Sunday, August 5, 2012

Blackstrap Lake

Blackstrap Lake is located about 30 minutes south of Saskatoon on Highway 11. On the east side of the lake is Blackstrap Lake Provincial Park. The narrow lake was created in 1967 and is about 14km long. It is bisected by a causeway, but there is a boat pass through to get between the halves.

The public boat launch is located south of Blackstrap Ski Hill (pictured below), in the provincial park. You can also launch off the public beach, if you don’t mind a 200-foot carry from the parking lot in the Aspen Grove picnic area.

The lake is fairly warm, weedy and was full of green algae when we were there. There was enough algae that a fish kill was occurring, which made the already smelly lake rather odiferous. There isn’t all that much to see (although we did see pelicans and a large number of fowl and other birds). All told, not a lake we’d go back to.

There are few services in the park or the surrounding area. The gas station/grocery store/subway/motel in Dundurn is about the only place to buy food or fuel without going back to Saskatoon.

It may also be possible to canoe into Indi Lake (via a river) from the south end of Blackstrap Lake, but we didn’t get that far on this trip. Based on google maps, I would say you’d end up portaging 2km, incuding crossing a divided highway!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Astotin Lake, Elk Island National Park

We took the bikes out to Elk Island this weekend and the place was hopping. I've been canoeing there for years and I don't think I've ever been able to get five boats in one shot (with two more just out of the frame to the right).

The water levels are the same as 2011, but lots of folks were putting in off the main beach and the parking lot was full of kayaks and canoes. If we go back to camp this year, I may put the canoe on (assuming I can recall how the roof-racks work) and go for a solo paddle.

There was also a lot of birds, including half a dozen pelicans.

I always forget just how big these birds are until you get close. Fortunately, they mostly bolt from boaters although this fellow was only about 10 feet from these kayakers before he pulled the pin.

As planned, we rode around a bit and then I rode back to the main gate. It was only 13km but there are a lot more hills in the country than in town. I thought I was doing well until a pair of 60-year-olds on a tandem passed me like I was a statue.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Sturgeon River and Big Lake, St Albert

The Sturgeon River flows from Big Lake, eastward through downtown St Albert and (eventually) dumps into the North Saskatchewan.  I've always wanted to paddle this but doubted it was doable in a canoe (maybe a kayak). We were out today cycling along the river and saw two canoes in the water so (proven wrong) I dug out my pictures from last summer.

One of the challenges with the Sturgeon is that it is silty and often has low water levels, especially during the summer. Even today (after a lot of rain) the water was quite low through town. There are also no really good entry points—its going to be a muddy entry no matter how you approach it.

There is a boat launch in downtown St Albert (see above), on the north side of the river. Access is off Mission Avenue and it is just across from St Albert place. Alas, the cement runs out long before you get to water so there will be slogging until you get enough depth to float.

A second (informal) put in is on the south side of the river, about 100 feet downstream from the Ray Gibbins Drive Bridge. Access is from the Kinsmen RV campground (there is parking in the roundabout) and there is a dirt trail down to the water through the grass. I did not wander down today to see how the access was.

It may also be possible to put into Big Lake (above) on the south side, although all of the approaches from here seem hooped because of the low water levels and long mud flats.

Paddling is best between Big Lake and the trestle railway bridge by the ball diamonds and St Albert Senior Citizens Club. This is about 2 km long (at a guess) and there is lots of waterfowl (including young today). There are multiple bands of forest and fields and apparently good fishing. Big Lake is also navigable, although often windy.

Downstream from the trestle bridge, the river passes through St Albert and under St Albert Trail. This was navigable today (there were canoes here) but the paddlers could not get the entirety of their blade into the water, especially passing under St Albert Trail—I’d guess there was about three inches of water beneath their keel and there is a good chance of running aground. The current is not very strong, but pushing off a deep muddy bottom would be a chore.

The river looked passable as far down as Boudreau Road (so a total of maybe 3 km downstream of the trestle rail bridge). Here, there were multiple beaver dams on the river, which would require a muddy dismount to get over. My guess is the mud at the bottom of the Sturgeon is effectively bottomless and quite sticky. My understanding from other paddlers is that, further downstream, you run into a morass of dams and quasi oxbows--a trip best avoided.