So Last weekend I drove out at the crack of dawn to a beautiful little jewel in the rough the almost no one has heard about… The Gem Lakes. It’s not surprising because they are well hidden and although they are in a provincial park in Canada they are relatively unadvertised. The only reason my husband (Rob) discovered their existence was by googling “best trout fishing in Saskatchewan.”
Rob’s massive passion is fishing and our summer got off to a slow start, but we are getting into it hard. The last 3 weekends we have been camping, fishing and getting into nature true forest people. My husband and I made a quick camping trip to Cypress Hills Interprovincial park, then upped our game huge and went to Wateron National Park where we got a taste of and a hankering to go hike in wilderness camping. We were going to go to Waterton again because we had heard that some of the best fishing is hike in… But we decided that our virgin trip into the wild should be a little easier. He already had the Gem Lakes on his hit list and after a little research we learned they have wilderness camping and the hike into them isn’t crazy!! I am a nature lover and used to do a lot of hiking back when I lived on the Van Island, but since moving to southern Saskatchewan the pickings have been slim and now I’m outta shape. So anytime that Rob is up for a foray into the deep I’m all in. Actually I’m all in on any adventure.
So off we went. We had left home at about 6 AM and it’s a 6-hour drive roughly, we arrived at the Lakes parking at about 2PM. To get to the majestic forest and precious lakes you head North to Prince Albert from Saskatoon. Once you reach Prince Albert it’s another 80ishkm west to Hwy 106 by Smeaton, SK. From there we went north on HWY 106 for 85km and then turned left onto gravel road 916 for 14 km, you will then see the only Gem Lakes sign ever telling you to go north (about 2km) and the road will end and you will turn right into a parking lot. Our walk started at the hottest time of the day. We only hiked about 1.5-2km into camp located at Opal Lake. Wilderness camping is free at the Gem Lakes, though there are regular camping sites in the park if you prefer less rough camping style and just want to day hike the beauty. If you want more on all it is they have to offer check out this site.
The terrain was probably a medium hardness to get through, there were some steep inclines and declines along the trail each way, so it wasn’t like you were climbing a steep mountain for 2km, but it also meant that both ways were a good workout and with 30lbs on my back and being inexperienced the weight was something to get used to.
The trip couldn’t have been more perfect weather wise for me. I am heat lover and the temps were almost too hot for hiking even for me! The trip was meant to be a learning experience to figure out just what we need, what we packed too much of, not enough of or were missing completely. Walking though the forest, the berries just becoming ripe, with all the rain this year everything is super lush and green.
There are little information plaques along the trail giving you history and information about the forest, lakes, vegetation and animals. We were cruising past Little Jade Lake when we discovered we forgot the thermocell in the car. I had already privately realized that I left my regular glasses, but said screw it I probably won’t need them anyways, but the thermocell, uh no, we need that. The mosquitos have been utterly atrocious this year so it’s an absolute necessity.
So I dropped my pack and Rob waited with the dog while I jogged back to the car to grab the thermocell and my glasses. We found our beautiful spot beside Opal Lake and got our campsite all set up. Went for a dip in the cool clear waters. I found that I had leaches on me. This did not go well. And that is a major understatement; I had a complete spazzy, meltdown. I couldn’t handle the leeches, and they would not fucking let go. No matter how many times I smacked my foot they were still there. There has only been one other time in my life where I totally lost it and I was like thirteen and has a freshly opened sack of baby spiders all over me. Rob was not, at all, impressed. And he wouldn’t come help me. L Pretty much couldn’t go back in the water unless ran in and out and didn’t let my feet touch the bottom. It was a sad moment.
Moving on from my embarrassing episode, I got out my camera to take some amazing photos, and then started getting ready for supper. Took some more photos of our site, our camp tools that are pretty neat. And then the dog chased a squirrel up a tree and held him hostage. He was soooo close. It was amazing. I ran got my camera, and preceded to take the most amazing up-close I have ever taken (I think). Go to review my best picture and no CF CARD. Fuck. Fuck, fuck, shit balls. I DID NOT PACK A MEMORY CARD. I carried a heavy camera (probably like an extra 5 lbs.) 2km on my back to find out its COMPLETELY useless. Face palm. Rob of course thought that this was the most hilariously tragic thing.
After supper Rob got out his fishing equipment and bam first half hour caught a beautiful Brown Trout. Awesome. The reason we came was a success. Caught another little guy we could identify and then nothing. He fished for like seven hours and no another thing came after the first two.
Just after supper some new campers who were also staying at the site for the night greeted us. They got all set up. It is always interesting to meet new people and kind of be stuck with each other and learn from each other. They had a much more authentic “camp out” food menu. They had ore dehydrated all the components of their stew and then using their camp stove added water and cooked it. They brought all the mixings to make bread on a stick or bannock. We definitely jumped in on easy street using astronaut food, but I am glad we bumped into those guys and got to see how easy it could be to make a more natural “just add water” food for camping. The other great thing that they taught us was about a plant called Muskeg and its abilities to help you sleep among other healing properties. One of the ladies was just accepted into Natural Medicine in BC, so naturally she knew of this amazing plant and its’ being a known healer in the aboriginal history. Once we got home and read up on it we learned you definitely do not want to abuse it, as there are some serious adverse effects, but the awesomeness is pretty much enough for me to add it to my medicine cabinet. If you want to read more about Muskeg Tea go here.
We proceeded to have the worst sleep EVER. We had bought a smaller, lighter tent foe hiking… and in small town there aren’t a lot of options so we went with a junior tent. Brought it home and put our sleeping bags in it, and then we all piled in (Rob, the dog and I) to make sure we all fit and it would be big enough. We thought perfect. PEFRETLY WRONG. OMG. It was sooo hot and the there was almost no room for our feet. Even I, at my astonishingly high 5’2” felt cramped. And the air, the air was suffocating. I don’t know how I made it without a panic attack, I really don’t. To make matters worse it was fucking scary. There was something) Rob thinks a deer) circling our camp making noises. I was sooooo scared. I would play music on my phone every time I thought it was getting close.
Needless to say we were both a little grumpy the next day and we decided to call it quits on our learning experience by 2PM. We made a whole 24 hours. But we did make a list of things we felt we were missing (a proper 2 man tent, Rob really wanted Mio or something to flavor our water, I wanted a better rope for tying up dog) and that was a bit part of the trip.
We plan to go again a little more prepared, hopefully in September.