Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hudson Bay Found


After paddling 200 km in two days, we arrived at York Factory at around 4pm on August 25th. There was a young polar bear frequenting the estate, so we slept inside after branding our paddles and eating sausages. Yesterday we flew out in the afternoon with Teagan and Jason the York Factory caretakers. Good thing we got there when we did because after September 4th everyone will leave for the winter. Now, we are in Gillam, Manitoba waiting for the train which will take us to Winnipeg where we will be picked up by our friends, Megan McClanahan and Austin Danicic.

The end of the Hayes was a magical experience, and we will make sure to give you all the play by play with lots of pictures and video when we get back to the states. Thanks for all of your support!! We are so happy that we accomplished our goal and can't wait to tell everyone all about our adventures!!!!!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Day 76: Calling from Oxford House, Manitoba

Meet the newest member of our crew--Myhan the puppy!

We are calling in from Oxford House at the home of Chief Irvine St. Clair and from our best estimates, there are about eight to 12 days left in our journey. It’s Ann’s trail birthday tomorrow and Natalie’s was on the 11th. We celebrated and made brownies for no reason other than to celebrate our trail birthday.

At the end of this blog entry, we’ll give details on what’s still to come for us. We are estimating about two weeks or less left of the trip but it’s the most dangerous. Thanks for the donations that have been coming in and we hope to get more. We also would like to invite all of you to our after parties in Grand Marais and then in Minneapolis where we’ll auction off our canoe. If you are in Grand Marais this Friday we’ll be calling in on our satellite phone to the Road House on WTIP. That will be at 5:25 p.m. central standard time.

So the last time we posted was at the York Boat Days in Norway House, which was a lot of fun. We hung out there for a bit and before we left, we managed to get a dog.  Mike Muswagon is a Councillor with the Norway House Cree Nation and was our host during our time in Norway House. We were talking one night and they told us that we should have a dog for protection once we got into polar bear country. There are a lot of stray dogs around Norway House so his daughter Crystal took us out driving that night with the windows down in search of a dog. We found one licking up old ketchup packets so we ran over, picked it up and put it in the truck. We named it Myhan, similar to the Cree word for wolf. She’s part German Shepherd we think and a few other things. We made a little leash out of rope for her and she’s still a puppy so she just loves us.

After our dog catching adventure, we waited out a rainy morning and left Norway House. That first night as we were setting up camp we realized we left our lunch bag back in Norway House. It has cheese, salami and tortillas in it but it would be over 10 hours to go back and get it so we decided to live without it. That means we are eating lots of granola now.

We camped on the Nelson River that night and it was very relaxing. This stretch of our trip is like our spring break. It’s after the tough paddling on Lake Winnipeg and before polar bear country where the river also flows very fast. In the past week, we’ve taken two layover days and have spent some time enjoying the end of our trip. We have fishing poles that we obtained in Norway House and we’ve caught some nice fish.

We paddled the Nelson into the Echimamish River which is really cool. The name means a river that flows two ways and it’s very appropriately named. We started out paddling upstream where it meets the Nelson. Oh, this is a really cool place because where the Nelson and Echimamish meet the water has a neat transition zone. The Nelson is a muddier river that flows brown while the Echimamish is very clear and it runs almost black because of the dark rocks underneath.

After going upstream on the Echimamish we dragged our canoe over a big epic beaver dam that was two or three feet up. We’re getting good at avoiding portages and this was no exception. We stayed on the Echimamish for two days.

Our next area of interest was the Painted Stone Portage which is where a lot of native people hang out. Apparently, white settlers blew it up to keep the natives out of there long ago but it didn’t work. This is a place where the river dives 27 meters over this rock and the river just stops and flows downstream. On the downstream side the river is very narrow. It’s so cool in some parts because the river is about the same width as the canoe.

From there we paddled into the Hayes River which is quite a bit larger and really beautiful. The Hayes River baptized us back into the world of whitewater and that first set on the Hayes was the largest set we’ve run ever. This was at the Oskatukaw Rapids and it’s a Class II run. We looked at it and talked about doing this and that through the run but when we got started we set the angle a little off and ended up getting sucked into a recycler current. We shot right out of that and got a little broadside before we got out of it. After going over that rapid set we figure we can go over anything without thinking about it. Thanks to all that and the adrenaline rush, all the other rapids since then we maneuvered really good.

So after that, the river narrowed and huge granite canyons surrounded us. It is so beautiful as you twist and turn through small rapid sets. When Natalie called her dad earlier today, she told him that if Disney were to make a fantastic river ride they would model it after the Hayes.

Our next landmark was known as Hell’s Gate and we went through a few rapids but it wasn’t as big of a thing as it was supposed to be. It’s very beautiful and it’s a continuation of the granite canyon. The gorge runs narrow and fast and the area around it is covered with soft mosses and trees. In another part of it there were big rocks and blueberries. We saw two moose around here and some small waterfalls trickling down—it was a very magical place.

We paddled a little further past Hell’s Gate and it was nine or 10 when we got to Opiminegoka Lake. The moonrise was high that night and the sunset was beautiful as we found a cabin on the end of the lake that used to be an outpost site. We checked it out and stayed in it for the night. Most cabins up there are so remote that they are kept unlocked because otherwise they’d get broken into. Staying in the cabin was nice because we had a table to play cribbage on, we could cook standing up and there was some shore lunch left there so we caught some fish and enjoyed that. It was so nice we decided to have a layover day to continue our spring break. We set up the hammock, fished, played cribbage, played with the dog, tried to train her a little and just relax.

Our dog is so great, by the way. During the day she sleeps under the stern seat or on the packs. Sometimes she crawls back and forth on the packs but she’s really chill. At night she sleeps in the vestibule of the tent or goes out and hunts. One morning she brought back the hand of a beaver or something that she’d found scavenging around.

We left Opiminegoka the next morning and headed into Oxford Lake. There were more rapids in the middle but they were easy compared to that first set. When we got to Oxford Lake we camped. The sun was going down and we found the perfect campground with five-star parking for our canoe. The little bay worked with the wind just right to hold our canoe in place while the waves blew around everything else around us. The island featured soft, spongy mosses between big trees and it was pretty comfortable. 

Then, yesterday, we paddled Oxford Lake and became a little turned around. We lost our compass near Lake Winnipeg but it’s usually fine. We went into a bay on the southeast side of Oxford Lake instead of the bay on the northeast side of the lake. It took us 15 kilometers out of our way but found a cool island with a beach with colorful pebbles and sand. We ate lots of gorp that day. Eventually, we made it to Oxford House last night where we met up with Chief Irvine St. Clair who we met at York Boat days. We called him and he picked us up. Chief Irvine St. Clair is a great guy and we’re staying with his family tonight.

He took us to meet his council tonight and hang out with them. We went to the conservation house and they showed us cool maps and pictures. They also gave us mugs with the Hayes River engraved on it and surveyed us about our use of the river. The scenery around here is very beautiful and very different from the area around Lake Winnipeg.

Something we noticed about Oxford House is that as we approached the town, there were a lot of people on the river. They were practicing York Boat racing, fishing and there were people along the river bank barbecuing and hanging out. It was a stark contrast to the total lack of people along the rivers of Minnesota and North Dakota. It was nice to see that the people up here in Manitoba are still spending time alongside these historic trade routes.

What’s next?
We will be leaving tomorrow morning and our spring break is over. Now we are entering some really difficult rapids, about 26 left to go, and we are also getting into polar bear country. We talked to somebody who was at Churchill the other day and there were 57 polar bear sightings in one day alone. We are really excited but also really nervous.

We’ve practiced shooting the gun and using the flares. We also have the dog. Everything we’ve read said that once you make this stretch of river, it’s normally so foggy you wouldn’t know if a polar bear was near anyways.

From here, we go into Knee Lake which can be difficult during windy conditions. The lake is 65 kilometers long and will take us three days to get across. From there, we go all the way to the White Blood Falls and then after that it’s a straight shot to York Factory. That stretch of river is really moving and can get you going 10 miles an hour in some stretches.

Another concern we have is that we won’t know what the tide will be like once we get near Hudson Bay so we could still get wind bound near our endpoint. It’s going to be interesting for sure.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Windy Daze on Lake Winnipeg

Hey everyone!

We finally made it to Norway House after 18 days on Lake Winnipeg. We decided to give you a day-by-day run down of the latest section of our adventure. Thanks to Ron Hustvedt for updating our blog from Gull Harbor. A lot has happened since then:

July 22
Ann and I woke up early to beat the wind. We figured it should have calmed down by now because the wind and waves had been raging for days. We looked out at the harbor in dismay -- the waves were huge and the wind was still howling. We loaded the boat and set off anyway. After about 5 minutes of paddling in the Harbor we turned back around and decided it was careless of us to try to cross back to the East shore in such weather. We pulled the canoe up and walked to the northern-most point on Hecla Island. The waves were crashing in, even larger than the ones in the harbor. Alas, we were stuck for our third day in Gull Harbor. We returned to our boat to find that the waves had increased and water was crashing in through the spray skirt. We quickly took everything out and pulled the canoe on shore. It was around 6 am by this point and we sulked back to sleep. We woke up around 9 and hung around the harbor while we dried our things out. An elderly German couple, Jens and Barbara, were taking their motorboat out to a bay on the South side of Black Island, where we had been days before. We told them our situation and they said they could take us back to the East shore. Huzzah! We loaded their boat and set off in the rough weather. Once we got over to Black Island we ate dinner on their boat and set off once again. They were very loving and hospitable! That night we camped on the Kasakeemeemisekak Islands, North of Black Island. We were ecstatic to paddle after several days of sitting and waiting. We were beginning to learn a thing or two about patience on this big lake.

July 23
Paddling today was really beautiful! Once we passed Loon Straights the shore changed from beaches to large granite outcroppings and islands. We stopped at a granite quarry and explored for a bit but set off in a frenzy due to a looming dark cloud.

July 24
We spent most of the day crossing Bloodvein Bay. We had a West wind and so we quartered the waves for the crossing. The waves picked up once we passed one of the islands blocking the wind; and we were forced to go into the bay with the flow. These were some of the largest waves we had paddled yet and Ann and I were both tense as we paddled hard to an island for protection. I was in the stern and when I looked back I saw huge crashing waves chasing us from the open water. We finally got to an island and pulled in to escape the conditions. We lounged and made biscuits until things calmed down. It was later in the evening when we departed the island for Princess Harbor, the point after Bloodvein Bay. A storm rolled in when we were almost there and the thick rain temporarily hid the shore from sight. Cold and wet, we finally pulled into the harbor as the sun slid beneath the horizon. There were several buildings dispersed along the shore and we split up to see if it was okay if we camped there for the night. The lady I talked to said we could camp anywhere and by the time Ann talked to a couple on the other side of town they already knew of our arrival. Word sure travels fast in small communities! We set up camp by the dock, put on dry clothes, and went to sleep to the sound of water hitting the dock.

July 25
Today we got up to a rough wind and a curious dog sniffing at our tent. We got up and walked to the point to see if the waves were as rough as bad as the winds. They were. Just as we were beginning to feel hopeless about the weather conditions an ATV pulled up with an elderly man named Frank on board. He informed us that breakfast was ready whenever we wanted it and drove off. Awesome. We walked up to Frank and Myrtle's house where we indulged in eggs, bacon, and fresh bread. Our weather worries faded when we realized that we get to spend the day with warm and interesting people. We basically ate the day away with Frank, Myrtle, Cindy (a new resident at Princess Harbor), Myrtle's brother ED and his wife Brenda. We played cribbage, music, and had lively conversation. The younger generation at Princess Harbor was out of town but we explored their beautiful vegetable gardens and new homes. It truly is a magical place. After dinner we noticed that the lake had calmed we knew we had to take advantage of the window of good weather. We left Princess Harbor just before the sunset to attempt another night paddle.

The Night Paddle
The water was glass. The sunset reflected pink and yellow on the surface of the lake, only disturbed by the ripples from our canoe trail. It was gorgeous. It got later and later until we realized that the moon had not come out; we were in the dark. The stars and planets shone just enough for us to see the black wall of the shoreline, which we followed Northwest. Soon the northern lights began to flicker in the sky as we paddled our way up the East shore. At one point Ann turned her headlamp on to see how far away we were from the shoreline and we saw two large green eyes watching us from the trees -- our first moose sighting! It was very eerie and we paddled on in awe. Around 3 am some storm clouds blew in from the West, blocking out the starry sky. It was time to camp. We found a beach and set up camp in the dark after a whimsical night of paddling.

July 26
We woke up early to get a head start but the wind was howling from the SW. We went back to sleep to see if things would calm down by the early afternoon. They didn't. The weather sparked anxious questions: Will we ever get off this lake? Will we get wind bound for several days just like Eric and Walt did in the 30s? Are we just not trying hard enough? We decided to try anyway to see if we could brave the waves. We paddled for about an hour until we both voiced our concern. We felt unsafe in the boat as we battled the side wind and so we turned into a bay and waited. And waited. I felt young and impatient so I decided to embrace the weather and the power of the wind over the lake. Like I mentioned before, we learned to be patient on the lake and to work around the weather rather than curse it. We set up camp, ate food, played cribbage (this happened a lot on Lake Winnipeg). That night a storm brought strong winds, rain, and lightning. We woke up because the lightning lit up our whole tent as if someone had flipped on and off a light switch. We stayed up admiring the storm as it blew over us and finally went to sleep so we could get rest before our early morning start.

July 27
We awoke to find the wind was even stronger than the day before so we slept in and made a leisurely breakfast. During breakfast Ann let out a yell and I turned around to see a snake slithering our way. We scared it off and then sat back down to laugh at our reaction to the snake encounter. Just then a different snake slithered up and this time Ann threw a stick at it to scare it off. Instead of scaring it off, the stick trapped the snake. It clearly didn't like that because it turned and hissed unhappily in our direction. We set it free and it, too, slithered off. Then we saw the third snake by our canoe. We took it as a sign from Mother Nature to try harder to paddle the waves so we packed up quickly and loaded the boat (we later discovered that there are several snake nests in this area). We looked out at the crashing waves at an on-coming storm and decided it would be foolish to try to paddle today. We set up camp again and waited for the storm to pass. A little later we decided to try. We pushed off and when I hopped into the bow two huge waves crashed into our boat. We pulled out and ate lunch and tried again an hour later. This time we entered slightly broadside and we made it passed the crashing waves! We paddled hard to get around the next point but the bow was dipping below the water and the spray skirt, though comforting, was getting drenched. We pulled into the next beach and gladly set up camp knowing that we were truly wind bound and snake free.

July 28
WIND BOUND?! The morning looked worse than the day before. It is truly amazing how the wind can blow consistently for days at a time. Before this part of the trip I didn't take notice to the strength of the wind or even what direction it was blowing from but on the lake those are the factors that can make or break your day. We waited. And played cribbage. I started whittling a recorder from the driftwood and Ann started picking up trash along the shore. While we were immersed in our different projects the wind simmered and we looked up to find that the waves were just low enough for us to take off. HUZZAH! We made it all the way to Patterson Bay, just outside of the Berens. I basically expected to be wind bound every other day with all the luck we'd been having...

July 29
We are officially pros at packing up camp. It only took 25 minutes to pack everything up and load the boat this morning. We had a pseudo tailwind and traveled 50k in 12 hours. It felt good to really get out there again!

July 30th
WIND BOUND. Um Ya Ya for cribbage, reading, and nutella pancakes.

July 31st
The wind was so strong that the tent was dancing through all hours of the night. We were afraid that the poles were getting bent so we moved the tent behind a bush for shelter. We awoke to find that the storms had blown through, leaving the ever-calming waves behind to flicker in the sun. As we looked out at the beautiful sight we saw an intense flickering in the distance. It was a canoe! Coming this way! We were pumped to see someone so we waved the man down and he paddled toward us. Once he came ashore we realized that he was Bear from Midwest Mountaineering in Minneapolis. He was on a solo trip from the Poplar River to the Berens. It turns out he only camped around the bend, too bad we didn't meet up the day before! We left for Poplar River and camped right outside. We needed to refill on water so we camped and waited until the morning to go into the reserve.

August 1
We went into the reserve this morning. I walked around and didn't see anyone. It was an unfamiliar ghost town. I knocked on the door of Richard, the Northern Store Manager and he let me refill water there and generously lent us his water filter (we managed to forget the filter for ours). This was the strangest day of paddling we've ever had. The wind was FINALLY from the SE, which was awesome but it also brought over smoke from the Ontario fires. Visibility was about 5k at best. We were cruising around clusters of islands that appeared out of nowhere, out of the clouds. We thought we were further than we were; In fact, we even believed we were at the mouth of the Nelson at one point. Despite our disillusionment, we sang, laughed, and had a glorious day. At the end of the day, after 14 hours of paddling, we realized that we were still about 30k away from the mouth of the Nelson.

August 2

August 3
WE DID IT!!!!!!!! We made it to Playgreen Lake today. When we saw the opening to the Nelson tears came to our eyes. Celebrations galore! Raw cookie dough for dessert!

August 4
We were warned about the confusing maze of islands that is Playgreen Lake, but we lucked out. We found the Jack River (that goes into Norway House) without any trouble. Too easy! We had a warm welcome at Mike Muswagon's house. We are here just in time for the York Boat Days Festival. Let the fun begin!

We are in a hurry to get to sleep and back out on the river tomorrow morning. We will dedicate a whole block to the York Boat and Norway House adventures when we get off trail, probably in 3 weeks. Thanks for following our blog!

Let the white water adventure begin.

Sorry this blog doesn't have pictures or videos... We have really great images of Lake Winnipeg that we'll post when we get back!