Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Waiting on Winnipeg for wind and weather to clear

Transcribed by phone on Wednesday, July 20 at 3 p.m.

It’s Day 49 of our trip and we are waiting out the weather in Gull Harbour on the west side of Lake Winnipeg. This is a big body of water (10th or 11th largest in the world) and there is still a lot of lake to go. We have four maps for Lake Winnipeg and we are on the first quarter of the second map. The north basin is still ahead of us and that’s where it’s the most dangerous because of so much big water.

View from Gull Harbour on Wednesday evening. Gale warnings are still posted on the lake
What’s the weather? It’s very windy right now. There was a thunderstorm watch for all of Lake Winnipeg this morning and we had a big thunderstorm go through that actually struck a tree only 20 feet from our tent was staked out. The lightning split through the tree and sent pieces of wood flying all over. None of the big boats that are normally on the lake are out there today so we aren’t going out either. The forecast calls for more of the same tomorrow but maybe it will be a little better and then maybe we’ll go.

The red dot is Gull Harbour

Here’s how we got this far.

After we left the city of Winnipeg, it took a day paddling down the river to get to Breezy Point at the Netley marsh near the beginning of Lake Winnipeg. The next day it was perfectly calm and the sky blended with the water it was so perfectly calm. We paddled all the way to the Beaconia and there we met a woman named Penny Johnston and her husband Brian. They are outdoors enthusiasts and have a cool house on the lake. They e-mailed us earlier and invited us to stop by when we were in the area. We went to their house and hung out with them and their neighbors. Then we napped in preparation for a night paddle. At 10 p.m. we left and paddled up to Grand Beach on the east side of the lake.

As we took the turn around the peninsula that is Grand Beach, the wind picked up and it became very rocky. We had the bright moonlight to guide us so we avoided the rocks and landed at the beach. Two security officers allowed us to sleep on the beach which we did, hoping to wake up at 3 a.m. and continue paddling.

Wind conditions became calm again so we paddled up to Victoria Beach. The sky was smoky from the wildfires in Ontario and visibility was super low. It took two hours to paddle across Traverse Bay and it was really spooky because we couldn’t see any land.  As we paddled north, we ran into a kayker named Terry Bolland who is a world famous paddler and runs a website called He was in his kayak paddling from Saskatchewan to Montreal when we ran across him.

For our second night on Lake Winnipeg we camped on the eastern side just north of the Little Black River. We got a call from a Menogyn group saying that they were going to be on Lake Winnipeg and so we wanted to connect with them and see them. The plan was to paddle through the night to meet them but we paddled along and waited until sunset. Around midnight, the wind picked up again and the moon wasn’t out so it was completely dark. We went to this beach and as we got closer, we saw hordes of fish flies.  They were swarming above the trees making a black cloud. We pitched the tent anyways and went inside to get away from them. The wind continued to build through the night and we got up to reposition the canoe away from the water.

An hour later, something hit the top of our tent. Natalie woke up right away and yelled, “Get the bear spray.” Sure enough, all our commotion caused it to run off into the woods. We figured it was just checking us out, but it pawed at our tent and we found some scat nearby later on confirming our suspicions. We put fuel cans on our food so that it would make noise if it returned. Just to be safe, we whistled, banged pots and pans and blew an air horn to create enough noise to drive it further away. We went back to sleep only to be woken up a little while later at 5 a.m. by this huge storm that blew up.

The beach that we were camping on was right next to the lake and across the lake it was covered in lightning. We could see a gale force wind and waves coming right at us so we went into the woods to get into lightning position. The wind blew over the tent and so we brought the poles into the woods with us and stayed in lightning position until the storm blew over. Thirty minutes later it was over so we set up the tent again. A few hours later, another storm came in from the north and we witnessed a total shift in conditions. Within 30 seconds, the winds shifted from southwest to northwest and it was the coolest thing to see. That second storm only lasted a few minutes but it stayed windy afterwards and made us windbound so we stomped out a spot in the woods and camped there.

After lunch that day, the conditions improved again and went to flat water. We packed up and got into the canoe. Our location was just south of Observation Point and near the point by Black Island and Hecla Island. As we paddled closer to Black Island point, we picked up a current and a west wind making the water conditions change rapidly. It was choppy in the channel and the wind then shifted straight south bringing four-foot waves with it. The wind and current was pushing it into Hecla Island and we ended up not being able to cross so we pulled up on it and ended up portaging in the harbor rather than going back on the water around the peninsula.

We spent two hours in the area looking for our friends and found out they were wind bound at the Berens River and were flying out. While we were in the area, we chatted with David Square from the Winnipeg Free Press and then went to the restaurant in the area. The people in the restaurant said there were big ships out on the water where we were and that they were spooked by the same waves as we dealt with. The big boats felt like they were close to capsizing and came in.

Today, we went into the restaurant and talked with the owner who is also a sailor on the lake. He said nobody is going out today and said probably not tomorrow either. We’re just going to lay low in town and hope that this wind and weather system gives us a break and allows us to continue. Watch for another blog update to post as soon as we are able to call another one in.

Here's an excerpt of an interview we did with Ron Hustvedt for the Outdoor News and Star Tribune. He has more of this interview and will publish it soon.

1 comment:

  1. AWESOME!! Thanks so much for using your passion, skill, and intelligence for such a worthwhile venture! I'm so inspired!