SK Historic Canoe Route 52
Lac La Loche - La Loche River - Peter Pond Lake - Buffalo Narrows - Aubichon Arm - Ile-A-La-Crosse
Length of Trip: Approximately 208 kilometres (335 miles)
Time Required to Complete Trip: 7 to 10 days
Number of Portages: one (optional)
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 responsibility 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 the community of La Loche, located on the east central portion of Lac la Loche and accessible by vehicle on Highway 155. Which is paved to within 20 kilometres of the town.
Arrangement for the safe parking of vehicles could undoubtedly be made with private individuals in the community of La Loche.
Map 73-0 Ile-a-la-Crosse preferred or Army Survey Establishment Map 73-0 Edition 3. Also National Topographic System Map 74-C La Loche Edition 1 and 73-N Buffalo Narrows. If Buffalo Narrows map is unavailable use Saskatchewan Government Fire Control Series 73-N Dillon.
About the Trip:
This is not a canoe trip for beginners. It is for intermediate or advanced canoeists, and in particular, for persons interested in retracing an historic fur trade route. There is wading and lining called for in a few spots on the La Loche River. The real danger on this canoe trip is travel along the open shores of several large and exposed lakes. On Lac la Loche and Peter Pond Lake canoeists may have to stop and wait out bad weather and waves for from a few hours to a few days in some instances. Peter Pond Lake can have tremendous waves and is shallow enough so that a real line of breakers can build up near shore. Impatience by canoeists unwilling to wait until the waves subside, can lead to dangerous chance taking.
This canoe trip covers an important portion of the historic fur trade route to the northwest. A description of the optional 19 kilometre Methye Portage is included for canoeists who may wish to explore this portage as an interesting side trip or, even possibly, as part of a more rugged canoe trip exactly retracing the fur trade route.
Typical pre-Cambrian scenery is not much in evidence on this trip; however, the canoeist is treated to a view of the Grizzly Bear Hills lying to the west of Peter Pond Lake. With the possible exception of a short stretch on the southwest portion of Churchill Lake, there are relatively few islands along this canoe route. Campsites must necessarily be selected along the low shores of the big lakes or the banks of the La Loche River and Aubichon Arm. The La Loche River is certainly the wildest part of the trip as now La Loche is connected with Buffalo Narrows by road and very few people use the river route. The upper and central part of the river is a very good place to see waterfowl and the lower portion is good habitat for otter, muskrats and beaver.
Fishing for northern pike and walleye is good in many of the bays along the shores of the big lakes and also in the eddys below the rapids in the La Loche River.
The voyageurs travelled up the La Loche River from Ile-a-la-Crosse to the Clearwater River and beyond. Present day canoeists have duplicated this feat using only paddle power, but it involves lots of hard work and considerable wading and lining up through rapids in the La Loche River. Those attempting upstream travel will find this description of some help although it is written primarily for downstream travel.
For canoeists interested in the historic 19 kilometre Methye Portage and a view overlooking the scenic Clearwater Valley, the following possibilities are suggested:
Paddle from La Loche to Wallis Bay (about 19 kilometres to thenorthwest) and back pack 19 kilometres over Methye Portage, lightly loaded for one night camped out on the banks of the Clearwater River. Return the next day to Wallis Bay and retrieve canoes which can be left overnight near the start of the portage where they won't be disturbed. Supplies for the longer trip to Ile-a-la-Crosse can be left in La Loche to be picked up after completing the short Methye Portage excursion.
For the physically tough and experienced wilderness canoeist, consider making the 19 kilometres Methye Portage including all canoes, supplies and equipment. This would be very strenuous and require 2, 3 or 4 days of hard work. Canoeists completing this long portage could then continue down the Clearwater to McMurray, Alberta (described in detail in Canoe Trip No. 40). There would be no problem in extending the trip to Ft. Chipewyan on Lake Athabasca and beyond.
Methye Portage (optional):
The southern end of this long portage starts at the northwest end of Wallis Bay at the northwest end of Lac la Loche. A small stream enters Wallis Bay and the trail actually begins on the east side of this stream close to its mouth at a conspicuous rock cairn erected by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. The area around the cairn is open and grassy.
The portage trail may be wet in spots - especially at its southern end - but generally this portage offers good walking conditions through sandy, semi-open pine stands. The trail is still used by local Indians, mostly as a snowmobile trail in winter.
Peter Pond was the first whiteman to traverse Methye Portage in 1778. For many years thereafter it was the main route of travel for traders, trappers, and famous explorers to the Athabasca, Peace and MacKenzie regions.
The start and the end of Methye Portage are indicated by orange tin markers. There are a couple of streams to cross on log bridges and many opportunities to study game tracks in the sand and wet spots along the trail. A winter road cuts across the portage trail approximately four kilometres from its southern end.
Methye Portage intersects the east shore of famous Rendevous Lake where trade goods were exchanged between groups of voyageurs. For those on foot an excellent foot trail skirts the south shore of Rendevous Lake around to its west side where it joins the canoe landing spot and then continues on in a generally north-northwest direction.
There are many good camping or picnic spot opportunities around Rendevous Lake.
As Methye Portage starts its descent to the Clearwater more birch trees are in evidence. A good viewing spot has been cut along the portage trail from which to survey the extent of the beautiful Clearwater Valley lying below. The view is not unlike the Qu'Appelle Valley but with considerably more timber on the slopes.
The north end of the trail at the river's edge is a camping spot which has been used for hundreds of years and offers a nice place to fish and rest. There are sometimes a few old canoes at the north end of this portage and other signs of camping and seasonal use. A forest fire lookout tower overlooks the valley from a hill on the north side of the river.
The Canoe Trip:
Starting from Wallis Bay or from the community of La Loche travel down the lake to the outlet on the southeast side where the La Loche River leaves the lake. Approximately four kilometres south of the community of La Loche there are some attractive sand dunes on the east shore which would make interesting camping or picnic sites.
The outlet of Lac la Loche (start of the La Loche River) is obscured by weeds. There is a hay cutting operation along the shore at this point and hay stacks may be seen. There is also a wooden plank bridge across the river at the lake's outlet. Canoeists may have to probe into the reeds to locate the narrow, somewhat hidden outlet channel. The current is moderate and canoeists can paddle under the bridge without trouble.
Below the bridge the low shores are sedge, willow and cattails for several miles. There are a few well used campsites in this quieter section approximately three kilometres before the start of the fast water and rapids.
The rapids in the upper La Loche River are not dangerous. They are small, shallow and intermittent. Depending on water levels all of them can be run by an alert canoeist. Shallowness may be a problem and necessitate wading down short stretches.
After a kilometre or more of intermittent small rapids the river opens out to quieter, cattail bordered shores. There is a well used campsite on the west side immediately below the last rapid.
Progressing through the marshy area, which is rich in waterfowl, the river becomes bordered by high willows and alders. The banks are higher and this is a good area in which to see otters and beavers.
The speed of the current starts to accelerate again and intermittent rapids and fast water become the rule. The rapids are not dangerous and most of them can be run depending on water levels. A few rapids will have to be waded and there is no landmark to indicate which ones will have to be waded, so canoeists should be prepared to jump out into shallow water the moment it looks like there are too many rocks ahead.
After several kilometres of such intermittent rapids the course dramatically opens out to grass, sedge and willow shores. A kilometre or two below the last rapid the Kimowir River enters from the west. There are camping possibilities in the semi-open poplar stand at the junction of these two rivers.
Below the junction the river speeds up again with a few sections of fast water and mild rapids. As the canoeist approaches the mouth of the river an old mink ranch is passed on the west, followed by half a dozen or so trappers' cabins on both sides. The mouth is quite sandy and exposed. If the wind is up on the lake, canoeists may have to wait it out at the river's mouth.
The route down the northeast shore of Peter Pond Lake is very exposed and canoeists will have to wait out rough weather until conditions are calm enough to make canoe travel safe. The only shelters are at Birch Point, Sandy Point or Fleury Point. There is a good view of the Grizzly Bear Hills to the west along this part of the trip.
The channel to Buffalo Narrows is as shown on the map. A steel girder bridge spans the channel at Buffalo Narrows. The short section of the southwest part of Churchill Lake is more rocky in character with scattered small sand beaches, rocky points and islands.
About 18 kilometres down McBeth channel there is an access road to the west side from Highway 155. There are cabins on the east side of the channel opposite the road access point. There are more buildings on the west side of the channel where it widens out to form the start of Aubichon Arm.
As Ile-a-la-Crosse is approached the microwave tower can be seen some distance away. There is also an agricultural development with extensive cleared fields along the southwest shore of Aubichon Arm, 10 or 11 kilometres before actually reaching the community of Ile-a-la-Crosse.
Ile-a-la-Crosse is the end point for this trip. At the community there are several general stores, telephone communications, charter air services and paved highway connections with southern Saskatchewan. Those interested in continuing this canoe trip down the Churchill River to Otter Rapids, north of La Ronge, should consult Canoe Trip No. 1 for a detailed description of the route.
WRITTEN BY: Peter Gregg (1976).