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Wollaston Lake to Goose Lake (Nunavut Border) and back

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I'm going to post this in sections as I write it to keep it from getting too overwhelming (for both you and me). I'll post the follow ups in responses to this thread.

It’s a long drive from Estherville, IA to La Ronge, SK. By the time one has traveled that distance it feels like one is nearly there; only to realize that “short drive” up the gravel road to the put-in at Wollaston Lake is another 250 miles (402km). But as far as gravel roads go it’s a pretty nice drive. Speed limit is 80km/hour and that’s probably about the average speed you can expect to travel. Plenty of pot holes but most aren’t too bad and the road is plenty wide. Most of the handful of vehicles I saw were trucks hauling from the mines and they gave plenty of room.

When I arrived at the put-in I found a very large campsite with around 25 different spots one could park and pitch a tent. None were in use. There were a dozen or so vehicles parked in a group. Presumably people who had either gotten a boat ride to the nearby fishing resort or across the lake to the settlement of Wollaston Lake, which has no road access. It was around 3:00 and I decided that rather than get on the water late in the day I’d get everything organized and ready for an early start in the morning. Besides, it was raining. It was August 1st and I spent the afternoon and evening wearing the heavy fleece I’d planned to leave in the vehicle for my return trip home. I decided maybe I should bring it along on the trip. That was a good decision.

20160801_008 by Alan, on Flickr

Got on on the water around 6:30am August 2nd. Took a while to calibrate my brain to the scale of the map but after that we were on our way. It sure was a strange sight to come out into a bay and realize just the bay itself was larger than a local lake I think of as being pretty big, the 2nd largest natural lake in Iowa. Once on the main lake I realized just how big it was. A myriad of islands dotted the horizon, both near and far, and between them was just a flat horizon line. I thought I’d be fine using a 1:250,000 scale map to cross Wollaston Lake, and I guess I was, but it certainly wasn’t ideal. Many islands I’d consider good sized were small enough to be omitted from the map which made locating my position sometimes difficult. It was always a guessing game trying to figure out if that island directly ahead was small enough to not be on the map or if I wasn’t where I thought I was. Some of the larger islands were 10 miles (16km) long.

20160802_011 by Alan, on Flickr

20160802_010 by Alan, on Flickr

20160802_014 by Alan, on Flickr

Overcast and a light west wind that wasn’t bothering me a bit since I was paddling the west shoreline. We stopped a couple times for a short break and had covered around 10 miles (16km) by noon. We were approaching Pow Bay and once there it would be time to turn across the main lake and do some island hopping with a series of 1-4 mile (1.6-6.5km) crossings. I planned to stop for lunch before starting my campaign and didn’t plan to stop moving until late in the day. Suddenly the islands I’d been watching 2 miles off shore began to dissolve into a haze and I knew rain was coming. When we turned to shore we found no good landings as shallow rocks were extending out quite a ways. It was beginning to rain harder as I rounded the point of Pow Bay and found a path through some shallow offshore rocks and an acceptable landing. We both bailed onto shore to seek out the biggest spruce tree we could find to hide behind; which wasn’t saying much as it was low and boggy with stunted trees. Nowhere to setup camp but I was hoping to wait this out for a few minutes and continue on.

20160802_020 by Alan, on Flickr

Well 1 1/2 hours later the rain hadn’t let up and suddenly the wind began to blow harder. I was now on the exposed shoreline and quickly realized if I didn’t get out of here fast I’d have a heck of a time getting away from shore through all those shallow rocks. So Sadie and I climbed back into the boat, wove our way out through the rocks, and began paddling back the way we’d come looking for a place to make camp. We made a couple landings and found nothing acceptable until we got 1 1/2 miles (2.4km) down the shore where we could round a point to get out of the wind and waves and found a protected flat spot just a little inland. We set up camp and stayed there for three days while the wind blew.

20160803_031 by Alan, on Flickr

Thankfully the rain quit later that night and our camp was well protected but it certainly was a boring few days making innumerable walks out to the point to look at the wind and waves. Is it better? Is it worse? Has it changed direction? The wind was at an annoying level where it was right on the edge of being paddleable and I was constantly second guessing myself on my decision to stay put. It was hard to judge since even on my point I was somewhat protected from the mainly West wind. Then I’d see one of the fishing boats from the lodge in the distance pounding through the white caps and realize staying put was the right choice. If I could have stayed close to shore to avoid the biggest wind and waves I would have paddled but I needed to make very exposed open water crossings so I just sat tight and wondered if this is the weather on August 2nd what can I expect 1 1/2 months later at the end of the trip? Not to mention I’ll be paddling much farther north.

Drying out:

20160803_021 by Alan, on Flickr

The morning of August 3rd one of the fishing boats that was heading out swung by when he saw me standing on the point. The guide said he hadn’t expected to see anyone here and wanted to be sure everything was ok. He asked me where I was heading and was surprised when I told him I was hoping to reach Nueltin Lake and then paddle back. Nice guy. That evening he stopped again on his way back to the lodge. They’d been out fishing pike and had got a 40 incher (101cm). His clients were from Pennsylvania and didn’t say much. He asked me if I wanted something to drink. I figured the options would be beer or soda, neither of which I care for, so I declined. I already had a lake full of my favorite beverage, tepid water. The wind had moved a little to the north and was blowing harder onto my point so it was difficult to talk and for him to hold boat position. He wished me well and off they went. It was nice of him to stop and offer me something to drink. I should have accepted it and choked it down in appreciation. Too bad my brain always works 30 seconds too slow in those situations. Thankfully I wouldn’t have to worry about things like that for a while because he was the last person I’d talk to for the next 41 days when I was off the water. It would be 40 days until I was even close enough to someone for a wave and once I got off Wollaston Lake, which was crawling with float planes, I only heard two float planes the rest of the entire trip; one of which was on Wollaston on my return journey.

Alan
 
I used a Lean 1 from Cooke Custom Sewing as my only shelter on this trip. It's 5' wide, 5' tall, and 10' deep. The open front is covered with bug mesh and an awning extends over to protect from wind and rain. It doesn't need poles but I found that with poles it was easier to setup and it gave a much tighter pitch. I'd just make my own Spruce poles and drag them around with me until I either forgot them or didn't feel like carrying them over a long portage. Then I'd make a new pair.

It had lots of room for me and Sadie and all our gear. Sometimes it was real handy and other times it was a real pain in arse, but I guess that goes for any shelter. I wouldn't use it again as my only shelter on a trip like this but we survived.

20160803_028 by Alan, on Flickr

There were a lot of berries up there. Unfortunately Blueberries were the only ones I knew. Not knowing anything about the others I gave them all a little sample tasting but was reluctant to eat them. Sadie wasn't so bashful and enjoyed picking and eating her own berries. I had to stop her sometimes because they made her poop too much. Otherwise they didn't bother her.

I thought these might be Cloud Berries but wasn't sure until I got home and checked. They were yummy.

Cloud Berries by Alan, on Flickr

These are Crowberries and were Sadie's favorite. I didn't think they were that good.

Crowberry by Alan, on Flickr

Even after a little looking I still don't know what these are. They were EVERYWHERE and the little that I tasted I thought they were good. They grew in wet boggy areas on little woody/shrubby plants.

20160804_039 by Alan, on Flickr

The dragonflies were quite friendly:

20160803_025 by Alan, on Flickr

These were the woods around the put-in:

Open woods by Alan, on Flickr

It was so nice to see open woods with no undergrowth in canoe country. I hoped I'd see more of this on the trip so we could get out and walk some of the country; and indeed we did!

Alan
 
Rough weather to start to your trip. Thanks Alan, for starting us all off so soon on your report. You must have a million things to do now that you're home.
 
I like the shelter... I think... Did you have a lot of condensation at time?
 
Did you have a lot of condensation at time?

Yes. There was always some condensation. Usually it wasn't bad but sometimes it got very heavy. Despite the large screened opening there doesn't appear to be much venting going on and most mornings would find some condensation on the sleeping bag as well, especially the foot area. The worst was when you were stuck inside and it started to rain. That would start to knock the condensation loose and turn it into a fine mist falling on the inside. This wasn't enough to really get anything wet but after being weather bound for two days it's enough to make you mad.

I think it would be a great shelter for shorter trips or for someone who likes to take more rest days. It makes a great hang out during the day that gives good visibility to the outside and keeps the bugs at bay. It comes in two larger sizes that are popular for group trips as 4 or more people can hangout inside the shelter to eat or just chat and play games.

The white color is great for dreary days and for making use of twilight hours. It's almost as bright inside as it is outside. But if the sun comes out during the day it gets hot in there real fast. This is good when waking up on chilly mornings but not so good in the middle of the afternoon. Then it feels like being in a green house and it's too hot to stay inside. I'd go for a darker color if buying it over again.

When weather bound it did make a nice place to stay out of the weather. Didn't have to get on your knees to get in/out and there was lots of room to spread things out. If you had a low chair you could easy sit on it inside the shelter.

Alan
 
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Yes. There was always some condensation. Usually it wasn't bad but sometimes it got very heavy. Despite the large screened opening there doesn't appear to be much venting going on and most mornings would find some condensation on the sleeping bag as well, especially the foot area. The worst was when you were stuck inside and it started to rain. That would start to knock the condensation loose and turn it into a fine mist falling on the inside. This wasn't enough to really get anything wet but after being weather bound for two days it's enough to make you mad.

I think it would be a great shelter for shorter trips or for someone who likes to take more rest days. It makes a great hang out during the day that gives good visibility to the outside and keeps the bugs at bay. It comes in two larger sizes that are popular for group trips as 4 or more people can hangout inside the shelter to eat or just chat and play games.

The white color is great for dreary days and for making use of twilight hours. It's almost as bring inside as it is outside. But if the sun comes out during the day it gets hot in there real fast. This is good when waking up on chilly mornings but not so good in the middle of the afternoon. Then it feels like being in a green house and it's too hot to stay inside. I'd go for a darker color if buying it over again.

When weather bound it did make a nice place to stay out of the weather. Didn't have to get on your knees to get in/out and there was lots of room to spread things out. If you had a low chair you could easy sit on it inside the shelter.

Alan

I thought it would be that way... I think if CCS would make a "liner" of the same fabric use in regular tents, it would eliminate that problem, it would be a bit heavier for sure, but could possibly be only only on the over head part from front to back!!

I'm sick of crawling out of mountain tents, and my wall tent, even if it is a super light wall tent, still a canvas wall tent and in pissing rain doesn't do to well!!

I'm looking into SeakOutside tipi, they have a half liner you can get and that would eliminate the "rain" inside the tent problem!

How did the canoe behave/hold up?

Thank you Alan,
 
Congratulations on safely completing your trip. I trust that the upcoming installments of your trip report will be as interesting as this one is. Nice photographs as well. Sorry to hear about your vehicle being vandalized.

Tony
 
OOH Cloudberries!!!! I have only found them in wet areas in Newfoundland... So far you are blowing my preconception of Manitoba as being dry.

Poor Sadie!! So wet so woebegone!

I hear you on brain to landform and water scale adjustment. It never gets easier. In the Everglades I always have a day of brain reset.

LOL about camp boredom. Thank goodness for cameras! Gives you something to do.. noticing. You have to notice.
 
Wow. The picture of the woods with no undergrowth looks so alien. I'm not sure I could make it 40 days without talking to anyone either. Can't wait for the rest of the story.

When sleeping under a tarp I usually have my sleeping bag in a bivy sack too. Helps to keep it dry in blowing rains when I have the tarp tucked down on three sides and the tarp touches the bag.
 
To my shame you completed your journey and back home before I finished reading those 2 journals we discussed here... but looking forward to more pics, stories and your adventures...lunchtime will be more interesting while reading your reports.
 
Glad to see the trip report has commenced, something to look forward to read for days to come.

I know what you mean about getting used to a new scale of things. Big water and big cliffs out west always throw off my distance perspective. Oh, that cliff looks to be about a mile away. Paddle for an hour and it doesn’t look any closer.
 
Around 9:00pm on the evening of the 4th the wind finally dropped off and we went to bed hoping to travel in the morning. It was still calm in the morning and we were on the water at 6:30 with sunny skies. By 7:00 the clouds had moved in but the wind remained light. We started making our long crossings and it felt great to finally be covering some miles. The wind started to increase as the morning wore on and it was quite chilly. Not so bad when paddling but when I stopped to cook breakfast at 10:30 I was pretty chilled despite finding a spot out of the wind. The wind kept increasing throughout the day but thankfully the sun started to come out as well. The crossings started to get a little hairier as whitecaps appeared and we began shipping water over the sides and bow now and again. Had to mind my P’s and Q’s on what direction I was taking the waves and many times had to quickly change course and lean to deflect the odd larger wave that would suddenly appear. I’d designed this canoe to carry Sadie and I on a 30 day trip on smaller waters and now here I was on some huge lakes loaded up for a 45 day trip. I called Sadie back to sit at my feet and getting that weight out of the bow made a big difference in keeping the water out as well as in the handling with beam winds. Sadie was not impressed.

The crossings were getting to be a lot of work and after the last hard one we found a protected shoreline on Greenway Island that had a nice rock face that was completely exposed to the sun. We pulled over here to take a little stroll, relax, and soak up the sun. Beautiful views over the lake with the waves sparkling like diamonds and islands scattered all around. Water was clear as could be. It was a nice break and there were only a couple small crossings left to do that day. We continued on and I would have liked to have gone later into the evening but when we came across a decent spot to camp on a small unnamed island between Fife and Cleveland islands I decided to take it as camping spots had been scarce. Camp faced the west and was protected from the wind. It was hot in the setting sun. First time I’d felt hot during the trip. Amazingly enough there were no bugs to be seen other than the odd mosquito and black fly. Was it just the weather or were they already done for the season?

20160805_050 by Alan, on Flickr

Next day was an important one as just one more big crossing of a mile or so (1.6km) would get me off the main part of the lake and into what should be more protected waters. We got to the tip of Fife Island and found good sized white caps rolling down the channel from the north. Bit of a gut check looking the situation over and figuring out where to aim on the opposite shore, Kendel Island. The wind and waves were coming from our left side but I prefer that to a headwind. I don’t have any trouble keeping the boat upright and waves are more likely to break into the boat when taking them head on. I found the larger swells easier to handle than steep chop I’m used to on smaller lakes. I had Sadie sit by my feet again and kneeling with the longer paddle for extra stability and maneuverability we got across in good shape and then turned downwind for a mile long push to the south side of Kendel Island where we could be protected from the wind and waves.

The weather kept degrading and by the time we reached the end of Kendel Island, in the channel between Usam Island and Wheeler Peninsula, it was clouding up. The wind had increased and seemed to be blowing straight across the NE running channel. If I could get across the channel I should be protected from the North wind. Well you can guess what happened. The farther I got across the channel the wind changed direction to follow the shoreline and I wasn'’t getting much relief. Thankfully it was only about 1/2 mile (.8km) across the channel because half way across the wind kicked up a notch and made for some hard work. Then 3/4 of the way across it kicked up another notch. I'’ve never had the wind put me in a stand-still but this nearly did. Maybe the strongest wind I’'ve ever paddled against. It was already raining by the time I reached the other shore and all I found was burned over bog and rock as far as I could see up and down the shore. We had a hard time finding a place to land since it was shallow and rocky close to shore but finally got out of the boat and set off to find some shelter. Up the steep slope was a small stand of spruce trees that hadn'’t burned so we stumbled our way over downed trees and regenerating brush and tried to tuck in there to stay out of the worst of the wind and rain. After 30 minutes or so it quit raining so we started paddling back up the shoreline again. If we stayed tucked in tight we could mostly stay out of the wind. Twice more over the next couple hours we were forced to land and try to seek shelter from the rain. Thankfully each time we were able to find a good spot to land and some thick brush along shore to stand behind. It was a cold and miserable day with nowhere to set up shelter even if we wanted. I jealously eyed the esker that made up the opposite shore but I had no desire to cross the channel filled with ugly whitecaps and even if I did that shoreline was getting pounded so I'’d never be able to land.

Found a 12' long beach with brush to pull up and hide from the wind and rain:
20160806_060 by Alan, on Flickr

Ugly day:
20160806_056 by Alan, on Flickr

So we kept plodding along, wet, cold, and miserable, when miracle of miracles that esker on the opposite shore dove underwater and reappeared on our side of the channel as a large peninsula with a beautiful sand beach! The rain had now let up and the sun was trying to peak through and part of me wanted to push on since it was only mid-afternoon but only a few more miles we’d turn a corner straight into the wind so I decided to stop here for the day.

For those that don'’t know what an esker is it’s like a river channel in reverse. When the land was covered with glaciers there were rivers running through the ice carrying loads of sand and gravel. When the glaciers retreated these river beds of sand and gravel were deposited on top of the earth and now form a series of ridges running across the land. Sometimes they’'re a very steep and narrow ridge 80’ (24m) tall and other times they'’re wider with hidden lakes and ponds between undulating hills of sand. Most of the time they'’re stunningly beautiful in how they differ from the rest of the landscape. They'’re dominated by Jack Pine and Birch and all the trees tend to grow much larger than the rest of the forest. The soil is usually deep (but sandy) and probably warms quicker. The trees are almost always widely spaced and they have a savannah like feel to them. Very little under brush and usually a thin carpet of caribou moss or other low ground cover. When the ground cover is green it can almost look like a golf course. Strangely enough they remind me of the high desert foothills in SE Arizona.

20160813_209 by Alan, on Flickr

They’re the natural highways of the north and have been used that way for many centuries by the caribou as well as the native Dene and Inuit peoples; along with every other animal the lives up there. There is always a well worn trail running along the ridge of every esker and many other trails winding every which way across the landscape where the eskers seem to spread out and are wider. Walking around on an esker is often like taking a pleasant stroll down a national park trail although it can be very confusing trying to remember which trail(s) you took when it’s time to turn around and head back. I found that almost no matter where you want to go you can find a caribou trail that will take you there. Unfortunately you’ll find 10 more that want to take you somewhere else and none of them are marked.

20160822_298 by Alan, on Flickr

20160806_065 by Alan, on Flickr

So Sadie and I had a very enjoyable afternoon and evening on our little esker peninsula. We walked over the whole thing. On the north side was an even longer and more beautiful arching sand beach that still appears to be used by the first nations people. There were a few drying racks set up and shelter poles laying by the bushes. It didn’'t look like anyone had really used it for a couple years though. We climbed the high hill at the end to get a beautiful view of the beach and found multiple little valleys and ponds hidden within along with our first caribou antler, of which we would see many more during the trip.

20160806_070 by Alan, on Flickr

20160806_075 by Alan, on Flickr

20160806_082 by Alan, on Flickr

20160806_078 by Alan, on Flickr

Although the sun was shining off and on it was still cool. The weather had me quite concerned as I knew I’'d see worse before the trip was over. I didn’'t know if this was normal or just a fluke. This was the 5th day of the trip and I hadn’'t even been able to paddle 2 full days yet. Once I quit paddling it felt chilly and in camp I was nearly always wearing a heavy fleece and stocking cap. Since I wasn'’t doing any portaging my damp feet were cold until I could get to camp and put on dry shoes and socks. This was the first week of August and I’d still be on the water into the 2nd, and possibly 3rd, week in September. Once I got off Wollaston Lake I'’d be in smaller water for a while but still some big lakes to cross: Kasmere (twice), Nueltin, Putahow, and Wollaston one more time on the way back. Could I expect similar wind and weather delays for the rest of the trip? Started to think I might not make it to Nueltin Lake after all.

Alan
 
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Great Read ! ​ AWESOME journaling ! You continually amaze me !
Your pics are so clear and sharp.
Esker, I'll have to remember that !
​ I'm guessing you are already planning a new canoe design ! The "Wollaston" ?
 
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