Stanley to Sokatisewin Lake, Churchill River, SK

CanadaSaskatchewanLower Churchill
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
David Dice
Trip Date : 
June 19 - 26, 2014
Additional Route Information
Distance: 
194 km
Duration: 
8 days
Loop Trip: 
No
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
15
Total Portage Distance: 
2000 m
Longest Portage: 
660 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Intermediate
Lake Travel: 
Intermediate
Portaging: 
Moderate
Remoteness: 
Advanced
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
High
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 

Start at Stanley dock, at the end of the road (Sask. highway 915).  Take out at Slim's Camp on Sokatisewin Lake rather than continue on across Sokatisewin Lake to the power dam.  It is a very long drive between the two places, on a not very good gravel road.

Technical Guide: 

I have done parts of this trip many times.  In 1978 my wife and I paddled the lower part below Kettle Falls as part of a trip that started at Brabant Lake.  The Reindeer River was in maximum flood that year as the Whitesand dam was wide open, and the volume of water flowing through then was about 1350 cubic metres/second at Wintego rapids (the highest historic recorded level I can find).  The rapids that year, especially the Wapumon Gorge, and Wintego 4 were even more spectacular then than they were this year -- and they were stunning this year too!

This year I did the trip with my eldest son, starting at Stanley.  It was his second time on this route, as he did it while in high school in 1996.  We have paddled part of the route together when we crossed Saskatchewan in 2003.  However, this was the first time I have paddled the section of the Churchill from Trade Lake to Kettle Falls, so it more or less completed my travel on the Churchill across Saskatchewan (just the short section downstream of Sandy Bay to the Manitoba border is incomplete).  The water level this year was high, especially above the Reindeer confluence, and Kettle Falls was particularly spectacular.  At Wintego the flow rate was about 800 cubic metres per second, high, but not nearly so high as in 1978!

The three most spectacular falls and rapids on the Saskatchewan portion of the Churchill River are passed on this trip: Kettle Falls, the Wapumon Gorge, and the fourth rapid of the Wintego set.  It is a beautiful trip, though no longer much travelled.  The section from Keg Falls to Grand Rapids is hardly travelled at all, nor is the section beyond Iskwatam lake  The Grand Rapids portage is virtually impassable, as a large windstorm has toppled most of the old growth trees into an intertangled mess.  Since the First nations people from Pelican Narrows do not go upstream that way often, it may be a very long time, or never, until it is improved.  A large chainsaw would be necesary to clear the trail.

The following is a list of all the rapids on this trip.  Remember that the water level this year was almost double the normal flow for July, and that has a major impact on the difficulty of the rapids.

Rapids and Fast Water  (NAD83)

Stanley Rapids                   2              13 U 533318 6142687

Portage on RL, 100 m, fair, seldom used

Portage on RR, 40 m, roller portage, dangerous approach in fast water if river is high

 

Frog Narrows                     1-            13 U 537591 6141709

Could pull over on point, RR, (used mostly going upstream if unable to paddle against current)

 

Potter Rapids                     4              13 U 545492 6140271

Portage, 100 m RR, cautious approach slight current, obvious boardwalk skid very close to start of rapids, with plastic covered sliders.  Watch for screw heads.

 

Lower Potter Rapids       1+           13 U 545862 6140199

No known portage.  At high water levels this rapids can be several hundred metres long, in two main sections.  It is too fast to paddle upstream.  Lining/wading upstream difficult or impossible in high water.  Going upstream take the alternate two portages 13 U 547185 6140718 (very poor, seldom used and hasn’t been cleared since fire in late 1990’s) and 13 U 547091 6140876 (very good condition)

 

Healy Island North           1              13 U 554975 6139289

No known portage.  Current too fast to paddle upstream, would have to be lined/waded

 

Inman Channel                 1-            13 U 557055 6139767

Easy fast water.  No portage.

 

Jump Rapids                       2+           13 U 559121 6141576

Difficult curling wave just on RL of main very narrow chute.  Portage 40 m is on RR, blasted out of rock, with approach in fast water.  Excellent condition plastic covered pole skids.  Some fast water to descend below the skid.  Alternative seldom used portage of 100 m on RL, starts above the current.

 

South of Greig Island      1              13 U 570073 6138814

No known portage.  Be careful to pull into the large bay on RR well above Keg Falls.  There can be significant current in this bay at high water levels.

 

Keg Falls                               4              13 U 570258 6138354

Portage in a large bay above the falls, just before the drop of the falls on RL.  There used to be a pole skid here, and remnants of it remain which can be used on the downstream side to put-in (be careful, the wood is old, algae covered, and very slippery when wet).

 

Below Keg Falls                 1+           13 U 570292 6137911

No known portage.  Run in generally flat water on RL.  (RR is impassable shallower rock garden).

 

Above Grand Rapids       1              13 U 572001 6135647

This rapids is very dependent on water levels.  At high water this is an easy class 1.  At lower levels it becomes a class 2+ ledge with some breaks.  It can be portaged at normal levels on RR across a rock point of about 20 m.

 

Grand Rapids                     4              13 U 572736 6135528

Portage is on RL in a small bay.  The start is steep, but generally clear, then after about 100 m the trail rapidly deteriorates.   660 m long (nominally) and in extremely poor condition due to extensive windfall.  Almost the entire trail is covered with large diameter (20 – 30 cm) trees that have blown down.  The trail winds around some of them, but for others you will have to unload packs and slide under trees, and lift and drag canoe over.  Many of the trees are almost too high to step over, and too low to get under.  Over the past years this portage has deteriorated from good to almost impassible condition.  Since it is not travelled much by First Nation’s peoples any longer, it is not likely to be fixed in the near future.  Without a chain saw it would be nearly impossible to clear the trail.  The downstream end of the trail is down a very steep dirt hill, that can be extremely slippery when wet from rain.  The put-in is not good at high water because of some surge from the lower ledge of Grand Rapids.

 

Below Grand Rapids       1+           13 U 573883 6135559

North side of island (RL).  No known portage.  At high water levels there are significant eddy currents and whirlpools where the fast water meets the standing lake.

 

Trade Lake/Uskik Lake   0              13 U 596787 6145994

There are no rapids here, just a moderately fast current

 

Main Kettle Falls               5              13 U 610832 6157277

Approach well above on RL.  Do not get caught too far out in the current.  There is a good landing on RL about 250 m above the falls, from which you can walk though and scout the approach.  The portage skid on RL starts 5 – 10 m above the drop.  You must negotiate some current to reach the portage, but it is safe to do so provided you know exactly where you will land, and stay close to the RL shore.  There is enough water depth that you can approach by paddling within a metre or two of shore.  The portage is about 100 m long, and made of bark covered log skids.  It is difficult to carry canoe and gear as the skid poles are too far above ground to step between easily, so it is easier to skid the canoe.  There are excellent places to view and photograph the falls from the crest of the portage.

 

Below Kettle Falls            1+           13 U 611013 6157374

No Known portage.  Fast current, and lots of eddies for 500 or more metres.  Stay well to RL of the island.  Approach lower Kettle Falls on RL with caution.

 

Lower Kettle Falls            3+           13 U 611525 6157599

Portage is on RL.  There may be a log skid, but at high water levels it will be impossible to approach safely.  The falls can be portaged about 20 m on rocks on RL, or you can line down between breaks in the ledge if there is enough water to float the canoe.

 

 Iskwatam Rapids             1+           13 U 615940 6159820

Run on RR.  No Known portage.  Lots of small ledges on the left, so keep to RR.  If the Reindeer/Churchill water level is very high this rapid can have a very extensive standing wave train running far out into the lake.  Keep away or swamping is a possibility.

 

There are two routes across Iskwatam Lake.  I have only done the south route. 

South Current 1                                1-            13 U 620202 6157808

There is only fast water at this spot where rapids are marked on topographical maps

 

South Rapids 1                  2+           13 U 623952 6157880

No portage, but there are rocks on RL that can be used to carry over (30 - 40 m) or to scout.  This rapids is a long ledge divided by an island.  From above the ledges  give the deceptive appearance of being smooth channels, but most are too shallow to navigate.  There are breaks in the ledge with wave trains, but it requires careful scouting from shore to identify them.

 

South Rapids 2                  2              13 U 624557 6158327

No portage, RL rock point can be used for portaging (50 m) or scouting.   About 750 m below the above rapids, this ledge is similar.  However, be careful as the next rapids (South Rapids 3) is more dangerous.

 

South Rapids 3                  4              13 U 624571 6158571

About 250 m below South Rapids 2, a nasty rock garden ledge.  There is no portage, but RL rock point can be used to carry over.

 

South Rapids 4                  1              13 U 624627 6158634

No known portage. Current divides around small island and you want to take the left hand channel. Cross this left hand channel over to RR beside the small island, where there is a fast chute heading to the north east beside the island.

 

South Rapids 5                  1+           13 U 624723 6158867

No known portage.  On RR there are some breaks in the ledge, about 20 – 30 m out from the large island.  What appears to be a V in the middle of the rapids is actually a ledge, so be cautious to choose the V on RR which clears the ledge.  There is lots of current, but no rapids in the islands of the lake for the next couple of kilometres.

 

Wapumon Gorge 1          1              13 U 628150 6159022

RL of small island.  No known portage.  The long (1000 m) portage that bypasses the gorge starts in a bay to RL of this rapids, about half way down.

 

Wapumon Gorge portage one   13 U 628573 6158747

On RL in a large bay just past the end of the above rapids.  The portage starts at the end of the bay, and is not very visible as it is no longer much travelled.  It starts right beside the remains of an old rotting wooden boat (still visible in 2014).  The portage is about 100 m long, and in fair condition, though not easy to see as it is little used.  This portage bypasses (sight unseen) the dangerous rapids immediately above the Wapumon Gorge.

 

Wapumon Gorge             5+           13 U 628909 6158648

On RL in a small bay after crossing from the above portage.  It starts about 400 m to the left of the start of the gorge, which can just be seen as you enter this bay.  It would be very foolish to approach closer than this to the start of the gorge in an attempt to see it, as you will get the most spectacular views from high above the gorge on the cliffs that form it.  Be careful not to mistake game trails for the portage.  The portage starts right at the end of the bay, and crosses about 400 m to the other side by skirting to the north of a high hill.  The trail is hard to see as it is not much used, but otherwise is in fair condition.  The put-in on the downstream side is very difficult.  Large pressure surges from the gorge raise and lower the water level by at least 50 cm.  The put-in is very rocky.  About 100 m below the put-in is a ledge that projects out from RL into the main channel.  To avoid this ledge you will have to go to RR of the ledge, but not so far out that you are in the main current.  You cannot approach this ledge from above to carry over it on the left as the pressure surges will expose the rocks as you approach.

 

Below Wapumon Gorge 1            1              13 U 629587 6158673

No Known portage.  Can be run towards the centre.

 

Below Wapumon Gorge 2            1+           13 U 630453 6159151

No known portage.  Right at the north east end of the large island (take the longer route around this island to its east side).  Can be run towards RL.  Watch for invisible ledges.

 

Below Wapumon Gorge 3            2              13 U 630057 6159531

No Known portage.  This rapid starts very soon after the end of the above rapids.  If you run the above on RL, then you will have to cross completely over to RR gradually to avoid the ledges in this rapids.  There are no more rapids, but a lot of fast water below this for the next couple of kilometers.  After this there are a few more minor rapids (Class 1-) as the river swings north east towards Wintego Lake.

 

Wintego Rapids 1             3              13 U 636760 6160978

On RR in a small bay about 40 – 50 m from the rapids.  It is right beside the Wintego water monitoring station.  The portage is in fair condition and passes over the rocks and through small willows for about 50 m.  It is worthwhile to check out these rapids from the rocky point of the portage to see if you wish to run them.

 

Wintego Rapids 2             3              13 U 637950 6161738

Portage on RR.  You cannot easily see the rapids or the portage from above, as they are around a sharp right point.  Be cautious in approaching the point on the water without knowing where you want to land to portage.  Check out the rapids by landing on RR above the point, and scrambling over the high rock point for a view below.  There is a strong current as you approach these rapids, and a strong eddy around the point.  You do not want to swim in these rapids, as the next two approach very quickly, and the third in the series (Wintego 4) is very dangerous.  You can land in the bay at the rock ledge once around the point, and portage about 40 – 50 m over the rocks.

 

Wintego Rapids 3             3              13 U 638250 6161822

Portage on RR (there are routes through this rapid on RL, but it would be extremely difficult to cross the river to get to the portage for Wintego Rapids 4, which is on RR).  Land on the rocks on RL about 200 m below the above rapids, and either thoroughly check out whether the water level will allow you to shoot on the RR side, or else take the safer option and portage 50 m on the rock ledge on the right (south) shore.

 

Wintego Rapids 4             4+           13 U 638490 6161910

Portage on RR.  The portage is over a rocky point, a distance of about 50 m.  It starts 20 or so m above the edge of the ledge.  This rapids consists of two large ledges.  The entire Churchill River passes through a channel of about 40 m over a drop of a couple of metres.  Both ledges have very large holes.  (Kettle Falls, the Wapumon Gorge, and this part of Wintego Rapids are the most spectacular on the Saskatchewan section of the Churchill River).

 

Wintego Rapids 5             1+           13 U 639606 6161432

There is fast water for about a kilometer below Wintego Rapids 4 (above) and then a  very wide and shallow ledge divided by an island (camping is possible on the island).  There are several spots where there are ledge breaks that can be run.  Be cautious when approaching from above as the ledges can appear to be smooth water.  There is a break in the ledge to the right (approximately 50m right) of the island.

 

Duncan Island 1                                1+           13 U 639802 6159442

No known portage.  There is a break in the ledge toward center RR.  Considerable current eddies at the bottom of this rapid

 

Duncan Island 2                                1              13 U 641422 6158538

No known portage.  An easy central run, but quite long.

 

Pikoo Lake 1                       1              13 U 645453 6159879

No known portage.  This is the left or western channel entering Pikoo Lake.  A straightforward run for several hundred metres with big eddies.  The alternate route is a single class 2 rapids (Cameron Falls).

 

Pikoo Lake 2                       1-            13 U 646001 6162035

No known portage.  Mostly just fast water at the end of the island entering Pikoo Lake.  From this spot on there are several spots with fast current, but no rapids to Sokatisewan Lake.

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

See my journal blog at http://digipac.ca/blog/canoeing-with-graeme-stanley-to-drinking-lake-jul... for a day-by day description of the trip.

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
73P07 73P08 63M05 63M06 63M07 53M08 63M10 63M11