Saturday, August 9, 2008

36 hour canoe trip (NLL)

So,  this short canoe trip starts actually a day early as my dad finally caves in and decides to buy a new canoe.  This involved him and I going over to Wild Waters.  We looked over several canoes and even got to test drive them in the river.  The carbon-fibre / kevlar Bell model looked promising, but it was more expensive and pretty tippy... so my dad went for the typical DAD CHOICE ... a sleek, fancy model:  a We-no-nah Jensen (17.5', 36lbs).  Very nice model.  Then it was time to strap it to my roof, and the sales guy installed some new loops on my car for the bow line.  Apparently not only should the bow line be loose (it's only meant to be a safety measure, a 'just-in-case') but you shouldn't put a stern line on when you tie it down, it could ruin the canoe.

Anyhoo... the trip starts with a morning call at 5am... yay... super early.  I needed to stop by a Tim's and pick up a great Breakfast sandwich.  Mmmm...

Map image

We head out to Northern Lights Lake.  The plan is to find the portage to Hand lake, then from Hand, do several portages into Koss and do the Weikwabinow river and come back through Northern Lights Lake.  That's the plan.  Eventually we find the Hand road, which cuts the portage in half,  and then I drive the car back to the public launch and walk on back.  We tour around Hand Lake for quite some time.  The portage we're looking for is on the middle finger (how fitting).  But the area all around is so overgrown that it's hard to find.  The area has become a big swamp and the only way to it is like a tiny little channel somebody has cut through... but it ends in a blow down crossing it.  There's no way my dad is taking his new canoe over that.  So we cut to plan B.

Plan B

Map image

Bring all the gear back and boot around Northern Lights Lake...  so we bring all the gear back.. and my dad runs off to get the car to pick the gear and drive it to the public launch.  I hate having to strap the canoe up only to unstrap it 2 km away... so I walk it all the way to the launch.  Which is cool, 'cuz 36lbs is super light compared to my dads old 75lb one.  Although it was lighter, the yoke isn't nearly as comfortable.  Apparently on the road I missed a bear... too bad.  So we start out and head up the NE coast of NLL, and see some of the nice camps along the way.  We find the portage to Trafalgar Bay and it's a virtual highway compared to some of them we've done.  Like 120m and wide as heck.  It was time to have some lunch.  After lunch the wind really picks up from the NORTH, which means that we've got some heavy upwind paddling to do.  The new canoe does well ... I'm not paddling that hard and it's still moving easily.  It's so different being on this 'public' lake, versus the interior of Quetico.. you see alot of motor boats.  Which is ok, seeing as you can't hear them, but just one thing that reminds you you're in a public area.   We did see a few eagles.  A couple of them circling, but we couldn't figure out why -- then we saw a dead fish... or dying (because it was still moving) laying on the top of the water. 

We start debating where we'll camp tonight, and I don't want to go too far...  I say that we look at this little island just slightly off the bend from the portage.  My dad says to go up a few more km until Eagle Nest Island.  So we look around, and see a few places, but we keep pressing on... inching ever closer (into the wind mind you) to the island my dad wants to go to.  There actually was something pretty nice i the middle of a few islands, but I guess we're being picky or my dad is just  not happy only going roughly 15km, so he keeps wanting to explore.  Eventually we find a nice island to the east of Eagle Nest which is pretty high up and a little drafty.  This is nice because it'll keep the bugs off.  Actually the entire time so far we haven't had much problems with bugs, except for that first portage by Hand.  I guess it was all the paddling into the wind.

So when we start setting up camp it's time to learn ho to work my dad's new tent.  He hasn't tried it out previous to the trip, so it could have left us i a very bad spot.  It's a different shape... it's pentagonal (weird, typically they're square or hexagonal domes... not this one).  My dad busily reads the manual and eventually we have a place to sleep that night.  With that accomplished I decide to go get some fishing in... I lose 2 lures in 2 casts, so it's time to switch spots.  Pretty much any spot on the island isn't very good... so I decide to put it away and start some relaxing.  At this point my dad wants to go swimming.  So off one point he decides to go looking for the spot to dive off of, and there's nothing really 'safe' so he decides to do a shallow dive off ... he invites me to try, but it's just a) too cold, and b) nothing looks deep enough for me to swim off.  Not that I'm afraid of injuring myself again...but just want a secure spot that I can get off of and then come back easily on.  Eventually I do, and let me tell you -- it's FREEZING.  Which is why we didn't stay too long in the water.  Now it's time for dinner.

Dinner, for my dad are those HOT PACKS and I've got to admit... they make for light packing.  So we set about heating some up.  We figure, use up the oldest ones first... they can't go bad right?  Well the packs we get said they expired sometime in '05... hrmm.. the food's precooked, and sealed, so it can't be bad.  Well the food wasn't bad, the activating chemical which heats the food is a little slow, it doesn't get BOILING or even steamy, so the food is a bit of luke warm.   Dad gets concerned about the garbage... tsk... let's just make the fire and burn it all.  Everything burns.  I do a few more lines off the island, and then we go in the canoe to do some more fishing and viewing.  By that time the sun's going down and it's time to make a fire.  Dad thinks his small pile will be enough.  And if it's anything I've learned from Les Stroud - it's make a pile you think you'll need, and then multiply it by 4.  Sure enough we need more wood... luckily there's a ton left over from the guys before.  Soon the stars start to come out and the fire roars and it's time for bed.

Sleeping was no hell... that was some uncomfortable  tossing and turning.  Getting too used to the inflatable mattress when I'm not in a bed.  But I do get some sleep obviously and I miss the early morning fish.  By the time I get out they've stopped jumping.  So we have a quick breakfast of some cereal with powdered milk, which isn't half as bad as you'd think.  The we let some of the wet stuff air dry some more and we explore the northern arm of the trafalgar channel.  Nothing that exciting... we see some more Eagles and loons (eat your heart out Kathy Kolstad) and head back to pack everything up.

Everything put away we decide to head on down the bay and take a look for some good camping spots.  We figure that if we camp somewhere about half way it just means that it'll be a super easy day to come back the day after.  We think we saw a great spot on the way up that looked really good... so we head for that.  Meanwhile I drop my big lure in and troll around for some lake trout, it's a really big lake, so it's probably deep too.  Seeing as I hadn't caught anything the previous day, I didn't have ay big dreams for that day.  But eventually I hear the 'whirr' and tug and so I go and reel it in... sure enough the darn fish had taken the spoon.  Ah, well.  As Regan says "that's why they call it FISHING, not CATCHING".  So we continue on.  We find a spot that looks like the one we wanted to stop at, but there's no good place to put the canoe, and it doesn't look quite the same.  So we continue on.

As we keep pushing on we keep getting closer to the portage, and hence the landing... so we decide to go around Paradise Island in an attempt to go further and delay getting closer to the landing.  We find nothing at all attractive... with the canoe we definitely are choosier about where we put in (has to be less rocks).  Eventually dad finds a beach... and we debate about putting camp on the beach... but I'm a fan of going into the tree line a bit and the tent would be wet.  So I convince my dad to keep going.

As we round that point we can  now see the landing, and a big cloud off down wind.  That cloud looks gloomy... and suddenly we hear a loud clap of thunder.  Hrmm... at least it's down wind... or I think when I start getting wet.  The wind changed and there we are in the middle of NLL and it's downpouring.  Ugh... so we figure we can make land, dry out and possibly go to Madeline for the last night.  It pours and stops and pors and stops a few times before we FINALLY make the landing.  It was very wet.  Eventually the sun comes out and we hastily lay everything over the car in hopes it'd dry out (wouldn't want to get the INSIDE of my car wet).  Things are pretty well dry, but not 100% but with another large cloud looming we figure it's long enough and get everything in just in time for another rain.

We're no driving away from NLL... we get near Madeline, but notice it's PACKED... so we collectively decide it's time to just head on home.  Only 36hrs after we left my house, we're back.  All in all, it was still a good time.  Dad got some paddling and exploring in, I got some fishing, mom got some blueberries and Mandy got me home a day earlier.  We'll just have to go out again sometime.

I'll post pictures soon.

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