Written by Andy Goodson
Photography by Andy Goodson, Mitch Doll, Sean Hootz and Teisha Huff
"Yeah... I just wish I knew what to expect," Teisha admits her concern just as we leave Regina's city limits.
We've gone wilderness backpacking a number of times, but the days leading up to the Amisk Lake trip have been anxious — twelve people, seven days, and all-new territory. This is our first canoe trip together and some of us haven't paddled on a lake since high school. The bulk of our planning took place in the five days prior to our departure, so I'm partially (entirely) to blame for some of this undue nervousness.
"It will be... erruhh... fine!..." My smile is unconvincing. This is essentially our summer vacation not one of our usual back-country hikes, so I feign confidence. I'm not doing a good job of it.
After meeting up with the rest of the group and spending the night at Madge Lake, our convoy sets out for the north on a cloudy Saturday morning in early August. We pass by familiar destinations in Manitoba such as the Steeprock River, finding ourselves in unfamiliar forest. The rather plain and homogeneous boreal scenery gives way to stunning outcrops of Precambrian rock and construction zones.
We make a few last-stops in Flin Flon to pick up some supplies before making our way to Angell's Fishing & Hunting Resort in nearby Denare Beach where we rent a cabin for the night. Not expecting much, we're surprised to see the accommodations are beautiful and the cost, remarkably within our extension-cord-for-a-belt budget. An evening of shore-fishing, fancy hot dogs, some light-to-excessive boozing and late-night Super Nintendo is enough luxury to rescind any chance of looking tough on this trip.
The next morning, most of us wake up feeling refreshed and ready to get out on the water. Standing on Angell's boat launch, I realize the advantage of canoeing over backpacking: canoes hold a lot of beer, man. Not only are we able to fit an excess of superfluous gear, we can bring as much food as we like.
We push off from the shores of Denare Beach and begin our search for the perfect campsite. Our destination must have access to the following: fishable shorelines, cliffs for diving and top-notch Canadian Shield majesty.
I'm surprised by the progress we make while pushing our first five kilometres. Hiking the same distance up a stony river in the scorching heat would be death. We take a short break on a sandy beach, but it is evidently a popular spot. We decide to keep shopping while quickly reaching our limit of heat exhaustion for the day.
After canoeing past beautiful islands and gorgeous limestone cliffs, we row into a shallow passageway named 'S' Narrows on our map. Compared to everything we've seen, it's practically a meandering swamp. I'm not sure why we decide to camp here other than convenience. We can always pack up tomorrow and find a new spot, right?
Due to a medical emergency, we spend the next two nights at 'S' Narrows cleaning up garbage and smashed beer bottles while waiting for a friend to get discharged from the Flin Flon hospital. We are blessed by the fact that - for the first time in our entire history of backcountry camping - we are within range of cell service.
Although 'S' Narrows has a rather lousy shoreline to fish and swim, the island does have its perks. One particular peak offers a view worthy of a two-dollar postcard.
My favourite part of our time at 'S' Narrows is the evening paddle that Sean, Teisha and I had went on the first night. As soon as we exit the swampy refuge, we're greeted with typical majestic scenery. In the absolute silence of our surroundings, tall cliff faces echo the lightest noises, transforming them into a distant metallic hum. There is a hauntingly beautiful quality to the Canadian Shield that is nearly impossible to describe. You have to experience it for yourself.
We return to our camp where it looks swampier than ever. There's no question — we can find a better island. Although the medical emergency keeps us on the rock for another night, we fit in a day-trip to search for the soapstone quarry, situated on the north-eastern shore of Crater Island.
On the last evening at 'S' Narrows, Teisha makes a wilderness pizza from scratch— I'm talking dough and all. I can't say I've eaten better pizza out in the middle of nowhere.
With our recently discharged friend back on board, we pack up and paddle our way back toward Denare Beach and further north to Lookout Island. We travel nearly 20 km under the hot sun before we find our final camping spot for the week—a beautiful sold-rock shoreline, right across from a very 'diveable' cliff.
The Canadian Shield does not hold back on the northern lights. Each night, we're treated to a display of green and blue auroras ribboning across the sky. With no rain in sight, most of us slept under the stars. On our last night, Sean sets up a time lapse from our camp.
Our new island is pretty much a paradise. Fish are caught less than eight steps away from the campfire. We swim and dive from the tops of cliffs. We even get to investigate an abandoned gold mine nearby—although it has been sealed. Still, it's pretty cool and I hear there are other mine shafts all over the area that might warrant a look.
Twelve people in constant interaction with each other can build frustration, but we're able to hold it together. Having patience for one another is something we've slowly learned throughout our travels. Conflict is fine, but at the end of the day, we're here to have fun on this weird pseudo-family vacation.
We paddle back on leaving-day in a bit of a daze. One can get used to the island life. But, beer supplies don't last, and beef jerky for breakfast eventually loses its appeal.