Bloodvein Headwaters Day 4: Murdock Lake to Larus Lake

Previous Day:  Bloodvein Headwaters Day 3: Knox L.  Portage to Murdock Lake

approaching the Murdock Lake pictograph site

the Murdock Lake pictograph site at the east end of the lake – the campsite is on the point to the left

One last look at the small pictograph site around the corner from our campsite on the point and we were off at 7:15.  The goal for the day was to paddle through Larus and find a campsite a few kilometres further downriver. The highlight promised to be the pictograph site on a narrow stretch of the river as it flows from Murdock to Larus. And while there was a portage this day, we knew that the worst of the hauling was done.

Day 4 - a

Bloodvein Canoe Trip Day 4 -b

Images expand with a click or two;  blue text leads to more info with a click.


  • distance: 20 kilometers over five hours                       Bloodvein W04 to 06 P850
  • weather: overcast; mid-morning thunderstorm;
  • then sunny with a worsening west-north-west wind
  • rapids/portages:  three sets of rapids W04, W05, and W06.  One portage of 850 m dealt with all three rapids. (A reminder: the W refers to Wilson and the numbers are based on his rapids/falls numbering system for easy cross-reference.)
  • campsites: a good one at the end of the spit on the east end of Larus Lake
  • Natural Resources Canada topo maps:  052 M 02 (Murdock Lake) and 052 M 07 (Sabourin Lake)


This day was one of those when we just broke camp and did some paddling before having breakfast.  We covered a bit over ten kilometres to the north end of Murdock Lake,  looking for a nice spot to pull over. The flat rock and potential campsite on the shores of a small island we were approaching were just what we needed as we heard the sound of thunder in the distance. We soon had the tarp up and the food bag out. We used the butane stove to boil a liter of water, enough for the usual oatmeal and the mugs of filtered coffee. In the hour that we were there, the storm blew over and when we left it was sunny and a bit windier than it had been.

breakfast stop with lightning and thunder as a back drop

breakfast stop with lightning and thunder as a backdrop

The beautiful light that bathed the lake after the mini-storm gave me every reason to haul out the DSLR and frame a few shots of the scene.

looking south on Larus after the storm passed

looking south on Larus after the storm passed –

taking advantage of the light on Lake Murdock after the storm

taking advantage of the light on Lake Murdock after the storm

We then paddled along a stark shoreline lined with blackened tree trunks which had seen a major fire three years ago. What we saw was the result of 2011’s massive Red Lake Fire #124 in the Murdock/Larus area illustrated by the map below.

Murdock Lake - evidence of fire...and new growth

Murdock Lake – evidence of fire…and new growth

Bloodvein Headwaters Fire History Map

Bloodvein Headwaters Fire History Map with 2011 Fire in red

Already the new growth blankets the area and you can see that a new cycle has begun.

Fire 124 impact on the west shore of Murdock Lake

Red Lake 124 impact on the west shore of Murdock Lake


2022 Update: That 2011 Fire was followed by yet more severe ones, with 2021 being the worst one of all.  Here is a fire map showing forest loss up to 2021. On it, the 2011 Fire is indicated in orange and the 2021 Fire in red.

Fire Map 2010 to 2021 – from pale yellow to orange (the 2011 fire) to deep red (2021)

Visit the Global Forest Change website to zoom in or out of the above view.

For more background on the 2021 WCPP Fire see this section of my Bloodvein planning post –  A Decade of Wildfires in WCPP.


At the north end of the lake, we headed west.  Ten minutes later we were face to face with the most dramatic and extensive pictograph site we had ever seen.[It would only be topped by the one on Artery Lake and the Mazinaw Rock site.]

Here are a couple of the pix we took during the time we spent scanning the vertical granite rock face for any ochre-coloured images put on the rock by Anishinaabe medicine men and still discernible after 150 or more years of exposure to the elements.

Bloodvein Pictographs (Murdock-Larus site)

Bloodvein Pictographs (Murdock-Larus site)

human figure holding small human(?) in oustretched right arm

human figure holding small human(?) in outstretched right arm – most likely interpretation is that of a shaman holding an otter skin medicine bag

I’ve put together about twenty images in the sequence you would see the various pictographs if you were paddling down the river.  Also included is some related material (text and drawings) by Selwyn Dewdney.

 Anishinaabe Pictographs On The Bloodvein: the Murdock – Larus Site 

W04 take-out on the Bloodvein River

W04 take-out on the Bloodvein River

one empty canoe waiting to be portaged!

the start of the day's one portage

the start of the day’s one portage

After our time with the pictographs, we continued on. The pics above show the take-out of the one portage of the day, an 850-meter carry which would take us around three sets of rapids. The photo also shows me standing next to our empty 42-lb. Swift Dumoine. I left it there while I did my first carry – one of the Hooligan packs, a duffel and the paddles – halfway across the portage.

Max carrying his 90 lb load to the other end

Our Dumoine on the loose!

Our Dumoine on the loose!

Unfortunately, deadfall across the trail meant some trail maintenance. It was a while before I got back to the canoe.  The Garmin in my pocket graphically captured the WTF moment when I returned to get the canoe! It had floated up river about thirty meters, and I waded out to fetch it, feeling pretty stupid – and very lucky – at the same time.


a cross-river view from the portage trail

a cross-river view from the portage trail

The portage done by one, we had a leisurely lunch at the put-in point below the Class IV rapids nicknamed “The Cauldron” in Wilson’s book.

W07 - lunch at the end of the portage - notice the burn

lunch at the end of the 850-meter portage – evidence of  Red Lake Fire #124 all around

the bottom of

the bottom of “The Cauldron”

The 1:50000 topo has a water level of 339 meters for Murdock Lake; at the bottom of W06  and the start of Larus Lake it is 331 meters. An eight-meter (26 feet) drop in less than a kilometre of river will definitely remind you that you’re paddling a river and not just a series of interconnected lakes, which I’ll admit is my overriding impression of canoeing in Woodland Caribou Park.

the wind and waves of Larus

the wind and waves of Larus

While we indulged in a noontime cup of filtered coffee, the west wind had continued to pick up.  Noticeable on Larus were whitecaps as the waves came rolling to the east shore.  Lunch done, we set off – as the day’s maps show, we really didn’t get very far before deciding that doing a four-kilometer crossing of  Larus to the west end could wait until the next day.  We ended up at a campsite – in a sheltered bay on the tip of the spit just a kilometer from our lunch spot –  that Wilson had recommended if the wind on Larus was of concern.

Larus Lake CS on the spit – see Paddle Planner for map source

Tent up and canoe put into use as a windscreen, we rambled around the spit. A bit of bushwhacking and we were on the east side of the spit with a view of where we had lunch a couple of hours ago. Looking back was also the last reminder of Fire 124’s impact on the area we had just paddled through. As the fire map above makes clear, while we would be seeing some more evidence of fire, Day 4 presented us with the worst of it.

The Cauldron as viewed from the Larus Lake spit to the west

The Cauldron as viewed from the Larus Lake spit to the west

checking out Larus Lake as the sun sets

checking out Larus Lake as the sun sets

Our evening on the spit on the east end of Larus Lake ended with our first bear sighting of the trip.  It was a bit after dusk when we heard a racket in the mess of deadfall down the spit a bit. I popped out of the tent to see a bear cub – but no mama – about twenty-five meters away.  A few shouts and hand claps and it was gone – hopefully scared after her first human encounter; to reinforce it, I fired off a Bear banger.  We’ll admit to sleeping with ears wide awake that night – but also on our minds was the west wind.  We hoped to get across Larus the next day nice and early.

looking west on Larus Lake at sunset

looking west on Larus Lake at sunset

Next Day: Day 5: Larus Lake to Barclay Lake

This entry was posted in Pictographs of the Canadian Shield, wilderness canoe tripping and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Bloodvein Headwaters Day 4: Murdock Lake to Larus Lake

  1. biff says:

    Awesome scenery and an awesomely long journey too. I am thoroughly enjoying all your pix and the comments. It’s doing nothing to belp me settle down though…… 😉 Biff Date: Sun, 24 Aug 2014 16:19:44 +0000 To:

    • true_north says:

      Biff, nice to hear you’re enjoying the posts. And if they’re are stirring in you that feeling that you need to get out there too – that’s even better! A life without plans of an upcoming canoe trip is not a life worth……………… well, maybe a bit overly dramatic, but you get the point!

  2. Hi, Thanks for your thorough site. Did you find the Cauldron too rough to paddle?

    • true_north says:

      Darryl, the Cauldron was part of the three-rapids-in-one portage (W04-W05-W06) that we did that day. Of the three it was by far the snarliest.

      Given that we travel alone in a Kevlar carbon boat, we tend to be conservative in our choice of rapids to run. W06 didn’t qualify! Wilson writes that The Cauldron is not runnable and gives it a CIV – a couple of notches above anything we would try.

      You may, however, be able to halve the 725 meters of portaging we did by running W04, which Wilson rates a CII.

      Take a good look before you slip into the stream.

      BTW I checked out your website for more info on that “rowing to Cuba” reference! I figured you might have had a Pierre Trudeau moment and started paddling for Havana from Key West, in which case any advice on The Cauldron would seem superfluous!

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