This post is part of a series, click here for the full story.
Coulda been the overnight storm, coulda been just crazy, unpredictable Quetico weather. Whatever the reason, we woke up to some UNfriendly looking water on Monday. What had been still, glassy water and calm skies the day before was a lake of whitecap waves and howling, gusting wind. The rocky point from which we’d enjoyed the sunset the night before was being pounded with water with every crashing wave. It wasn’t raining so we got up and around, and took our time making breakfast in hopes the whole scene would calm down and we’d have good weather for our day of paddling.
Our first morning in camp meant we were still enjoying fresh food. I’d never cooked scrambled eggs or bacon in the woods before, but Jeff took a bite and agreed that, “they taste like eggs”. I’ll take it!
We washed dishes and broke camp, and the weather hadn’t calmed. At all. So after agreeing that life jackets were in order, we packed the canoe, gritted our teeth, and headed into the wind. Our course (map below) had us heading west, right through the middle of Minn Lake. Incidentally, this was straight into the wind. It’s impossible to know for sure, but we guessed the wind was gusting between 20-30mph that day. Right in our faces. And the water was so choppy. The canoe — ultra lightweight, of course — which had been slicing through the calm water the day before was slapping this water, practically hopping the waves. After about thirty minutes — which felt like hours — of adrenaline-fueled paddling against the wind we had a chance to paddle up behind a small island, somewhat out of the wind. And we went ashore for a pep talk.
As we sat on the shore of an island too small and not otherwise suitable for camping, we knew we’d have to keep moving. Eventually. We agreed to wait thirty minutes, knowing deep down it wouldn’t make a difference. The wind showed no signs of slowing. At one point, Jeff asked me, “what do you want to do?” And short of clicking my heels three times, I just wanted to sit on that island and wait. I could’ve waited all day. But I answered, “I want to know if this is crazy.”
While we’ve been backpacking and camping in some of the most beautiful, remote, challenging terrain in the country — we’ve always had a guide, someone responsible for knowing the area, knowing the danger, and having a plan. This trip — no guide. All I wanted was to hear someone say either “yeah, this is rough but totally doable — just be sure you do THIS and avoid THAT — you’ll be fine” or “you’re nuts to be out in that — stay put, fools”.
But that person. That decision maker. That was us. We had to make a call and we decided to go for it.
Back on the water.
As we made our way through the water there were a handful of moments when the wind was blowing so hard we would paddle four or five strokes — and not even move. But we battled to stay straight into the wind, rather than get broadside with the wind and tip the canoe.
Because once you’re out there, it isn’t easy to just stop. You certainly can’t stop in the middle of the water and you can’t just “pull over”. My mouth has never been so dry and my arms have never worked so hard. As I paddled, I kept telling myself — We’re GOING to tip. Don’t panic when it happens – expect it. Decide now what you can grab — have a plan. We were never in life-threatening danger — with the life jackets — but it certainly felt that way. I knew if we capsized we could get to shore and use the satellite phone to call for help, but that was of little comfort as our little boat continued to slap the water and fight the wind.
Eventually, we arrived at our one and only portage of the day — a 14r. We made it a good long break, ate lunch, and even filmed the portage so you can see how it works. A few notes about this video though: 1) I was filming and thus not really helping, but — on the other portages, when I wasn’t filming — I absolutely helped with the unloading/portaging/reloading. 2) This portage was by far the widest, flattest, most well-defined portage we saw the whole week. Most of them were just wide enough for one person to hike and many were either hilly, rocky, or muddy. Or all three. 3) The opening shot of the water (and the sound of the wind) is the calmest we saw nearly all day. This portage was protected by a wall of trees along the bank and the water there was NOTHING compared to the water out on the lakes.
It’s a little tough to see the logo in the photo, but a shout out to Four Season Guides — our favorite guys in the Southwest. We couldn’t get our schedules to work out to do a trip with them this summer, but we missed them! Hi guys!
We saw another family, going the opposite way, during the portage. A dad and three boys. As we watched them portage their heavy, aluminum canoes it ALMOST made us wish we had a heavier boat. Tougher to portage, but a hell of a lot better in this wind.
There aren’t many photos from the day, it was mostly spent trying to stay upright and on track. I had to improvise my map-reading technique when it became clear I would consistently be needing both hands for paddling. I resorted to putting the map on the floor of the boat at my feet where I could glance at it when necessary, but didn’t need to pick it up to read. If we turned, I turned the map so what was marked on the map was what I should be seeing from my seat in the front of the boat.
Somehow, we had the energy to do this for five hours. In the last hour, we were protected enough from the wind (or it had died down – hard to say) that the water was a bit calmer. As we approached our camp for the night at Rebecca Falls, we felt such a sense of accomplishment — and relief. Camp! Glorious camp!
Clouds had blocked the sky all day, but as we set up camp the sun peeked through here and there. We spent the afternoon napping, swatting mosquitoes, and mapping what we hoped would be a MUCH calmer Day 3.Night 2
The clouds didn’t clear out completely so the sunset wasn’t as distinct as the night before, but the entire sky glowed a beautiful pink and orange. We had a perfect view of Rebecca Falls, and I made ham steak and mashed potatoes for supper. The white noise created by the waterfalls made for an otherwise uneventful night.
This post is part of a series, click here for the full story.