July 17th – July 20th
About one month ago, several people in the paddling world had advised Pascal to avoid canoeing Lake Winnipeg for numerous reasons. It tends to get very windy in late July and August and being a shallow lake is prone to large waves. Many paddlers have been wind-bound for several days, even for well over a week on this lake. Some call Lake Winnipeg the most dangerous lake in Canada. This lake is also known to be very polluted with E. coli and blue-green algae which also tend to flourish at this time of year making the water non-drinkable, even with a top of the line water filter. It is also very remote with very little civilisation on the eastern shore of the south basin and even less on either shore of the north basin. From the mouth of the Winnipeg River to Grand Rapids the shortest route would be a minimum of 525 km with very few opportunities for food drop offs. Because Pascal’s canoe is an 18′ tandem boat and because his goal was to make it to Inuvik, several experienced paddlers advised him to avoid this section of the route he had planned, especially since he is paddling solo.
With all this information in hand, Pascal disappointedly agreed to avoid lake Winnipeg. With the help of a few paddlers from Winnipeg and that of Jay Morrison, a plan was being put in place to transport Pascal from Lac du Bonnet on the Winnipeg River to Winnipeg where he would then take the train to The Pas to continue his journey.
Then all kinds of new information came to light when Pascal was completing Lake of the Woods and arriving in Kenora. Jennifer and Pierre, avid and very experienced paddlers who have done several long expeditions (Wild Raven Adventure) including the route Pascal was about to embark on, were paddling upstream on the Rainy River while Pascal was paddling down stream. Somehow they managed to miss each other but they really wanted to speak to Pascal. They managed to get a hold of him and strongly, almost desperately advised Pascal to avoid heading up the Saskatchwan and Sturgeon-Weir Rivers due to unusually high waters this year. So Neal and Danielle started to do a little research and digging of their own. They discovered that other paddlers who had paddled upstream on that river system had found the current to be demanding even in lower water levels and that most people tend to paddle downstream, probably for this reason. There had also been a lot of rain recently in this region and some people from The Pas were saying the water was unusually high. Neal found a graph of the water level on the Sturgeon-Weir and found the flow to be 10 times the normal for this time of year.
Again this led to another agonizing and painful decision to make. Options were to paddle up the Winnipeg River, down the east side of Lake Winnipeg and then down the Red river to Winnipeg where he could either take the train home. Or he could take the train to Edmonton where he would have to try to get a lift to Fort McMurray. From there he could then make it to Inuvik, even Tuktoyaktuk before the rivers froze. This did not work out. While in Kenora, Pascal tried to rent a car to bring him upstream, past the fast bits on the Churchill river system but again this didn’t pan out.
So after going through all stages of disappointment, anger, being heart broken, Pascal came up with his own plan: to paddle back the way he had just come, home to Gatineau or even further depending on the weather. He said it would be just like the Voyageurs when they returned from their trips, but he would be without the furs. Pascal was very concerned he would be disappointing his sponsors but concluded his safety was more important. He loves to be on the water, is very comfortable and at peace there, at home. He is in great shape now and absolutely does not want to stop. He does not mind being alone and is very comfortable with his routine and all. Here is a video of Pascal explaining his decision (click the video link to view).
So on Thursday, July 20th, with a heavy heart Pascal headed back down Lake of the Woods, retracing his steps (strokes). It will be a very different trip: he will be portaging around some the rapids he had fun tripping down, the fast down streams will now be up streams and vice versa, the Grand Portage should be a little easier and Lake Superior which tends to be more of a challenge in August. Pierre and Jennifer are hoping he will catch up to them so they can spend some time paddling together. He has chosen quite a year to embark on this adventure: the year of record high waters almost everywhere along his trip. Even though he has given up his dream of reaching the Arctic this year, he still has this goal for another time. He offers you all his many thanks for your support and interest.