We finally made it to Norway House after 18 days on Lake Winnipeg. We decided to give you a day-by-day run down of the latest section of our adventure. Thanks to Ron Hustvedt for updating our blog from Gull Harbor. A lot has happened since then:
Ann and I woke up early to beat the wind. We figured it should have calmed down by now because the wind and waves had been raging for days. We looked out at the harbor in dismay -- the waves were huge and the wind was still howling. We loaded the boat and set off anyway. After about 5 minutes of paddling in the Harbor we turned back around and decided it was careless of us to try to cross back to the East shore in such weather. We pulled the canoe up and walked to the northern-most point on Hecla Island. The waves were crashing in, even larger than the ones in the harbor. Alas, we were stuck for our third day in Gull Harbor. We returned to our boat to find that the waves had increased and water was crashing in through the spray skirt. We quickly took everything out and pulled the canoe on shore. It was around 6 am by this point and we sulked back to sleep. We woke up around 9 and hung around the harbor while we dried our things out. An elderly German couple, Jens and Barbara, were taking their motorboat out to a bay on the South side of Black Island, where we had been days before. We told them our situation and they said they could take us back to the East shore. Huzzah! We loaded their boat and set off in the rough weather. Once we got over to Black Island we ate dinner on their boat and set off once again. They were very loving and hospitable! That night we camped on the Kasakeemeemisekak Islands, North of Black Island. We were ecstatic to paddle after several days of sitting and waiting. We were beginning to learn a thing or two about patience on this big lake.
Paddling today was really beautiful! Once we passed Loon Straights the shore changed from beaches to large granite outcroppings and islands. We stopped at a granite quarry and explored for a bit but set off in a frenzy due to a looming dark cloud.
We spent most of the day crossing Bloodvein Bay. We had a West wind and so we quartered the waves for the crossing. The waves picked up once we passed one of the islands blocking the wind; and we were forced to go into the bay with the flow. These were some of the largest waves we had paddled yet and Ann and I were both tense as we paddled hard to an island for protection. I was in the stern and when I looked back I saw huge crashing waves chasing us from the open water. We finally got to an island and pulled in to escape the conditions. We lounged and made biscuits until things calmed down. It was later in the evening when we departed the island for Princess Harbor, the point after Bloodvein Bay. A storm rolled in when we were almost there and the thick rain temporarily hid the shore from sight. Cold and wet, we finally pulled into the harbor as the sun slid beneath the horizon. There were several buildings dispersed along the shore and we split up to see if it was okay if we camped there for the night. The lady I talked to said we could camp anywhere and by the time Ann talked to a couple on the other side of town they already knew of our arrival. Word sure travels fast in small communities! We set up camp by the dock, put on dry clothes, and went to sleep to the sound of water hitting the dock.
Today we got up to a rough wind and a curious dog sniffing at our tent. We got up and walked to the point to see if the waves were as rough as bad as the winds. They were. Just as we were beginning to feel hopeless about the weather conditions an ATV pulled up with an elderly man named Frank on board. He informed us that breakfast was ready whenever we wanted it and drove off. Awesome. We walked up to Frank and Myrtle's house where we indulged in eggs, bacon, and fresh bread. Our weather worries faded when we realized that we get to spend the day with warm and interesting people. We basically ate the day away with Frank, Myrtle, Cindy (a new resident at Princess Harbor), Myrtle's brother ED and his wife Brenda. We played cribbage, music, and had lively conversation. The younger generation at Princess Harbor was out of town but we explored their beautiful vegetable gardens and new homes. It truly is a magical place. After dinner we noticed that the lake had calmed we knew we had to take advantage of the window of good weather. We left Princess Harbor just before the sunset to attempt another night paddle.
The Night Paddle
The water was glass. The sunset reflected pink and yellow on the surface of the lake, only disturbed by the ripples from our canoe trail. It was gorgeous. It got later and later until we realized that the moon had not come out; we were in the dark. The stars and planets shone just enough for us to see the black wall of the shoreline, which we followed Northwest. Soon the northern lights began to flicker in the sky as we paddled our way up the East shore. At one point Ann turned her headlamp on to see how far away we were from the shoreline and we saw two large green eyes watching us from the trees -- our first moose sighting! It was very eerie and we paddled on in awe. Around 3 am some storm clouds blew in from the West, blocking out the starry sky. It was time to camp. We found a beach and set up camp in the dark after a whimsical night of paddling.
We woke up early to get a head start but the wind was howling from the SW. We went back to sleep to see if things would calm down by the early afternoon. They didn't. The weather sparked anxious questions: Will we ever get off this lake? Will we get wind bound for several days just like Eric and Walt did in the 30s? Are we just not trying hard enough? We decided to try anyway to see if we could brave the waves. We paddled for about an hour until we both voiced our concern. We felt unsafe in the boat as we battled the side wind and so we turned into a bay and waited. And waited. I felt young and impatient so I decided to embrace the weather and the power of the wind over the lake. Like I mentioned before, we learned to be patient on the lake and to work around the weather rather than curse it. We set up camp, ate food, played cribbage (this happened a lot on Lake Winnipeg). That night a storm brought strong winds, rain, and lightning. We woke up because the lightning lit up our whole tent as if someone had flipped on and off a light switch. We stayed up admiring the storm as it blew over us and finally went to sleep so we could get rest before our early morning start.
We awoke to find the wind was even stronger than the day before so we slept in and made a leisurely breakfast. During breakfast Ann let out a yell and I turned around to see a snake slithering our way. We scared it off and then sat back down to laugh at our reaction to the snake encounter. Just then a different snake slithered up and this time Ann threw a stick at it to scare it off. Instead of scaring it off, the stick trapped the snake. It clearly didn't like that because it turned and hissed unhappily in our direction. We set it free and it, too, slithered off. Then we saw the third snake by our canoe. We took it as a sign from Mother Nature to try harder to paddle the waves so we packed up quickly and loaded the boat (we later discovered that there are several snake nests in this area). We looked out at the crashing waves at an on-coming storm and decided it would be foolish to try to paddle today. We set up camp again and waited for the storm to pass. A little later we decided to try. We pushed off and when I hopped into the bow two huge waves crashed into our boat. We pulled out and ate lunch and tried again an hour later. This time we entered slightly broadside and we made it passed the crashing waves! We paddled hard to get around the next point but the bow was dipping below the water and the spray skirt, though comforting, was getting drenched. We pulled into the next beach and gladly set up camp knowing that we were truly wind bound and snake free.
WIND BOUND?! The morning looked worse than the day before. It is truly amazing how the wind can blow consistently for days at a time. Before this part of the trip I didn't take notice to the strength of the wind or even what direction it was blowing from but on the lake those are the factors that can make or break your day. We waited. And played cribbage. I started whittling a recorder from the driftwood and Ann started picking up trash along the shore. While we were immersed in our different projects the wind simmered and we looked up to find that the waves were just low enough for us to take off. HUZZAH! We made it all the way to Patterson Bay, just outside of the Berens. I basically expected to be wind bound every other day with all the luck we'd been having...
We are officially pros at packing up camp. It only took 25 minutes to pack everything up and load the boat this morning. We had a pseudo tailwind and traveled 50k in 12 hours. It felt good to really get out there again!
WIND BOUND. Um Ya Ya for cribbage, reading, and nutella pancakes.
The wind was so strong that the tent was dancing through all hours of the night. We were afraid that the poles were getting bent so we moved the tent behind a bush for shelter. We awoke to find that the storms had blown through, leaving the ever-calming waves behind to flicker in the sun. As we looked out at the beautiful sight we saw an intense flickering in the distance. It was a canoe! Coming this way! We were pumped to see someone so we waved the man down and he paddled toward us. Once he came ashore we realized that he was Bear from Midwest Mountaineering in Minneapolis. He was on a solo trip from the Poplar River to the Berens. It turns out he only camped around the bend, too bad we didn't meet up the day before! We left for Poplar River and camped right outside. We needed to refill on water so we camped and waited until the morning to go into the reserve.
We went into the reserve this morning. I walked around and didn't see anyone. It was an unfamiliar ghost town. I knocked on the door of Richard, the Northern Store Manager and he let me refill water there and generously lent us his water filter (we managed to forget the filter for ours). This was the strangest day of paddling we've ever had. The wind was FINALLY from the SE, which was awesome but it also brought over smoke from the Ontario fires. Visibility was about 5k at best. We were cruising around clusters of islands that appeared out of nowhere, out of the clouds. We thought we were further than we were; In fact, we even believed we were at the mouth of the Nelson at one point. Despite our disillusionment, we sang, laughed, and had a glorious day. At the end of the day, after 14 hours of paddling, we realized that we were still about 30k away from the mouth of the Nelson.
WE DID IT!!!!!!!! We made it to Playgreen Lake today. When we saw the opening to the Nelson tears came to our eyes. Celebrations galore! Raw cookie dough for dessert!
We were warned about the confusing maze of islands that is Playgreen Lake, but we lucked out. We found the Jack River (that goes into Norway House) without any trouble. Too easy! We had a warm welcome at Mike Muswagon's house. We are here just in time for the York Boat Days Festival. Let the fun begin!
We are in a hurry to get to sleep and back out on the river tomorrow morning. We will dedicate a whole block to the York Boat and Norway House adventures when we get off trail, probably in 3 weeks. Thanks for following our blog!
Let the white water adventure begin.
Sorry this blog doesn't have pictures or videos... We have really great images of Lake Winnipeg that we'll post when we get back!