Where to start? There is a lot I can say about this trip and I have found it difficult to organize it in a way that might be interesting or make sense for people. So I guess I’ll start with a summary of what we did, rather then a detailed account of each day. Then in a following post a look at how to prepare for a trip like this if you wanted to paddle with kids, and I guess we will see where it goes from there, maybe some specific stories or aha moments in posts to follow.

On August 5th 2021, my wife Genevieve, our 3 almost 4 year old daughter Olive, and our 1 almost 2 year old daughter Prairie started our drive from Calgary to Missinipe Saskatchewan. On the Way we met up with our good friends Angela and Audrey.

From Missinipe the plan was to paddle a loop up into the Mclennan lakes area and back to Misssinipe, where Audrey would have to go back to work and we would pick up our friend Rachelle and continue up to the Drinking River.

However because of the fires in the Mclennan lakes area this year our first week of the trip had to be re-routed. So on August 7th we left the boat launch in the town of Missinipe, on Otter lake and headed down the Churchill river. This first evening was a short paddle, because by the time we got to Missinipe and organized ourselves it was already 6pm. We pull out our stove and made a quick dinner at the boat launch, then paddled a few kilometers to our first camp for the evening.

Those first few kilometers in the boat are a funny moment, as we pushed off the shore and headed out it is finally the time to go. All of our preparations are coming together. The accumulation of preparing how to parent, and take care of our girls in the backcountry, preparing our daughters for the difficulties that might come. All of the food packing and driving, and now the moment is here to set off. The boat launch fades away behind us and its open water all around, Olive is sitting in my bow facing me and paddling backwards against each stroke I take, I wonder to myself if it is a sign that she wants to turn around already?

We brought 3 boats along, a clipper solo boat. Which Audrey, then later Rachelle mostly paddled. A tandem Wenonah rouge that Angela soloed by sitting in the bow seat facing the stern, then a 17.5 foot mistral which I paddled with Gen in the bow. Olive and Prairie would paddle, play, sleep and hop around from the Wenonah and the mistral on a constant basis throughout the trip.

From the 7th to the 13th of August we paddled down the Lynx river to Lynx lake. The first week we were taking it easy and trying to settle into a good routine. We would paddle anywhere from 8 to 20kms in a day. Some days we had some short portages, a few hundred meters each. The longest day we had 6 portages all in the 100 meter – 500 meter distance. We would paddle a couple days and then have a layover day at camp. The typical routine would be waking up by 7am, wrestling in the tent with the girls. Then we would be out cooking breakfast having coffee and packing up camp. We were typically on the water by 10 am and would paddle for a couple of hours until lunch. After Lunch Prairie would typically nap in the bottom of the boat as we paddled for another couple hours. We were always fishing as we went. Catching pike, walleye and lake trout! Olive would paddle, or play an imaginary game like flying through outer space in her rocket ship. We would see eagles, blue heron, river otters, dragonflies, frogs, beavers and all other sorts of small animals. Through out the entire 4 weeks however we did not see any big game animals, no moose, no bears, my suspicion is that Olive and Prairie were far too loud and anything near by was high tailing it out of the area before we could get close.

As we arrived at each campsite we would often swim, then it would be setting up camp, collecting fire wood.  The girls were great wood collectors and helpers around camp. They loved being apart of setting things up and doing the work that needed to get done. Exploring around camp, making natures crafts, reading or playing, rolling in the dirt.

Of course it wasn’t all easy, on August 11th, Genevieve finally had a moment where she started to question whether 4 weeks would be possible. The way we had planed the trip was that the first week was a tester week. If things weren’t going good we would be back in Missinipe and would have the opportunity to back out. The year before we had done a week long canoe trip with the girls, but it was a paddle into camp, where we set up a base camp and did day trips from there. This trip was definitely a step up. The 11th was the day we had 6 portages in one day. None of them were very long thankfully, but it just made it hard for Prairie to fall asleep at all that day. We would be in the boat, paddle a short distance to the next portage and have to unload and shuttle our gear to the other end where we would get back in the boat and paddle another short distance before we were doing it all over again. All of the short stretches of paddling, made it difficult for Prairie to nap in the boat. So by the time we had finished our last portage and were paddling to camp, she was an angry kid. To make matters all the more exciting the last stretch of paddling to camp we were hit with the biggest head wind of the trip. The winds were gusting up to 60 60km/h this made paddling the solo boats quite hard, and I ended up soloing our boat as Gen was trying to calm Prairie down and get her to sleep. By this time Prairie was screaming and inconsolable from being so over tired. We were 1km away from camp but not making much progress because of the nasty head wind. Gen looks back at me, feeling bad for Prairie and says “what are we doing ?”

We ended up tucking behind the lee side of an island and waiting an hour in the boat, Prairie ended up falling asleep, we sat back and ate some treats, laughed and talked about how she would be like this at home or out here, soo why not out here. by the time Prairie was up the wind hadn’t really died down, but maybe there were longer periods in between the big gusts so we pushed onto camp and got settled for the night.

Once we made it back to Missinipe from Lynx Lake on the 13th we were sure we would continue on. The next 3 weeks we wouldn’t be able to back out of the trip unless it was from a plane coming in to rescue us or by paddling out under our own steam.

On the 14th of August after saying goodbye to Audrey and welcoming Rachelle to our crew, we headed out from Missinnipe once again. This time we paddle on otter lake, to mountain lake and towards Stanley Mission. At this point in the trip Olive and Prairie have really settled into the groove and are starting be more competent. On portages Prairie will now walk the entire length all the way to the other end. Olive will carry a paddle or fishing rod something light all the way to the far end before turning around to walk back to the start and grab a second load, just like everyone else does. 

On lay over days we hike to find waterfalls, or explore. Along the way the girls pick raspberries and blueberries filling their faces as they go. We bush whack through thick forest climb up and over steep hills, trudge through the bog, not sure if we are going the right way or not. We are just exploring for the sake of exploring and not once do the girls complain or say that they are done. Definitely some hiking that grown adults would quit after a short while of not knowing for sure if we will find the waterfall or not. It makes me appreciate the mind of young kids, and I feel proud of them. 

The day to Stanley Mission is pouring rain on us, Prairie sleeps in the boat wrapped under a blanket, Olive Genevieve and I play I-Spy. We stop at the church in Stanley Mission, the oldest building in Saskatchewan. Here we meet some locals from the community who were working on the grounds. They invited us over to join their fire and gave us hot coffee to warm up. Meeting locals in the area is very special, you can see the passion that they have for their land. They wanted to look over our maps and see our route, they told us which portage trails were in good condition, they shared where they had trap lines set up in the area. Of course they loved interacting with the little girls, getting them to laugh and smile. 

From Stanley Mission we head towards Drinking lake. From here we start heading north and paddle upstream on the Drinking river. Paddling upstream is very nice, the river narrows significantly from the big volume of the Churchill river, and all of a sudden we do not see any one else for the next 2 weeks, it has been a long time since there has been another group who has paddled or been on this stretch. 

Once we reach the head waters of the Drinking river on Robertson lake we started to head back down south through a system of lakes. Going to Stempel, Luther, Buchner, Kemp, Hood, Sotkowy Lake and all the way back to Mountain lake and Otter lake, arriving back to the town of Missinipe on September 4th 2021. Then the long drive back home to Calgary.

The trip all in all was great! Of course there were ups and downs, but I can’t think of a better way to have spent time with my family. The girls are a great reminder of living the simple life. They see the joys of dragging a stick in the water and watching the ripples. If they have food and are kept warm, they are with people they love and who love them, there is no need for fancy toys, or screens. Instead we play hide and seek we dance and sing, make crowns from branches. I don’t know what they will remember from this trip, maybe nothing. Yet I hope that it will leave something deep within them, in their subconscious for the rest of their lives, some sort of character development that contributes to them being good people in life. If not, at least we had a fun adventure that I will get to reminisce on for the rest of my life, and that’s pretty special for me. 

Stay tuned for post #2, things to know for doing a backcountry trip with toddlers. 

Steven. W


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