s wildlife spotting was nothing short of brilliant. Firstly, as we crossed Swan Bay we again got a close up view of a large Golden Eagle as it took off from the shore but then the crowning moment for me was as we entered the river a large grey Wolf jumped into the water from an island we were passing and swam immediately in front of the canoe to the opposite shore. It was very wet and I was not sure just what it was at first but we got so close that I could have touched it with my paddle. Then later about half way along the Swan a cow moose with a small calf at foot came out of the trees by the river and stood staring at us as we sat quietly staring at her. To top it off we appear to be camped under a major Canada Goose migratory flight path. This evening there have been many many big V’s with hundreds of geese flying north passing overhead, just brilliant!