Wednesday, June 16, 2010 Day One. Prairie Portage to Burke Lake. Easy day, a morning tow up to Prairie Portage - a nice conversation with the lone lass completing forms and collecting fees and I paddled my wooden solo across Basswood on the calm waters of Bayley Bay. Over the years I've developed a system of GPS, Fischer Maps and a canoe mounted compass to compensate for my dismal navigation skills - the sandy beach showed up precisely where it was supposed to be. I paddled in turned parallel to the shore and got out - a quick double pass over the Yellow Brick Road Portage and I was at Burke Lake. I grabbed a Five Star campsite on Burke as I sensed that the forecasted afternoon thunder storms might be arriving a bit early. In setting up camp I opened my campstool and found it still covered with the dust of Alaska and Canada's roads from a trip a year earlier. I washed the dust of the Dempster and Dalton off in the clear waters of Burke Lake. The air grew hot, heavy and still as I fixed my first evening Steak and Hashbrowns over the fire. [IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P6170015.jpg[/IMG] The birds - earlier singing and flitting about - grew silent as the clouds darkened and the weather closed in. No chance I was going to miss this blow. I walked down to the lake and pulled my little solo canoe up on shore, flipped it and tied the bow painter off to a handy branch… testing the knot with a tug. The wind started to quicken as I dropped the sides of my tarp, and buttoned up the packs. I walked over to my Hennessey Hammock and double checked the tarp and anchor pegs. The first drops pelted me as I walked over to my waiting campstool under the tarp. I have never - in nearly 40 years of camping in the Canadian Boreal Forest - seen a rainstorm like this one. Based on nothing but a guess, I'll wager over 4" of rain fell in a six hour period. Wave after wave of rain drenched my little island and whipped my campsite, fortunately the wind wasn't bad - but that would change. And soon. Everything got damp as I read my book, smoked my cigar and sipped my Sour Mash. I eventually decided that the rain, rolling thunder and cracking lightning were going to continue all night so I retired to my hammock.
Thursday, June 17, 2010 Day Two. Burke Lake to Isabella Lake. A Bluebird morning - the birds were back as I rose, drank my coffee, ate my Powerbar and packed up a soggy camp. I paddled glassy water as I headed North on Burke and made my way to Basswood's North Bay. Suddenly there was wind. A lot of wind. Really a lot of wind. I later found that winds that day were 30-40 MPH with 55 MPH gusts. White caps with blowing spray and tendrils of streaming Spindrift foam - waves with crests 10-14 feet apart as the waves cranked up over the 3-4 mile reach of North Bay. When you see Spindrift - you are seeing Gale Force winds. Great - well, a chance to defy the wilderness gods again and to see how good a paddler I really am. I loaded my little handmade canoe - checked the trim, cinched my PFD and headed out, careful to quarter across the waves blowing out of the Southwest. I hopped across the big water of North Bay, island by island with white caps breaking and occasionally cresting into my canoe. [URL=http://s54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/?action=view¤t=P6170021.mp4][IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/th_P6170021.jpg[/IMG][/URL] I actually only came close to capsizing twice when I had the wind at my back and was surfing in on the final leg …when the canoe is balanced Stern to Bow on the rolling waves, stability is at a premium. I reached the Isabella River, paddled upstream and across the same Beaver dams my son and I had seen when we passed thru here in 2003. [URL=http://s54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/?action=view¤t=P6170026.mp4][IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/th_P6170026.jpg[/IMG][/URL]The wind continued to howl and gust, but sheltered as I was on this little river it only seemed a bother when trying to portage and discovering that the canoe wanted to weathervane on my shoulders and twist off. Several portages in I was starting to get my rhythm when I heard a sharp crack…. and froze in my muddy tracks. A 50' Birch Tree - blown by the relentless howling winds - crashed to the ground in the forest not 20 yards from me. I continued on the portage with a weather eye (and ear) peeled. At the end of the muddy portage into Isabella I found that this Northeast - Southwest oriented narrow glacial lake was naturally another howling mess of whitecaps and windblown spray…. This time I was destined to head straight into the jaws of the storm. By the way - this amazingly windy day was sunny, bright and cool. I stayed close to the West shore and battled my way a mile or so up Isabella to a beautiful campsite perched high on a bluff at the narrows overlooking that long Gem of a lake. [IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P6180038.jpg[/IMG] I tried to rig my tarp and hammock with absolutely no success, the winds - even higher on that bluff - would have none of that! I eventually retreated to a more sheltered area down from the commonly used campsite on the crest of the bluff and was able to set up a gypsy camp successfully. No fires today under any circumstances! I tried my hand fishing the narrows from shore - attempting to battle the wind with heavier lures. I walked around the edge of the lake on the lichen covered rock looking for a better place to cast. And slipped, falling 3-4 feet into the (fortunately) deep water off shore - it happed in a nanosecond, but I wasn’t seriously injured and my fishing rod and reel were retrieved with no effort or damage. Wow - that happened fast - watch your step out there! I ate a quick freeze dried meal on water heated on my Jetboil (I love this thing!)