Otter Lake - Manitou Falls, Fond Du Lac River
Distance 7.5 km [698.5 km]
The collective weariness of 35 days hard travelling is starting to show, we have elected to have a second short day, stopping by lunch time. Last night we were camped in what is without doubt the best camp site so far this trip but tonight we are in what has to be the most beautiful camp site of all four years canoeing in Northern Saskatchewan – Manitou Falls. Manitou Falls are incredibly beautiful but I think they are all the more awesome because you cannot power boat, walk, fly or come here other than by canoe – being in this magnificent place makes us part of an exclusive club of crazy, tough buggers!
We were up by 6am and on the water by 7.45am, a smoky morning but not remarkably so. It did not take long to get to our first rapid, a fairly straight forward class 1 that turned into an extensive riffle. We then came to lovely Thompson’s Rapid, a long rapid with a series of tricky ledges and sharp turns. It is way beyond our abilities so we portaged on the well used trail in better condition than we have seen all trip and just over half a kilometre. It is through Jack Pine parkland and easy walking with lots of viewing spots overlooking the impressive rapid. Even this good portage had the usual poor entry and exit but after four years we have come to see that as par for the course. We were able to run the last part of Thompson Rapids as it was only class 1+.
Following Thompson rapid we had a series of riffles and several class 1 rapids but with a class 2 ledges. These ledges scare me as it was on such a ledge that we flipped, however John scouted all and we ran them successfully. His ability to read the river has really developed with the many new experiences of this trip, particularly on the Fond du Lac.
We then arrived at our second portage, a compulsory one for all but the real experts. It was around a spectacular class 4+ rapid with a metre high ledge stretching across the river. The start of this portage was up a very steep sand bank however the portage itself was across sandstone through open bush, it provided many opportunities for specky photos. The countryside we were now travelling through was spectacular with high sandstone cliffs continuing all the way to Manitou Falls. Only one more set of riffles, again with a class 2 ledge to be negotiated and a dash to the portage entrance above Manitou Falls, the falls drop immediately after the area of flat rock leading to the portage. Manitou has a short portage with a lovely camp site at the head with great views over the awesome falls.
At Manitou the river is funnelling an amazing amount of water around an island, through a tunnel and over several high rock ledges, it is a powerful sight and there are so many beautiful viewing platforms high up on the flat top of the sandstone gorge. We had a late lunch and set up camp.
After lunch we went in search of a cairn containing a log book that has been kept since the 80’s. We were looking forward to seeing when the last canoeists came through and reading others experiences. We found the cairn but unfortunately someone has removed the tin containing the log book. We have left a note with our e-mail address for anyone following however so few people come through who knows if we will hear from anyone.
We have been seeing small grey birds with speckled chests for days now, they are about the size and shape of sandpipers in Australia and are always at the waters edge, usually on jutting rocks or trees. They have a squeaky chirp and they constantly bob their bottoms. This evening John found a nest on the ground hidden by grass with four olive brown eggs with dark brown speckles. The mum is apparently sitting on them as when you pass near she flies off doing the broken wing act.
This evening we walked around the top of the cliffs along the river, it is spectacular but overcast so we were not able to get good photos of the sandstone entrance to the falls. Unfortunately the bugs which haven’t been too bad all afternoon drove us into the tent about 8pm. During the night there was a violent thunder storm then just as it became light, about 4am, a very strong west wind got up shaking the tent dramatically – John is so tired he just slept through it, remarkable.