Big Sandy Lake - Geikie River - Highway 105

Written by:
Original script by Northrock Canoe Trails; reviewed by Peter Gregg.
Revised, July 1996 by David Christopherson, Jean Miketinac and Hossein Ghaniabadi.

Length of Trip: 105 to 120 kilometers
Time Required to Complete Trip: 4 to 8 days
Number of Portages: 2

Warning:

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 Big Sandy Lake which is 224 air kilometers north of La Ronge or about 160 air kilometers 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 kilometers or so to the west of Big Sandy Lake, might mal<e it possible to get a flight into Big Sandy more cheaply. It is also possible to have a plane pick you up at the bridge and fly you to Big Sandy Lake. This eliminates the need for a shuttle at the end of the canoe trip.

Maps:

1:250,000
74:H Geikie River and
64E Reindeer Lake North.

1:50,000
74 H/3 Lockwood Lake,
74 H/2 Alexander Lake,
74 H/7 Hodges Lake,
74 H/8 Beckett Lake,
74 H/9 McDowell Lake,
64 E/12 Morell Lake, and if going through to the outfitter,
64 E/13 Nekweaga Bay

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 Nekweaga 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 out camp 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.

In July, 1996 (when these trip notes were revised) the water flow in the Geikie was 62 cubic meters per second (normal for July/August is between 50 k 60 cm/s). This water level allowed for the running of rapids that may require wading in lower levels. However it also brought the river well up into the bushes on its banks and eliminated lining opportunities that may exist in lower water levels.

The canoeist is recommended to find out what the flow level is prior to departure, as this will provide an indication of what conditions can be expected.

 

The Canoe Trip:

Trip Note Reference

Map

Commentary

1

74 H/3

925253

Starting at the southwest end of Big Sandy Lake the canoeist should paddle 16 to 19 kilometers in a northeasterly direction along the scenic shores to the outlet of the lake and the first rapids.

2

74 H/2 054365

At the northeast end, the lake narrows to approximately 20 meters wide. Shortly, there follows two relatively easy rapids {Class I, fast water) which can be run by most canoeists. These rapids are approximately 500 meters apart.

3

74 H/2 064372

In about one and a half kilometers there is another rapid which can be safely run by experienced canoeists. Similar to the previous two sets of rapids, this rapid is not marked on the map. This is an easy Class II rapid and could be run by most canoeists.

WARNING - APPROACHING CLASS V+ FALLS

4

74 H/2 068375

From below the previous rapid the sound of the next rapid is evident. The first part only of which can be run by experts (Class II rapid). Immediately below this first section the river takes a sharp bend to the right. The canoeist should land in an eddy, river left, and avoid the bend to the right. After making the bend to the right the river goes over a series of dangerous Class V ledges with a total drop in excess of 3 meters. The portage begins here as described below.

Portage No. 1: (Not shown on map 74H/2)

Around first major rapids. Approximately 540 meters 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 making a sharp bend to the left and descending through the first part of the rapids. Look for a break in the bushes in the corner of the eddy that is the furthest from the current (River Left).

Below the falls/ledges the river flows quietly for approximately ten kilometers.

5

74 H/2 120432

The next rapids (Class II rapids) are approximately 500 meters long and cannot be surveyed in their entirety from above. This rapid is not shown on map 74 H/2. Advanced or strong white water canoeists can run them in stages making use of frequent eddies to survey and plan their subsequent route through the rapids. The less experienced or more cautious should wade down the bad parts and only run the easier places. However, the riverbed is composed of large rocks and boulders resulting in extremely poor footing. Consequently the risk of slips resulting in injury or entrapment is high. This risk is true for all rapids on this river.

The river runs quietly for about two and a half kilometers below the rapids.

6

74 H/7 142451

It then narrows and canoeists enter approximately 800 meters of variable rapids (Class II) 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. There are several eddies in these rapids to allow these stops and route planning. Wading (with the risks as described above) 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 kilometers.

7

74 H/7 170475

Then the river speeds up prior to the next set of rapids (Class II+ to Class III). There are ledges halfway down the rapid with downstream hydraulics that should be lined or waded around. In high water the river is fast and no attempt should be made to eddy-hop down to the ledges. The bottom section of this rapid is a tightly packed boulder garden. In high water the best path appears to be River left. Canoeists may wish to make a portage. However, there is no portage here. The origina1 portage was destroyed in a forest fire and has been completely lost in subsequent re-growth.

8

74 H/7 179481

Following slightly more than 500 meters of quieter water, less severe rapids (Class II) occur which can be run by most in stages, making frequent stops to look ahead. This rapid is gentle at the top ending in a rock garden as it fans out in its lower section. Some shallow spots will certainly require wading.
 

74 H/7 183485

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.

9

74 H/7 186495

More rapids (Class II) follow in about one kilometer. This rapid is very rocky and should be run in short sections. The lower end is divided by a small island. The right channel around this island is very shallow while the left channel becomes progressively easier as the end of the rapid is approached.

10

74 H/7 202504

Quieter water follows for about one and a half kilometers 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.

WARNING - APPROACHING CLASS V+ FALLS

11

74 H/7 204504 through to 206502

Shortly after passing the distinctive bay the sound of rapids will be heard. Follow the left hand (River Left) side of the river closely at this point where the river swings left and back to its prevailing northeast course.

12

74 H/7 206502

Portage No. 2: (Not shown on map)

Approximately 225 meters and in fair condition.

This portage starts on the left side after descending through some fast water. RECOMMENDED: 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. During high flows the canoeist runs a high risk of being swept past this portage and into the falls if an attempt is made to paddle around this point. This portage ends in shallow fast water below the rapids.

13

74 H/7 218511

There follows about one kilometer of quieter water followed by more rapids. These rapids (Class I) can be run for the most part but shallow water and rocks will make wading necessary in a few places. Below these rapids it is possible to locate an adequate campsite on the esker along the northwest (River Left) shore.

14

74 H/7 238540

WARNING - CLASS III+ RAPID

There is no portage around this rapid

After two or three kilometers of quieter water the river narrows and the first bit of fast water can be run with caution. After about 175 meters 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 meters after passing two large, prominent rocks with a slightly pyramid shape that are located side by side in center stream.

The canoeist should land River Left and line/wade past a Class III ledge. The canoeist then should scout the next section of the rapid from the shore and determine how far it is safe to run. In any event, the canoeist is strongly advised to land prior to the point where the river takes a sharp (nearly 90 degree) turn to the left. At this turn there is a Class IV ledge on River Right coupled with a very fast drop on River Left. The speed of the river and high rock on the banks make it impossible to line or wade this ledge during high flows.

However, starting roughly 30 meters above this sharp bend to the left there is a dry creek bed that provides an excellent portage opportunity. This allows the canoeist to by-pass this Class IV ledge bringing them out at the top of an island splitting the bottom of these rapids. Follow the creek bed for about 100 meters (at the time of revision there was a tall dead tree standing to the left). After following the creek bed for this 100 meter distance, the canoeist should turn 90 degrees to the right and proceed through thin willow growth. This brings the canoeist out into a wide section of the rapid above the island. The right channel around these rapids is wider but very rocky and would be very difficult to run. The left channel can be run during high flows and waded during normal flows.

15

74 H/7 248550

After about one kilometer the next rapid (Class II+) occurs. During high flows the advanced white water canoeist can run these rapids starting river right and finishing river center. However, it is strongly recommended that the canoeist scout these rapids from the shore prior to running them.

16

74 H/7 256557

The next rapid (Class II+) follows shortly. Experts can run the first part but it becomes progressively trickier and shallower. The last part will have to be waded. In high flows there are a number of ledges with small hydraulics near the bottom of this rapid.

There follows approximately 22 kilometers of rapid-free travel down the Geikie River. However, the canoeist is advised that there are few camping opportunities on Middleton Lake.

18

74 H/8 416718

Following this calm stretch the river narrows and turns abruptly to the right or east. Most of this set of rapids (easy Class II) must be waded, but portions can be run if water levels are high enough. In high flows, this is a rock garden and the canoeist will have to pick there way through the rocks.

19

74 H/8 420717

After another sharp bend about 400 meters further downstream, more rapids (Class III) occur which can be run in part and waded in part. There are two options open to the canoeist. On river right, the canoeist can run and wade down (following a moderately sharp bend to the left) to a large rock on the right hand side where the river then takes a sharp bend to the right. In high flows the water here is too fast to line safely and the canoes will have to carry/drag over this large rock to an eddy below. Alternatively the canoeist can run and wade down river left, reentering the rapids in an eddy on river left at about the point the river takes the previously mentioned sharp turn to the right. Again, the canoeist is strongly advised to scout this rapid from the shore before taking any action.

Below this sharp turn to the right the rapid can be run safely. There was a good camping opportunity 50-100 meters below this sharp bend to the right at a point where the river (and rapids) take a subsequent bend to the left.

20

74 H/8 430715

After 800 to 1,200 meters 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 (easy Class II). Experts will run most of this rapid except the lower end, which is too shallow. In high flows there are several small ledges and the canoeist may wish to start river right and slowly work there way river left as they run this rapid.

More rapids follow which can be run in part and waded in part.

21

74 H/9 442733

After about one and a half kilometers of quieter water more rapids (Class III) occur. The first part can be run. Part way down the rapids is divided by an island and at this point they become quite dangerous.

In high flows the canoeist can take the small right channel (Indicated by a line with an arrow on map 74 H/9) and thus by-passing two Class III ledges found in the left channel shortly below the top of the island.

After the bottom of the island the rapid becomes a Class II rock garden.

22

N/A

Quieter water follows for about ten kilometers 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.

23

74 H/9

482820

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 (and immediately below an island dividing the river) there are rapids (Class II) which are easily run during high water flows.

24

74 H/9 492827

Within 400 meters or so of the end of this rapid, the canoeist comes to the most trying rapid (Class III) of the trip. This nearly continuous stretch of rapids is roughly two kilometers long. During high flows this rapid can be run on River Right. The canoeist will need to take care to stay clear of a long stretch of large compression waves that begins about half-way down this rapid.

In normal to low flows this rapid 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.

25

74 H/9

528865

After three kilometers of quieter water, the canoeist comes to the last of the rapids on this trip. This short set is divided by an island. The left side is Class III and contains several ledges. The right side is a relatively easy Class II with some rocks on river left near the bottom that the canoeist wi11 want to avoid. For low water levels the route may be hard river right on the right channel.

From below this last rapid it is about 16 kilometers 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. Alternatively, the canoeist may wish to go to a small marina adjacent to the campground that ean be found prior to the bridge by following a River Left path.