SK Historic Canoe Route 38
Big Sandy Lake - Geikie River - Highway 105
Length of Trip: 88 to 105 kilometres
Time Required to Complete Trip: 4 to 8 days
Number of Portages: 4
Water levels and canoeing conditions on many Saskatchewan rivers and lakes vary from time to time, causing changes in the appearance of the various landmarks described in this booklet, as well as the presence of hazards not described herein. It is the canoeist's responsib ility to proceed with caution and alertness, using discretion and good judgment at all times. The information in this booklet is intended to be of general assistance only and the Government of Saskatchewan assumes no responsibility for its use. Canoeists are reminded that they travel at their own risk at all times.
Access to Starting Point:
The starting point for this trip is Big Sandy Lake which is 224 air kilometres north of La Ronge or about 160 air kilometres north of Otter Lake. The only way to get to Big Sandy Lake is to charter a float-equipped aircraft from La Ronge or from Otter Lake to carry canoe and party members to the start of this trip. The presence of an outpost fishing camp on Highrock Lake, 16 kilometres or so to the west of Big Sandy Lake, might make it possible to get a flight into Big Sandy more cheaply.
74H Geikie River and 64E Reindeer Lake North.
About the Trip:
This is a far northern trip - between latitude 57 and 58 - and is one which is extremely isolated in the event of an emergency.
This is definitely not a trip for beginners. There are many long and dangerous rapids. Portage trails are poor or non-existent which forces canoeists to shoot tricky rapids and to do much strenuous wading and portaging.
The wilderness scenery on this lake and river trip is excellent. The river in many places is paralleled by sand ridges or eskers which afford lovely camping spots in the semi open jack pine-covered shores. There is abundant wildlife along this route and fishing for northern pike, walleye and Arctic grayling is excellent.
The trip terminates at the bridge where Highway 105 crosses the Geikie River shortly before it empties into Nekwega Bay on the southwestern shores of Wollaston Lake. Arrangements for pick up by vehicle at the bridge should be made in advance. Other alternatives include arrangements with an outfitter's camp at the mouth of the Geikie River. There is no assurance that there would be anyone at this outcamp unless arrangements were made in advance. Another option would be to proceed north up the west shore of Wollaston Lake to the settlement of Wollaston Post and return to La Ronge via scheduled commercial aircraft. Special arrangements would have to be made to freight canoes back to La Ronge.
The Canoe Trip:
Starting at the southwest end of Big Sandy Lake the canoeist should paddle 16 to 19 kilometres in a northeasterly direction along the scenic shores to the outlet of the lake and the first rapids.
At the northeast end, the lake it narrows to approximately 20 metres wide. Shortly, there follows two relatively easy rapids which can be run by most canoeists. In about one and a half kilometres there is another rapid which can be safely run by experienced canoeists. From below this rapid the sound of the next rapid is evident. The first part only of which can be run by experts.
Portage No. 1: (Not shown on map 74H)
Around first major rapids. Approximately 540 metres long and in fair condition. Landing is poor and start of trail is steep.
This portage starts on the left in a small cove after descending through the first part of the rapids and making a sharp bend to the left. Look for blazed spruce and pines.
Below this rapid the river flows quietly for approximately ten kilometres.
The next rapids are approximately 500 metres long and cannot be surveyed in their entirety from above. Experts can run them in stages with frequent stops. The less experienced or more cautious should wade down the bad parts and only run the easier places.
The river runs quietly for about two and a half kilometres below the rapids, but then narrows and canoeists enter approximately 800 metres of variable rapids which become increasingly shallow toward their lower end. These rapids can, for the most part, be run in stages with frequent stops to check the conditions ahead. Wading will almost certainly be necessary at the lower end unless the water is very high.
Below these rapids the river flows quietly for two and a half to three kilometres. Then the river speeds up prior to the next set of rapids. Experts may decide to run these except for the shallow lower end; others will elect to make a portage.
Portage No. 2: (Not shown on map 74H)
Approximately 450 metres long and in poor condition. This overgrown trail starts on the left or northeast side and ends at the upper end of a 540 metre stretch of quieter water.
Following the quieter water, less severe rapids occur which can be run by most in stages, making frequent stops to look ahead. Some shallow spots will certainly require wading.
At the end of this set the river widens out and a distinctive bay is located on the east or right side. There are good campsite possibilities in this area.
More rapids follow in about one kilometre. They should be run in short sections and the lower end, which is divided by a small island, should be waded.
Quieter water follows for about one and a half kilometres and canoeists have a chance to confirm their location on the map as a distinctive, pouch-like bay is passed on the north or left side and several small islands occur.
Shortly after passing the distinctive bay the sound of rapids will be heard. Follow the northwest shore closely at this point where the river swings left and back to its prevailing northeast course.
Portage No. 3: (Not shown on map)
Approximately 225 metres and in fair condition.
This portage starts on the left side after descending through some fast water. The more cautious should land above the blind turn and locate the exact start of the portage. This precaution will minimize any chance of missing the portage landing and being carried into the rapids. This portage ends in shallow fast water below the rapids.
There follows about one kilometre of quieter water followed by more rapids. These rapids can be run for the most part but shallow water and rocks will make wading necessary in a few places. Below these rapids there are attractive possibilities for locating a campsite on the esker along the northwest shore.
After two or three kilometres of quieter water the river narrows and the first bit of fast water can be run with caution. After about 175 metres of quieter water, the second part of this rapid starts. This second part can be run part way, but a landing should be made on the left side 25 to 35 metres after passing two prominent rocks in centre stream.
Portage No. 4: (Not shown on map)
Approximately 400 metres long and in fair condition.
An old portage trail can be picked up along the left bank at this point. The last half of this trail follows on old overflow channel which is overgrown with grass and dwarf birch and leads to a small channel (not the main stream) where canoes may be launched and then waded a short distance to the deeper water of the main stream.
After about one kilometre the next rapid occurs. This rapid is not safe to run and should be waded except for the quieter portions.
The next rapid follows shortly. Experts can run the first part but it becomes progressively trickier and shallower. The last part will have to be waded.
There follows approximately 22 kilometres of rapid-free travel down the Geikie River.
Following this calm stretch the river narrows and turns abruptly to the right or east. Most of this set of rapids must be waded, but portions can be run if water levels are high enough.
After another sharp bend about 400 metres further downstream, more rapids occur which can be run in part and waded in part.
After 800 to 1,200 metres the river appears to divide. The right alternative is quiet water and leads to a dead end. Take the left course which starts with fast water but becomes progressively more severe. Experts will run most of this rapid except the lower end which is too shallow.
More rapids follow which can be run in part and waded in part. After about one and a half kilometres of quieter water more rapids occur. The first part can be run. Part way down the rapids are divided by an island and at this point they become quite dangerous. Experts may run the left channel under optimum water conditions. Most canoeists will line past the worst part. Wading is very difficult here.
Quieter water follows for about ten kilometres but, as will be seen from the map, there are numerous channels and blind pockets in which the canoeist may become lost or confused. For this reason it is advisable to stay close to the southeast shore and make frequent reference to the map.
After entering a narrow channel to the east, the canoeist soon comes to a water survey station which consists of two small buildings and a cable across the river. Immediately below the water survey station there are rapids which the expert may run at least in part. Others will decide to wade down the right side.
Within 400 metres or so of the end of this rapid, the canoeist comes to the most trying rapid of the trip. This nearly continuous stretch of rapids is over one and a half kilometres long and can be passed only by persistent wading and paddling in the short stretches that seem safe enough. There is no portage trail to speak of and wading conditions are rather poor. Canoeists should be prepared to spend between one and two hours working their way down these rapids. The right side appears preferable but there is not much to choose from.
After three kilometres of quieter water, the canoeist comes to the last of the rapids on this trip. This short set is divided by an island and the right course appears easier. By hugging the right shore a safe descent about one and a half metres from the right bank will be seen.
From below this last rapid it is about 16 kilometres of quiet paddling until the bridge and highway crossing point are reached. The landing at the right side of the bridge is the end of the trip.
WRITTEN BY: Original script by Northrock Canoe Trails; reviewed by Peter Gregg.