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