North Knife River to Hudson Bay – Manitoba

Written by: Peter Vaughan, Minneapolis, MN
Trip dates: July 2 to 23, 2016
Crew (6 people): Peter Vaughan, Elliot Vaughan, Angus Vaughan, Carl Vaughan, Bruce Arnevik, and Anders Arnevik.
Trip report submitted: March 26 2017.
Itinerary: 23 days (6 travel days, 17 days on river):

  • July 1, Pack gear & 2 vehicles; (1) Subaru with 4’ X 6’ trailer & (2) a pickup.
  • July 2-3: Drive to Thompson, MB (930 miles; ≅15 hours); overnight in Winnipeg.
  • July 4: Fly Thompson to North Knife Lake Lodge on North Knife Lake. Assemble canoes @ Lodge and paddle for a few hours.
  • July 4 to July 21: Paddle to mouth of river @ Hudson Bay. Delayed at mouth for 1 day due to poor weather.
  • July 21 to 22: Boat to Churchill & overnight train from Churchill to Thompson.
  • July 22-23: Drive to Minneapolis (930 miles; ≅15 hours); overnight in Winnipeg.

Key considerations:

    • Where to fly to:
      • Fly to NK lodge, you can use a wheeled Cessna Caravan with a 2,450 Lb. payload for $2,324 US, but can only use PakCanoes and you must paddle about 30 miles on North Knife Lake from North Knife Lodge to river outlet. Getting wind-bound is possible. This is what we did, so we had to buy one PakCanoe and rented two others.
      • Fly to river outlet, you can fly in Twin Otter and avoid lake/wind and take 1-2 hard canoes, but payload is smaller (1,920 Lbs. with no external canoe and 1,843 Lbs. with 1 external canoe) and it is much more expensive $3,992 USD.
    • River & Rapids: The river is small enough to have an intimate feel to it, and has a current in most of the river; there are no lakes after North Knife Lake. Maps show 118 sets of rapids/falls over 160 river miles), but there are many unmarked rapids. Strong to moderate current on most of river. No portage trails. We scouted a lot of rapids. Average drop of 5 ft./mile, with a range up to 22 ft./mile.
    • Route: 30 miles on North Knife Lake, then 160 miles on the river. There were lots of active spot fires along the eastern shore of the lake, so we were forced to paddle on the west side to avoid heavy smoke. We encountered no fires along the river, but there were extensive burn areas of various ages. Days 5 & 6 were very slow going due to lots of rapids that we scouted and a couple of portages. Other days, especially further down river, there were fewer rapids that required scouting but still a strong current, so we made excellent mileage, as the spacing of camps on the map above indicates. We were advised by several experienced paddlers not to try to paddle into Churchill because of the associated risks. We arranged to be picked up by boat by Jack Batstone and he took us into Churchill. Hudson Bay has a tidal flat over 2 miles wide with large boulders, so you need to have simultaneous (1) high tide, (2) calm weather, and (daylight) for Jack to be able to pick you up and you will have to paddle out to him about 2 miles.
    • Weather: Consistently cool (50s & 60s) and windy/rainy most of our trip. Bad weather at mouth delayed pickup by Jack for about 2 days.

  • Polar bears: Bear tracks present last 30-40 miles of trip and especially on Bay. We saw tracks and one bear on the tidal flat (3 more from Jack’s boat).
  • Fishing: Fishing was spotty on most of the river, with occasionally good fishing for northern pike. At Teepee Falls, we hit a sea-run brook trout (salty) run, and it was unbelievably good fishing, but only at that falls. We tried fishing for Lake Trout at the north end of the lake, but that part is too shallow; we were told by guides at the lodge that the lake trout were already very deep.
  • Bugs: Yes! Mosquitos and black flies, all you can eat!! Take a bug tent!!!
  • Other wildlife: We saw two moose, lots of tundra swans, herds of flightless lesser Canada geese running along the banks, eagles, arctic terns, greater and lesser yellow legs, and lots of other shore birds along Hudson Bay. My bird list was 40 species. We saw a few seals in the river and lots of beluga whales in the Churchill estuary.

Gear:

  • Weight (for flights): Our actual weights were (1) 1,230 Lbs. for 6 people, 238 Lbs. for 3 canoes, (3) 233 Lbs. for 6 personal packs, (4) 330 Lbs. for 3 food barrels, 1 Wanagan and 1 equipment pack, and (5) 73 Lbs. for miscellaneous (paddles, white gas, PFDs, guns, etc.) for a total group weight of 2,104 lbs. You will want to buy a luggage scale to avoid bad surprises at plane loading.
  • Canoes: 3 PakCanoe 170 canoes outfitted with spray covers, lining ropes & rescue bags.
  • Bear deterrent: 1 pepper spray/person, 1 air-horn/boat; 2 12-gauge shotguns with slugs, 2 electric fences.
  • Maps: 1:250,000 (Shethanei Lake (64I) & Churchill (54L)) & 1:50,000 purchased from Andy Jenks. (see Key Contacts).
  • Communications gear:
    • Bought a Delorme inReach Explorer for its SOS function & text messages.
    • Rented satellite phone to communicate with Jack, which did not work well.
  • Solar chargers: We took 2, but of limited utility due to clouds. We also had battery pack chargers which worked great.
  • Bug tent with rain fly: You will really use this every day!

Key contacts:

 

Budget for major items in USD:

Item Cost / person
(for 6)   
Total cost
Flights to North Knife Lodge (includes tip to pilot) $490 $2,935
Road travel (gas, hotel (3 nights), restaurant) >$250 $1,500
Train (Churchill to Thompson) $240 $1,437
Purchase 1 used Pak canoe $200 $1,200
Food $170 $1,025
Boat travel to Churchill $100 $600
Electric fences (2, 1 large 1 small) $95 $570
Delorme inReach Explorer (we bought 1 + contract) $94 $566
PakCanoe rental (2) (We bought 1, cost not included) $88 $525
Bear spray (6) & air horns (3) $75 $450
Satellite phone rental $55 $325
Bear barrels (3), 2 were used, 1 new (new are $150/each) $45 $270
Cooke custom tarp ($225) & used bug tent ($80) $38 $225
Maps (we bought from Andy Jenks) $25 $150
Grand total (includes some items not listed above) $2,035 $12,200

 

 

1 Comment
  1. Reply
    Cliff Jacobson April 26, 2017 at 12:42 pm

    I’ve canoed the North Knife River three times; it is one of my favorite all-time rivers. Why? No lake paddling–it’s all swift moving river. Unless the water is extremely high, there are very few portages, and all are short. Nearly all the rapids are canoeable, without the need for spray covers. Very remote, great fishing, excellent camping. You end at Churchill, MB–a fun place to visit. Then, you take the overnight train back to Thompson. The train chugs along at about 30 mph; you meet trappers and Indians; it’s a wonderful “1940’s” experience. The river isn’t difficult, but it’s no piece-of-cake either. Seasoned campers with competent Class II paddling skills will have a great time. Those who can’t backferry “may die”! Cliff Jacobson

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