Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Canoeing and Painting in the Wild - Day One, August 15

On August 15, 2013 I embarked on a CanoeSki adventure... a canoeing and painting trip that would take me farther north in this province than I had ever been. I was definitely nervous, I had never canoed before; well, I did once many years ago when I was at a conference in Muskoka where I had to participate in a team-building exercise involving a race through an obstacle course. My part of the race was to canoe with a partner, a guy I didn't know, out onto the lake, around a buoy and back to shore. We did not do well. Mostly because of me. At some point while we spun in circles we discovered that we had more success paddling backwards, so that is how we finished our leg of the race! We had a weak start, but we finished strong... albeit backwards. But I digress.

I was quite certain that whomever I got as a canoe buddy on this trip would not likely want to paddle the whole thing in reverse, so I hoped my co-ordination was better after about fifteen years of general life experience under my belt. Thankfully it was.

After a five hour drive and a delightful picnic lunch at a nearby campground, we made our way to Lynx Lake in the La Ronge area. This was the site of our launch and departure. We saddled up the canoes and took flight, or something like that. My canoe buddy, Erica, was a friend from Saskatoon who had much more experience than I had in the paddling department and I had more experience than her in the painting department, so we decided to tutor each other when needed. She took on the role of steering the canoe while I provided all of the brute strength up front. :)

Our journey to base camp was approximately seven kilometres with two portages. As we approached the first portage at the end of Lynx Lake I turned to take a photo of Erica only to discover a really dramatic sky behind her. It seemed far away at the time.

With one portage complete we paddled across Duck Lake and continued to see more beautiful scenery. The landscape was so much more rocky than I was used to; Erica and I kept raving, "Oooooh, it's sooooo pretty!"

As we were waiting for our turn to approach the second portage, the dramatic sky was nearing... at a somewhat alarming rate. Right around the time I took the below photo we saw a rapid firing of forked lightening in the sky behind me. Time to get off the water!

 The rain began when we had half of our gear across the second portage. It started off slowly,

with soft, gentle drops, but by the time all of the bags and canoes were across the portage things started to get quite interesting. The lightening arrived in full force and was hitting trees around us... and I mean all around us... we could see smoke and ash rising after a strike and the thunder was incredibly loud! Our assistant guide advised us to spread out and make ourselves as small as possible. The rain came in sheets and we were pelted by pea-sized hail. I remember sitting under the bushes watching the surface of the lake swirl and dance with the wind-blown rain. Because we were on the sheltered side of the portage none of us had a grasp on just how powerful the wind was, that is until trees started falling.

At one point I heard a crack and a snap only to see a tree right across from me go down.

And then there were more crashes... and then screams...

Our assistant guide, Lori, was hit on the arm and side of the head by falling trees and debris. I am not sure I have ever felt so freaked out by the weather. We were in the eye of the storm, so-to-speak, and we had nowhere to go. Finally after about forty-five minutes the down-pour subsided, but it was hard to know if the storm was truly over. After a bit of debate we decided we needed to take our chances and press on, we still had to get to the other side of Sulphide Lake. 

Our safe arrival on the shore of base camp was a relief. We were so thankful that everyone made it through the ordeal and that Lori, although bruised, was not seriously injured. The owner of the fishing camp, Vern Studer, had been concerned for us and didn't know where we might have been when the worst of the storm hit. He said that in all his years (50+) at the camp homestead he had never seen anything like what had just passed through! He had been in touch with the RCMP and they were on high alert for forest fires.

We unpacked and then acquainted ourselves with our surroundings. We walked a short path that took us through to another part of Sulphide Lake- a beautiful bay filled with lily pads where Vern docked his plane. Oh, and by the way, Vern is eighty-eight!

Finally we relaxed and enjoyed an absolutely delicious meal before we settled into our cabin for the night.

I think we were all still a bit shell-shocked by what we had been through. The whole "in the wild" part of the canoe trip had taken on a new meaning!

NOTE: All photos © Nicki Ault unless otherwise

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