Navigating the Mystery Move

Along with the mosquito-filled cabin from hell, another notable point of this summer’s canoe trip was the distinct division into different sections. The first river, the Eastmain, was relatively well traveled and generally had actual (!!!) portage trails. Then we moved onto the Clearwater River, which was distinctly NOT well traveled. And, a forest fire had ripped through the area, so the shorelines were trail-less and covered with dense, ankle grabbing regrowth and burned, downed trees.

There was a pretty wild section of big drop after big drop after big drop. It was really quite beautiful (but I still swore a lot).

One of the more interesting Clearwater put-ins
An example of me being super helpful. You got this honey!
A neat (geological) kettle on a portage

By the last rapid I was ready to throw caution to the wind and run just about anything to avoid another portage. For once Conor was the voice of reason, while I enthusiastically pointed to possible lines through the maelstrom. Eventually I won him over and we successfully ran it.

A drizzly last morning on the Clearwater

Things changed again upon leaving the Clearwater. We briefly reentered the Eastmain, but just long enough to paddle across it and portage 2km over dam (damn!) roads to a big reservoir. And thus began the man made section of the trip.

Portaging past the spillway, visible in the background

We camped at the end of the portage (gravel roads, how beautiful), and the next morning had just enough of a weather window to paddle the 40km stretch across the reservoir. It’s weird because no maps have been created of these new, man made water bodies. The maps still show small lakes and rivers with lots of land in between, but a vast area is now covered by water. We were navigating via a patched together map composed of a satellite image superimposed on the original topo map.

If I stood in certain areas here I had cell phone service, which was bizarre since we were still far from anywhere. Don’t be offended if I didn’t text you, I stayed incognito.

This is also where the Mystery Move comes in. We had to somehow get out of the reservoir and onto the final stretch of our trip. Again, we were going by satellite images, and our best guess was an upstream stretch through a river created entirely through hydro related diversions. The satellite image showed patches of white in some places, which we took to be rapids, but who knows how they vary with fluctuating water levels. There were also two canals identified on the site plan, which were potential crux points.

Heading to the start of the Mystery Move the next morning we quickly learned that a truly massive river had been created – there was no way we would be wading up these rapids! We ended up doing 6 portages in the stretch leading up to the canals, and the paddling portions were a solid upstream paddle against the current!

Things got interesting at the canals. The first one didn’t really contain rapids, but the current was ripping through it, and there were small ledges to power over at the top. Unfortunately our route put us on the less optimal side, but we thought we could do it. We snuck up the shore eddy, and aaaaalllmost made it up the final ledge push, but not quite. It’s that feeling of paddling as hard as you possibly can…staying still..and then slowly slipping backwards. I then had the terrible idea that we should ferry across and power up the other side, which didn’t look as bad at the top. While this was true, the crossing was wider than it looked and the current was strong, and while ferrying across we lost virtually all the ground we had gained (and all our energy). We did make it up that side, but it was exhausting and accepting a portage right away would have been a smarter plan.

There was no way we could make it up the second canal – the current was even stronger. Once again, unfortunately, we were on the wrong side, which we discovered after landing, unloading, and scouting for a portage route. Loaded up again and ferried to the other side, where it was an easy portage.

A bit more upstream paddling and we had successfully completed the Mystery Move! Hurrah! We camped in another gravel pit, ready to start on the final stretch of the trip, the Nemiscau River.

Quebec tells it like it is

Sometimes Cabins are a Terrible Idea

As per usual, Conor and I embarked on a canoe trip earlier this summer. While only half as long as last year’s, it was still lengthy enough at 26 days.

My plan was to refer back to my journal and share the trip in a chronological way, but suffice to say the pictures on my phone are not cooperating (they refuse to leave my phone), making organization annoyingly hard. So, instead, there will be random stories in a random order.

Canoe trips are a funny thing. We’re choosing to go live in a tent for weeks on end, but any opportunities to stay in cabins along the way are delightful. So delightful that sometimes, as in this case, the excitement of a cabin overrides our better judgment.

It was mid afternoon on a beautiful day, but with a headwind. We were plowing into it on this particular lake for well over an hour, the whole time staring at something white on the far shore. Was it a rock? Was it a cabin? No way to know except slowly inching towards it.

As we got closer we saw that yes, it was a cabin! A little white cabin with a red roof! Oh how cute!

Now, if you look carefully you will notice more problems than cuteness. Take, for instance, the door, which wouldn’t shut properly. Or the window on the right – see the towel sticking out of it? In our cabin daze we thought that would stop mosquitoes. HAHA. Yeah right.

But the afternoon was bug free, we had been amping ourselves up throughout the whole crossing, and we opted to stay.

We weren’t the only mammal to have spent time in the cabin. A bigger, furrier animal had left a nice paw print in one of the mattresses.

Everything went well until we headed to bed around 9pm. Once we had wedged ourselves into the teeny bed (rolling over was a team event), we shut our eyes….and BZZZZZZZ. The mosquitoes were coming out, they were coming out fierce, and our bug proofing attempts were clearly a massive failure.

Ok, no big deal. We’ll get up, figure out where they’re coming in, and seal it off with the giant roll of duct tape we found. Easy peasy!

IF ONLY.

We sealed entrances and killed bugs until 11:30pm. TWO AND A HALF HOURS of waging war against mosquitoes. The door was completely sealed with duct tape. So were the windows. We were completely sealed inside. And they were still coming in! It was hopeless.

We gave up. There was only one option left, and it wasn’t a fun one – we put on our bug jackets and crawled back into bed.

Conor faking sleep

I lay there on my back, listening to mosquitoes surrounding me, trying to sleep. The problem with bug jackets (apart from generally being hot and awful) is that if the netting lies against your skin mosquitoes can bite through it. I dozed for perhaps an hour, before waking up to one munching on my cheek. I quickly realized that they had feasted on my lips before I woke up, which were swelling up nicely.

That was the end of my sleep for the night. At 5am I called it quits and got up for good.

Conor looking as dejected as I felt

Man oh man were we happy to leave that place behind, and the tent never felt as good as it did crawling into it the next night!

While paddling the next day we agreed that it ranked as one of our top 3 worst nights ever camping – up there with a night spent in a bbq shelter (a motel forgot we were coming) and a similarly bug-infested shed (that one due to miscommunication, not cabin fever).

Needless to say our cabin standards were significantly higher for the rest of the trip.

Oh, and that door that didn’t shut properly? It fell off completely the following morning, which pretty much summed up the whole experience.

Temagami 2019

As is fairly standard, we extended the May long weekend and turned it into a 10 day canoe trip. As is also fairly standard, we opted to go to Temagami.

As is also also fairly standard, I have been meaning to publish a blog post since getting back, but haven’t, and am now in scramble mode for a longer summer trip.

So, instead of the well polished post I envisioned, here are some pics with a few token words.

We started on the long weekend, so of course we two days of cold rain where we didn’t move anywhere. This meant we did a different loop than originally planned, but you can’t really go wrong in Temagami.

We passed by a well known pictograph site.

Jack the Dog came along. Fortunately for him is cuteness compensates for his terrible eating habits.

Here he is ignoring a biscuit.

And here I am hand feeding him, because I am a sucker.

But gosh darn he’s just so cute!

Our revised route meant less portaging than originally planned, but still enough to keep most folks happy (by which I mean enough to keep me happy, Conor wanted more).

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, spring is the wettest season in this area, which led to some interesting portage trails.

But there were some dry and pleasant trails.

Our new route also meant we got to do the Maple Mountain hike, and Jack got to prove that he is still as capable a mountain climber as he was as a young pupster.

We started in the enchanted forest.

Forged a mighty river.

Scaled some cliffs.

And then, the highlight of Jack the Dog’s trip, found snow at the top!

We also found the old fire tower. The ladder coming to ground level has been removed. This had zero impact on whether or not I would actually climb the thing. Uh uh, no way.

Later in the trip we faced more rain, and perfected the tent+tarp rain protection combo.

We also found tree spirits!

Aaaaaand then we finished the trip. Your imagination may need to fill in some details. Au revoir!

Inukjuak River Part 4 – Wind!

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The final leg of our trip is best defined by WIND. Wind like we have never experienced before. Wind that had us frequently doing food inventories and picking out helicopter landing sites. Not that helicopters could have landed in the wind either.

We had a number of days with wind before it really reached a new level. During this stretch we were blown off the water a few afternoons, sometimes setting up camp right away, other times hanging out seeing if we could paddle again later in the day.

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We also dealt with a heinous rock portage. Giant boulders with the river flowing around them. What you can’t see in this picture is me having a meltdown when I stepped up onto a big boulder and it turned out to be a rocky, unstable one. With a wannigan on my head, paddles in my hands, and a fear of more rocking should I try to step off it the words coming out of my mouth are not suitable for this post (I survived, obviously).

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Our first windbound day was actually quite welcome, as we had been travelling steadily for awhile. We had a sheltered spot, and enjoyed lounging in the tent. Although there was some rain, there were enough breaks for meals and to roam around collecting driftwood and taking pictures of plants.

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The next day was a great travelling day, but the wind started picking up again the following one. We were able to move, but it was already blowing when we hit the water at 7am and was quite strong by 11am. A combo of an early start and the wind had us stopped and all set up by 2:30.

The wind didn’t stop overnight – but it did change direction. The lack of trees meant that it was hard to find a tent site that would be sheltered from all directions. Usually we were tucking into nooks on the protected side of a hill or small cliff. We got up, optimistic that we would be able to travel, but it quickly became clear that that was not an option. What WAS increasingly likely was that our tent was going to get flattened any second. There were no good options, but we did find a semi sheltered spot for it – so more sheltered, but possibly the worst tent site we have ever used in terms of how slanted and uneven it was! Conor decided to build a rock wall for some additional wind protection (and as a means of warming up with some hard labour – this stretch of the trip could also be defined by the cold).

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The following two days we were able to push some pretty big days, which was good, because the two days after that were 0 km days.

After two days of facing impossible winds we were up at 4:45am and on the water at 6:05am. The wind was still blowing, but at least it was possible to make forward progress. Just as it was starting to become impossible in the early afternoon we spotted a cabin! Fought our way over to it and hunkered down for the rest of the day. It was an emergency shelter and pretty spartan, but it served its purpose.

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We did everything in our power to make the most of the following day. Up at 4:30am, on the water at 5:45am, just as it started to get light. We were paddling into a strong headwind from the get-go, and feeling a bit despondent about the constant wind. It’s hard to describe… one thing is that it never really stopped. We’re used to wind that blows for a day or two, but then simmers down for a day or two, or wind that gives windows for travel in the early mornings or evenings. This wind rarely slowed down and never stopped – getting up early helped a bit some days, but there were no good windows. We’re talking wind where we had to portage over points of land on lakes because it was physically impossible to paddle around the points due to the wind.

Anyhow, we were paddling into the wind before 6am. Slightly before 11am we had to turn into a channel where the wind was funneling…so we did…and we dug as hard as we could…but no go. Could not paddle forward into that wind. We blew back around a corner and onto a small beach where we set up camp.

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The next day we were on the water at 5:40am and made it 8km before forward progress became impossible and we washed ashore at our next site.

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Fortunately the wind stayed in roughly the same direction so we were able to maintain adequate shelter from the cliff.

We spent the remainder of that day here (most of the day, since we arrived before 8am), and all of the next day. The following day we were paddling at 5:20am, and feeling pretty defeated by how strong the wind was at that time. Fortunately there were some riverine sections which were much easier than the larger lake sections, allowing us to cover 20km.

The next day was turned out to be a critical day. We knew we had about 4-5 days to finish before a big storm was forecast to blow in (90+ km/h winds for a couple of days – yikes!). This day was too windy to paddle in the morning, but we knew there might be a window in the evening (we were getting forecasts). The window came earlier than anticipated, and we covered 27km, finishing up at 8:45pm. Don’t get the wrong idea though, it was still windy – the wind really picked up in the late afternoon and evening, and the last hour or two was really challenging.

Basically, our best paddling windows on this trip would be windbound times on any other trip!

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A distinct weather front

We were now about 10km and 9 portages from the finish. But…we were windbound the next day! We had to start with a portage so we thought we’d give it a try, but not doable. See, even portaging becomes an issue in strong wind because the canoe acts like a sail on Conor’s shoulders. We had devised a technique where I hold a rope attached to the stern to help keep it straight, but even that wasn’t adequate for the winds this day. Not that we would have been able to paddle either. So we did part of the portage, leaving the canoe at the far end, and set up camp again.

The next day we actually had a good window! Like, a morning that would have been a nice morning on any trip! We enjoyed a lovely paddle, portaged with no issues, and were portaging up to the airport by noon.

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A few days of traveling and we were back home again, sporting our traditional Nassak tuques that we picked up in Kuujjuarapik.

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Inukjuak River Part 3: Inland and Upstream

After heading through the Gullet, we spent one day windbound and then pushed a big day to our first portage bringing us up-river and away from the coast. We landed in the cold, pouring rain, and realized that the water was too high to camp right on the shore. Instead, we had to hump all our gear up a short but STEEP hill, where we crashed out a respectable tent site.

This is where this portage started to go wrong. See, we have these goretex wading pants with attached goretex feet, which are beautiful things for keeping our feet dry in the icy Hudson Bay water. However, the feet on mine are huge so there is all sorts of extra material flapping around. I know (from painful experience) that I can’t walk any distance in these pants and my main tripping shoes without getting terrible blisters.

But we had to carry multiple loads up this hill. And my feet were freezing cold and totally numb. So I did not feel the onset of these blisters until partway through the portage the next day.

The 4km portage that took us 1.5 days.

And involved walking through an ice-water swamp. 3 times, because with 7+ weeks of food we were carrying 3 heavy loads on every portage.

So anyways, I don’t have any pictures from this icy, blistered, multi-day portage. But eventually we finished it, and I spent every evening for the next 2 weeks re-bandaging a loonie-sized blister on my heel. Yay!

A few portages in we had to find a portage heading to a different waterbody, not simply going around a rapid. We had a heckuva finding the landing – alders can be a terrible thing.

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Eventually we got through the alders, through the woods, up the hill, and arrived on quite a scenic ridge.

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The next section of the trip involved a lot of portages, some easier than others. The best ones followed nice open ridges the whole way, like this one:

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But, we also ate lots of good food along the way, which had the dual bonus of being delicious and slowly lightening our packs.

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Quiche baking in the reflector oven.
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Using fire irons to cook on the fire

Some people are skeptical about powered eggs. Some people are wrong!

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Supplemented now and again with some fish.

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We saw quite a bit of wildlife inland as well, including freshwater seals (they really are a thing), otters (my faaaaavourite), bears (we were so over bears), a couple of wolves (neat to see, but one was a little too curious so we encouraged him to leave with a flare), and 1 caribou (cool!).

This bear was an interesting one. We paddled around a corner, and caught a distinct aroma of stinky fish. And then saw this bear having a snooze on the rock offshore! When he saw us, he immediately hopped into the water and swam to the main island. However, he kept his eye on us, walking behind the shoreline bushes and poking his head up now and then. We had our paddles down, casually taking pictures, when he suddenly crashed out through the bushes and started swimming! Towards us! We wasted no time getting our paddles back in the water, but as we sprinted away we realized he was not swimming towards us – rather, I guess upon further assessment he decided that we weren’t a threat after all, and was heading back to his rock where he had abandoned a big fish.

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Although we saw only 1 caribou, we saw lots of caribou sign, mostly discarded antlers, plus a couple of skulls.

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No pictures of the wolves, but we did come across this wolf den on a portage (not in use at that time of year). It was neat to see all the different exit and entrance tunnels.

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There was also the odd bug.

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But, more importantly, there were so, so many beautiful spots to stop for lunch or to pitch a tent.

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Entering relaxation mode at lunch.

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This trip can really be divided into pretty distinct parts. We had the coastal section, this inland section, and then the final section. This section was good going. We had a mixed bag of weather, moved steadily every day for about 3 weeks, getting ourselves into a really good rhythm.

This changed dramatically in the final stretch, when we were faced with winds like we had never seen before – which will be described in the (eventually) upcoming part 4, the final installment!

Inukjuak River Part 2: Hudson Bay cont.

Day 3 at the Mega Wind site we woke to ideal paddling conditions and were on the water very early – it’s mentally hard to be stuck 2 days in a row so early in a trip! We carried on up the sound for a while, before popping out through the boat opening onto the open coast.

There was some cool geography along the way, with interesting layers. And if you want to know more about those layers you had best ask someone else!

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We had a destination in mind for this day, knowing that about 40km away there was a refuge cabin on the coast. It was a nice, calm day and we got there easily. As we discovered daily black bears LOVE the intertidal zone and they seemed to be roaming around on just about every beach, making us especially grateful for each cabin that we found.

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Although we had a cabin to sleep in we figured we should set up our recently flattened tent and assess its condition.

It is supposed to be symmetrical.

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Fortunately the door frame proved to be an excellent tool for re-straightening tent poles, and we were able to get it back pretty close to its original shape.

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Being windbound was a common theme at both the start and end of the trip. We were stuck at this spot for a day and a half. It was mostly nice weather, just too windy too paddle, so we were able to wander around outside a bit. Right outside the cabin we found this tent ring.

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We took shelter in the afternoon when a thunderstorm came rolling in.

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After a day and morning at this cabin we were back on the move. A bit of a swell so not quite ideal conditions, but not too bad. However, the wind did start to pick up again and, as we started to think about getting off the water, we saw another roofline! I believe we had counted about 10 bears at this point, so we were quite pleased to be stopping somewhere with walls and a roof.

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We were still a bit shaken by the tent-flattening-canoe-flying incident, so even though the wind was reasonable and we were quite sheltered we tied the canoe to the building.

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We were NOT stuck here at all, and portaged over the rocks to the water the next morning and were on our way once more.

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I’m finding that I really didn’t capture this stretch of the trip very well. When we were paddling we were paddling hard and/or dealing with adverse conditions, and I didn’t get many pictures. One of the concerns was that the water had been completely covered by sea ice just a week prior, and we could still see a long line of ice looming on the horizon. Fortunately we only saw bergy bits up close, but we were motivated to move quickly in case the wind switched around and blew the ice back in.

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On this day we also had my favourite wildlife sighting of the entire trip, unfortunately not captured in any pictures. But still worth mentioning! We were paddling past the mouth of the Little Whale River, and the conditions were a bit dicey with the current flowing out and hitting the swells. As we bounced along I saw the back of something grey and mottled – I thought it was a seal, but then it blew out of its blowhole! And then a few more popped up, and they were belugas!! We paddled through a pod of 6-10ish (they were spread out, so it was hard to tell, but some came quite close to us). I was a bit confused as to why some were grey and others were white, but conveniently a book we both read later on the trip talked about belugas and explained that younger ones are grey, and they get whiter as they become adults. So there is your beluga fact of the day.

The wind was picking up as we passed the river mouth and we decided we should get off the water and wait it out. The shoreline was friendly with lots of beaches so theoretically we had lots of take-out options….except that there were bears wandering around on every single beach! The wind died again before we found a bear-less beach, so we carried on.

Interestingly, we seemed to hit a wildlife boundary later that afternoon – all of a sudden there weren’t any more bears, but the beaches were covered in musk ox.

The next crux on this stretch was paddling through the Gullet, a narrow neck a few kilometres long connecting the open coast to Richmond Gulf, a triangular-shaped inland bay. The Gullet is tricky because there are major tidal rips as the tide flows in and out. We did our best to time it with slack tide, and all looked good as we entered.

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We were cruising along calmly, but things quickly sped up and we hit a small rapid. We pulled into a large eddy and watched…waiting…expecting the flow to stop as it hit slack. However, we floated there for about an hour and nothing appeared to be changing (except the bear that came and went – back in bear country). We crept along the shoreline, and pulled off again – I held the canoe while Conor scrambled over a hill to take a look at the next stretch. It looked okay so we carried on. The tide was with us, so we were flying. Lots of whirlpools and funny water and we had to be on our toes, but okay.

The funny water lasted a lot longer than we expected, and we found a tiny pocket beach where we thought we could camp. However…as we carried our stuff on shore… a large bear started meandering along the shore, totally ignoring our shouts and whistles. He didn’t seem especially interested in us, it was more like we had happened to land right in his buffet zone and he was going to stay.

So we left.

We were now pushing a 50km day and feeling pretty tired. We cruised back and forth along the shore trying to figure out what spot looked the least “beary,” and also had key features like access to fresh water. We decided on an open grassy area, at the base of a huge rock formation called The Castle.

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We were windbound there the following day (surprise, surprise), and had one bear come to visit – fortunately this one reacted appropriately to our whistle, and scurried back into the woods.

We were able to leave the following morning, but had to start with a crossing to the far shore through some wavy tidal waters.  Needless to say we didn’t linger during this stretch! It was reasonable weather until just after lunch, when the cold deluge started. We kept pushing to the start of our first portage heading inland, arriving there cold and wet. Even in my waterproof pants with attached waterproof socks my feet felt like blocks of wood. The water was too high to camp right on the shore, so we humped the gear up a steep hill and crashed out a tent site on the portage. Dinner and hot drinks helped warm us up, and then we dove into the tent for a good night’s sleep before tackling the 4km portage!

Scuba Diving in Tobermory

We’re taking a quick interlude from canoe trip reporting for a recap of this past weekend diving in Tobermory, a world class diving area in Lake Huron, in Ontario.

I headed down on Friday afternoon, catching the Chi-Cheemaun ferry from Manitoulin Island to Tobermory. It was my first time on that ferry, and it was an unusually (apparently) bouncy ride! While there were no sea sickness issues, my plan to get some work done was quickly replaced by a plan to stare out the window at the horizon.

My friend Katie drove up from Toronto. Our friendship goes back to our Newfoundland high school days. We counted the years…and then felt old.

We car camped at a nearby private campground, and woke up to light rain on Saturday morning. Having spent nearly 8 weeks fully immersed in the elements this summer, I was quick to suggest the nearby coffee shop for breakfast, which was a stellar choice indeed.

After breakfast we headed over to Divers Den to get our gear sorted for our afternoon dive trip. Wandered around a bit more once our gear was prepped, and then back to the shop for 1 pm.

There were quite a few divers out that afternoon – 11 on our boat, plus 2 more boats. It was quite rough, so sites were limited to a few very sheltered ones, meaning that all the boats went to the same places. I assume that with more amenable weather conditions the boats would have spread out more, but it certainly wasn’t an issue.

The first dive was at a wreck called the Charles P. Minch, at a depth of about 35 feet. Curtis, the divemaster on our boat, was very helpful in making sure our gear was set up correctly and in lending a hand as needed.

I didn’t bring my camera on this dive. It was somewhat of a milestone for both Katie and me. My 12 dives thus far had all been either as a student or 1-on-1 with a divemaster, so this was my first quasi-independent dive. Katie had done a few warm, shallow dives with her husband, but this felt like another step for her as well.

So we focused on not dying instead of on pictures.

With some minor snafus (difficulty sinking initially and an errant flipper) the first dive went well, and we were able to calm our nerves as we got comfortable. I was also very pleased to not experience the vertigo-on-ascent that can give me issues when I’m wearing a hood.

We were remarkably cozy during the dive, but the weather was pretty chilly during the surface interval. Fortunately we had the foresight to bring the hideous mustard yellow fleeces we got at a running race a few years ago. Pretty sure everyone else was jealous….except the guy who brought hot chocolate.

The second dive was at a wreck called the Sweepstakes, which was a really nice spot. It was also quite shallow, eliminating any stress – bumping into a kayak above me was a greater hazard than anything happening at depth. So this time I brought my fake go pro along and snapped some pics.

Katie took some time equalizing her ears, so I took some pics
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Got a couple of shots of our divemaster cruising around

And lots of pics of Katie and the boat.

We were mildly ravenous after skipping lunch and hanging out in cold water, so we headed to the local brewery for supper.

Katie was pretty excited for raspberry beer.

On Sunday morning we explored the terrestrial side of things.

Post hike Katie headed back to Toronto, and I wandered around looking at sailboats and getting really jealous of their owners, while waiting for the ferry.

All in all a great-if-quick little vacation, and I’m looking forward to going back for more next summer!