Previous Post: Canoeing the Bloodvein Day 7 – Artery L. to Moosebone Rapids
DAY 8 BASICS:
distance: 32 kilometers
weather: a great day to be on the river
rapids/portages: rapids W15 through W26 on the Wilson maps.
campsites: many to choose from – we were headed for the island portage at X-Rock Rapids (W26)
Our goal for the day was the island in the middle of the Bloodvein at what Wilson called X-Rock Rapids. He had labelled the campsite a classic and we liked the sound of that! A Canadian Canoe Routes forum contributor (jjoven) had also posted an account of his 2004 trip down the Bloodvein from Artery Lake (click on the blue to access!) and had mentioned camping at X-Rock. His experience left us thinking it was a popular spot and that we might meet some fellow trippers already camping there.
Eight days into the trip and we had said “hello” to three other canoeing parties – two paddlers at the portage into Hatchet on Day 1, a party of eight guys in three canoes heading off to do some fishing in what they called Scout Lake, and the couple paddling east on Artery Lake in the pouring rain. We had also seen perhaps five fishing boats – all in all, not a lot of people. (During the next ten days we would meet only one party of three canoes and two fishing boats near the end! The Bloodvein is not a busy river!)
This day was one of those when we postponed breakfast until we were a bit down the river and the sun was really up. After paddling through the rapids marked #15 in the Bloodvein chapter of Wilson’s book Wilderness Rivers of Manitoba, we spent 15 minutes on a river right portage at W16. We were getting used to and expecting the orange tape to provide the heads-up – and, true, enough, there it was. Thanks to whoever refreshed the markers earlier this year! Next up was Nutcracker Falls (W18), a ten-minute carry on river left.
Now we were on Bushey Lake and looking for a breezy flat space for our breakfast stop. We found it about half way down on the west side of the lake. This spot would also make a decent multiple-tent “fair weather” campsite but it is quite exposed. Luckily there are lots of other more sheltered sites available if you keep paddling.
Below is a shot of Bushey Lake I fluked on our flight back to Red Lake from Bloodvein village ten days later. It was only later when I looked at the flight path and gps info that I realized that I was looking at Bushey Lake. It is about 2.5 kilometers from one end of the lake to the other.
After our usual breakfast – that would be our oatmeal concoction and large mugs of filtered coffee – we were off again. There was a pictograph site coming up – but first we had to deal with what Wilson nicknames “Bruiseasy” Falls. Doing a fifteen-minute version of our “beast of burden” routine got us to the put-in spot below the rapids.
Around the corner from the rapids on river right was the pictograph site. In terms of the number of images or markings, it would rank third of all the sites we were able to find in our trip down the Bloodvein.
As we paddled away from the put-in we headed for the rock face on river right and followed it down, scanning above the water line for traces of ochre. Here is our first reward- three sets of vertical marks all by their lonesome.
Still recognizable are three sets of vertical lines – a set of four on the top and two sets of three below that. Tally marks of some sort – days fasted, moose killed. Or maybe levels of attainment within the world of the Midewiwin? Who can say for sure?
We paddled on and came to the main site as pictured below.
We had with us selected bits of the writings of Selwyn Dewdney, whose visits to the many pictograph sites in the Canadian Shield in the 1960’s had initiated the systematic recording and analysis of these mostly Anishinaabe cultural expressions. Of this particular site, he wrote in a pamphlet [Stone Age Painting ( click on title to access)] published by Manitoba’s Department of Mines and Natural Resources in 1965 -
Dewdney makes an interesting point about the image he names “the bow and arrow on Face B” (but note – according to his own sketch he meant Face A). The point is that it might be used to date the painting to pre-contact times since it depicts the bow as symbol of power. This assumes, of course, that it actually is a bow. It could be a turtle!
Dewdney refers to the human figure below as “the bird man” and compares it to a similar image from Tramping Lake that you can see on the left. Its colour is not the same as that of the other pictographs, probably because a different formulation of ochre and fish oil was used in its making.
For some reason Dewdney does not comment on the two crude figures at the bottom of Face A. A cross and a thunderbird perhaps?
That was it for the site. We continued on, totally taken in by the beauty of the river and the day itself.
Shortly before entering Stonehouse Lake we passed yet another pictograph site – our eighth since Red Lake. While none of them are as awesome as the one at the east end of Artery Lake with its shaman and bison figures, they all elicit a sense of wonder and an appreciation to be able to paddle by and see them.
Perhaps more time spent with Grace Rajnovitch’s book will help me make some sense of what we were looking at here. The white granite face certainly provides a striking “canvas”. On the left is what seems to be a thunderbird; the H figure with the line across the top could be a version of the “bird man” that Dewdney identified at the site a few kilometres upriver.
Next up was what should have been our ninth pictograph site – it is apparently located at the bottom (ie. the north end) of Stonehouse Lake. We paddled down the right side of the lake all the way to where we thought we’d see some ochre. No luck. We continued another 200 meters but came up empty. Turning south and rounding the point to enter the channel leading to our next portage, we figured lunch was in order. After all, it was 2 o’clock! An hour later we got back to work, and over the next four hours we dealt with four portages that brought us to our campsite at “X-Rock” Rapids.
It had been a long day and the 32 km we had knocked off were more than double the distance we had done the day before – even with the two hours added to deal with the portages. Still, it had been an A+ day of scenic river paddling with a couple of bonus pictograph sites thrown in.
Shortly before seven we came to the island which sits in the middle of the river with a set of Class V rapids on either side and a Class 1 entrance to the portage take out spot. What we found is a site that could host a canoe trippers’ convention! There is room up on the flat top of the island for fifty tents. Of course, we had the entire site to ourselves and made ourselves at home.
As luck would have it, a few days later during our flight from Bloodvein Village on Lake Winnipeg to Red Lake, our de Havilland Beaver flew over the island and I got this shot -
Wilson and Aykroyd attached nicknames to some of the rapids they sketched and described in their guide-book. We did puzzle over the name “X-Rock” for this location but had that “Aha” moment during our post-supper ramble around the perimeter of the island. Down below at the start of the river right set of rapids we saw this -
The campsite capped off a terrific day on the Bloodvein. We counted ourselves fortunate to be there. The next day would present us with another great day which would make us question our grading system. Where do you go after A+?
Coming soon … Next Post: Canoeing The Bloodvein – X-Rock Island to just before Goose Rapids