Decision-making in Kenora

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.

Fort Frances to Kenora

July 12th – July 17th

After getting the royal treatment by the Langevin family, Pascal thought it was best to get back on the water if he wanted to attain his ultimate goal, the Arctic.  What a treat he had once on the Rainy River: not only was he paddling with the current but he had a tail wind to boot.  It doesn’t get better than that. In less than 2 days he was on Lake of the Woods.  On his third day out there was a strong northerly wind which forced him to stay put; it was his first day being wind-bound on his whole trip to date and so took advantage of the time to do some stone carving.  There was a small tailwind for the rest of his time on Lake of the Woods so he made it to Kenora in no time.  When he reached the town there was a couple standing on the dock, waving and greeting him.  They were Linda and Ray Boivin who had been following his progress.  They invited him to stay at their home while he waited for some supplies.  Also, his solar panel and battery charger were starting to give him trouble and were unreliable.  With the help of Jean-Loup at MEC in Vancouver, Danielle managed to get replacement of these items which luckily were still in stock.  MEC was extremely accommodating and  sent the replacement directly to Kenora. Pascal only had to wait an extra day for these items but that suited him well.  He had to make a very difficult decision which weighed him down and took a lot of his emotional energy.

Fort Frances

July 9th – July 12th

Patrick Langevin, his wife Céline Cardinal, their 12 year old daughter Marie-Mae and their 10 year old son Yannick treated Pascal royally while he stayed at their home in Fort Frances. From the welcome posters by the water, to the special cake made by Marie-Mae, to the gourmet meals, to organizing an interview with a reporter from the Fort Frances Times, to a room of his own with access to a computer, phone, TV, etc. The list goes on and on. Pascal is filled with so much gratitude for all the kindness and generosity they bestowed upon him. Thank-you all so much.

This coming week-end the whole family is headed to Akron, Ohio for the International soap-box Derby that the kids are competing in.  We wish the best of luck.

Gunflint Lake to Fort Frances

June 30th to July 9th

Even though it was tempting to spend more time at Gunflint Lodge, Pascal decided he should hit the road, woops,  the water, and get a move on.  On the first evening he met some other paddlers and camped with them.  It was nice to have the company.

By the end of the next day he entered Cache Bay in Quetico Provincial Park.  Here he was greeted by ranger Janice Matichuk who invited him for dinner and a shower (not  sure in which order) and a place to crash.  Janice is the longest serving ranger in the park’s history with 33 seasons to her credit.  Pascal found her to be a very  knowledgeable and interesting person.  He absolutely loved Quetico with all its falls, rapids and wonderful, peaceful scenery.  There were lots of people on the water though which was such a change for him after the solitude of Lake Superior.

At Lac la Croix he tried to take a short cut to avoid Loon Lake.  This proved to be much more difficult and dangerous than expected partly because the waters were a lot higher than normal and he was running into rapids where there weren’t supposed to be any.    Since this part of the route was not heavily travelled and not part of the historic Voyager route, he decided to backtrack to Lac la Croix.  This meant he lost a half days travel but he was comfortable with his decision none the less.  On Loon River he met a fellow paddler, Ron Sherk (the nomader) who has been paddling, hiking and cycling his way around Canada and New Zealand since 2013.

By the time he made it to Loon Lake, the wind had picked up.  The next three days were long and hard. Dealing with strong head winds were very disconcerting for Pascal because progress was very slow through Voyageurs National Park and Rainy Lake (which has the reputation of being difficult to paddle because of prevailing westerly winds and open water). Despite the difficulties Pascal had a friend, Johnny-John Burksman, a May Fly, that stuck with him from Kettle Falls through to Rainy Lake. Pascal had planned to be in Fort Frances for Friday, July 7th. However, by Friday he was still a long way from his destination so he decided to paddle by the light of the moon while on Rainy Lake, hoping the wind would die down in the evening as it often does.  However around 2:00 a.m. the wind picked up again while he was in the middle of an open water crossing which forced him to backtrack to safety and sleep.

Sunday morning he breezed into Fort Frances with a tail wind.  There he was warmly welcomed by the Langevin family who greeted him with posters and cheers from the dock.  Even re-entering Canada through customs was a breeze.  They took his passport number and other information by phone so didn’t have to wait at the marina.  Patrick, Céline, Marie-Mai and Yannick wisked Pascal away to show him the town.

Gunflint Lodge and Outfitters

June 28th to June 30th, 2017

After doing the Grand Portage followed by several more shorter portages, Pascal was really looking forward to a short break at Gunflint Lodge.  He had to pick up a box of food his parents had mailed there a few weeks earlier.  John unexpectedly invited Pascal to stay in the bunk-house which he really appreciated. This provided an opportunity to dry things out a bit since he had been paddling or portaging in the rain for days.  Gunflint Lodge also has a very nice restaurant so Pascal gave up dried food for a night and ordered himself some good hearty ribs.  Yum, yum.

Luckily when Danielle called Gunflint Lodge in early June to enquire about mailing a food drop-off and to get the correct mailing address, it was Brandon Trapp who answered the phone.  He gave her lots of valuable information and support over the following month in preparation for Pascal’s arrival.   He even came back to Gunflint on his day off to give Pascal a helping hand.   Brandon was very generous and helpful in numerous ways including  purchasing a map of Voyageur Park, driving Pascal to Grand Marais to get a knee support and going over maps of the upcoming route.  Many thanks to a great guy!

Pascal also got to update his Facebook page which was a real bonus.  We don’t how this happened but he also did a radio interview with the community radio station, WTIP.  Pascal had a super experience at Gunflint Lodge, the staff being all so friendly and helpful.  He told his parents he can’t wait to go back.

Grand Portage to Gunflint Lodge and Outfitters

June 24 – June 28, 2017

Pascal started the historic but arduous 13.7 km (8.5 mi) Grand Portage which has a elevation gain of 220m., in the rain.  Right off the get-go the toboggan didn’t work.  So he carried his 60 pound canoe and 40 pound food barrel about 400 meters, and then walked back to get his 80 pound pack, carrying his Pelican case with camera in his hands.  Then started all over again, slowly but steadily making his way up the trail.  The conditions are awful at the best of times but it had been raining for almost 2 weeks so the trail was muddier than usual.  Pascal had to walk in mud over his ankles, he said the bugs were the worse so far and it poured rain over the 15 hours over 2 days it took to do the portage.  En route he met “Dr. Juice” (Gregory Bambenek) who gave him some fishing gear and offered some fishing bait “juice” made from an Amazonian recipe.  He declined the latter but in retrospect wished he had taken the special concoction.  Dr. Juice even tempted him with a ride to avoid the portage but Pascal declined, feeling he would have wimped out had he not done the whole portage.  Even though he found it to be extremely gruelling and challenging to say the least, was he happy to have completed it.

Once he made it to the Pigeon River, Pascal paddled upstream as far as the Partridge Falls for the night.  He found the river to be very fast and the next day he reached a point about 4 miles up from Partridge Falls where the current was so fast he could not move forward and he was unable to find a portage trail. The river reminded Pascal of the Riviere des Prairies (runs on north shore of Island of Montreal) during the record breaking spring floods and the height of the snow melt this spring.   It turns out there isn’t a trail and people must wade upstream to get by the two sets of rapids.  But because it had rained heavily for the past 2 weeks, the river was too fast and too high for anyone to get through.  Pascal turned around and contacted his Mom to see if she could organize someone to come get him near the falls since he really didn’t want to redo the Grand Portage; once in a week was enough.

Danielle managed to get a hold of the staff at the Grand Portage National Monument who immediately stepped up to the task.  Craig, the superintendent, got his team going in no time.  He passed messages on to  Danielle who in turn communicated with Pascal via the inReach satellite communication (there is no cell service here).  Brandon and Mike met Pascal at the parking lot near Partridge Falls and drove him and his canoe to McFarland Lake which is above those difficult rapids.  This enabled him to continue his journey as planned; he was tickled pink and so grateful to the guys for all their help.  It was far more than he ever expected. Many, many thanks to Craig and his entire team.  You were amazing!

On Wednesday, June 28th, Pascal did a relatively easy  portage called Height of Land when he went from South Lake to North Lake.  The water of South Lake flows south and east to the Great Lakes and eventually to the Atlantic Ocean while the water of North Lake, only 400 yards away, flows north to Hudson Bay.  Cool!  He will now be paddling with the current for a change.  For this reason this portage  held special significance for the Voyageurs.

Pascal made it to Gunflint Lodge and Outfitters by mid-afternoon on June 28th.  He stopped here to pick up a food drop-off  that his parents had mailed to him.  Brandon Trapp, along with Mandy Husky helped organize this for him and were very helpful in getting Pascal set up comfortably in the bunk-house.  To be continued…..

Marathon to Grand Portage, Minnesota

It’s Thursday, June 15th and Pascal is itching to get back on the water.  He still has it in his mind to make it to Inuvik before the Mackenzie River  freezes over in late September. So after having another great breakfast at the Oar House Restaurant and finalizing a few posts on his Facebook page, Pascal prepared his gear for the next leg of his journey.  He will now be paddling alone for the rest of the trip which is of some concern to his Mom, Danielle.

Pascal disappeared into the fog from the boat launch in Marathon.  For five days he was in the fog, without cell phone coverage, so he did not get to really appreciate the natural beauty of Neys Provincial Park.  One day he had a bit of a tail-wind so he rigged the sled Carrie gave him up in the front of the boat to use as a sail – it worked quite well.  The first civilisation  he met was on June 20th in Silver Islet at the southern tip of Sleeping Giant Provincial Park.  Here he was graciously invited to lunch by John and Clara and their 2 sons from Georgia.  They also took him for a paddle in one of the abandoned silver mines which was really cool.  Then he was off again to do the big crossing from the most southern tip of Sleeping Giant to Pie Island for which he had decent weather for a change.  For the next few days he was feeling rather tired so he didn’t push too hard.

His next challenge, though not a physical one, was to figure out the proper way to get in to the United States.  Luckily his parents found the correct telephone number to call the US Border Service from the marina in the town of Grand Portage.  So when Pascal arrived in Grand Portage on June 23rd all went well and he was even taken for a tour of the town by Gunner from Two Harbours, Minnesota.  He rested up for the remaider of the day in preparation for the historic Grand Portage.

Wawa to Marathon

June 9th to June 15, 2017

After spending the morning installing a seat in the middle of the canoe, Pascal and his dad Neal headed off northward towards Pukaskwa National Park on Lake Superior. Neal had a few trepidations about the trip because he had not done any paddling for over a year. But he felt he was in good hands with Pascal at the helm.

The first day  with dad was fairly short, only 18 kms. Pascal’s plan was not to burn dad up right out of the gate. We camped on a very nice pebble beach and entertained ourselves by looking for more “thunderbird eggs”. Turns out that they are quite common in the area so we accumulated quite a collection.

Our second day was cut a bit short by an oncoming thunder storm. We ditched at the first place we could find, a small sandy beach, and pitched our tent some way back off the shore in a woods of small trees. This turned out to be a good choice because we were soon treated to the type of storm Lake Superior is famous for.  Lots of thunder, lightning and hurricane force winds. We came through it as snug as a bug in a rug due to the shielding effect of the small and flexible trees surrounding us. Others were not so fortunate. Back at Naturally Superior and Rock Island Lodge several trees came down: onto a tent-trailer, a tent, a cabin and several trees fell across the road. We also heard that other campers, including Diane Whelan (500 Days in the Wild) had their tents flattened that night.

By early morning the storm had passed and all was calm again. The lake remained a bit of a challenge due to residual wave action sloshing about.  We were also blanketed in a thick fog. Most of the day was spent blindly following compass bearings from point to point and listening to waves crashing on the rocks to our right. We ran into several debris fields of branches, bark and small trees which all attested to the power of the previous nights storm. Dad was a bit disappointed with the fog since it obscured our views of the Superior shore line that makes this part of the lake so famous.

Most of the fog cleared and the waves subsided by early afternoon. Just after entering Pukaskwa National Park thunder head clouds appeared on the horizon and were heading straight for us. We continued paddling for a while but decided to ditch as soon as possible once the thunder started. The shore line around this part of Lake Superior is pretty much rock faces punctuated by small rocky coves making it difficult to find a landing spot when you need one. Around 3:30PM we ran across the Light House on Otter Island and were so desperate to get off the water before the storm that we ditched at the old light keepers house (in Old Daves Harbour). A sign there informed us that this was a protected area for Woodland Caribou and could only to be used in an emergency. With the rain starting and an oncoming storm we figured this qualified, so made camp: pitched our tent in the rain, made then ate dinner in the rain and prepared for the worst – which never came. The rain stopped, the clouds passed and blue sky made a brief appearance. By then it was too late to break camp so we spent the night, never leaving the dock area.

The next morning was again calm and fogbound. Cascade Falls was just a couple of kilometers away so we set a compass bearing for it and started paddling. We could hear the falls for a long time before seeing them, but they eventually emerged out of the mists.

This day was pretty much a repeat of the previous day minus the wave chop. By mid afternoon the fog lifted and a beautiful blue sky emerged. We were finally able to take in the scenic Lake Superior shoreline in its full splendor! We reached the campsites at Willow River around 5:30PM were we would spend the night. This was our first and only official campsite in Pukaskwa National Park. These campsites are veritable Hiltons:  Lots of level space to pitch a tent, a bear box to safely store food,  an outhouse and a fire pit with grill – pure luxury! On the other hand there seems to be some camper fed wildlife in the area. We were visited by a few Snowshoe Hares that sat at the edge of the campsite looking at us like we ought to be feeding them. Not going to happen.

Our fourth and final day together started with a bit of early morning fog which soon cleared. The rest of the day was sunny and bright for the paddle into Marathon.

Neal and Pascal met Danielle, Pascal’s mom, in Marathon. The three of us had a special time together hanging out in this small northern Ontario town. There are only four hotels in this town, all of which were fully booked as were the B&B’s. Luckily there was a small campground on the town limit, Penn Lake Park and Campground, where we camped, two of us sleeping in Pascal’s little tent, one of us in the car. For the two nights we spent there it poured ++++ but somehow we managed to stay quite dry. Since there was a strong off-shore wind and it poured off and on the next day, Pascal decided to have a rest day. He knew he had the Voyageurs historic 14 km portage called Grand Portage coming up in about a week.  He was trying to figure out a way to drag his 85 pound pack while carrying the canoe and the food barrel so he would only have to do one trip. He thought a toboggan might do the trick, so we explored Marathon by going to all the shops, of which there are only a few, looking for a toboggan in June! Carrie Berlin, who worked at Napa Auto Parts, checked out her attic and found her old toboggan and gave it to Pascal. It felt like Christmas! We were also lucky to find the Oar House Restaurant which had  both decent food and wifi . The owner was very gracious and let us hang out there as long as we wanted which gave Pascal an opportunity to update his Facebook page and to download all the pictures he had been taking.

Blind River to Wawa

2017-05-29 to 2017-06-08

The first few days paddling alone on Lake Huron were a challenge.  There were several days of fog and either headwinds or crosswinds which whipped my boat around quite a bit.  I resorted to sitting on my Pelican case in the middle of the boat to maneuver more easily.  This worked fairly well so I got my Mom to order a third seat from Souris River to be delivered to Wawa for when I got there.

When I arrived at Sault Ste. Marie there were no other boats at the locks so the guys working there treated me to a solo pass through the locks.  Not only was it really cool but I didn’t have to do a portage 🙂  Then I made my way up the east coast of Lake Superior which is stunningly beautiful.  The cliffs in Lake Superior Provincial Park are amazing!

Luckily  for me the weather was good for the most part because I had to do a few long bay crossings.  One day there was a super thick fog that came up suddenly forcing me to make a quick run to shore and stop for the day.

June 7th was my longest distance to date,  58.8kms.  I wanted to make it to Naturally Superior Adventures, just south of Wawa, that day because my parents were coming to meet me the next day and I also wanted a bit of a rest. Naturally Superior is a fabulous place right on Lake Superior, offering guided trips in canoes, sea kayaks or Voyageur canoes as well as equipment rentals.  Rock Island Lodge with B&B accomodations is there too. Dave, the owner, organizes all kinds of interesting events and lectures pertaining to all aspects of outdoor life around the Lake.  The food, cooked by chef Judy, is amazing and the staff are all great, friendly and very helpful.

I also met Oz, a shaman who happened to be there giving lectures to the Michipicoten First Nation at the Lodge. Oz gave me a flute he had made.  I showed him a white rock I had found on the beach which I was keeping for good luck.  Later that day he came to me with a similar stone, which he called “thunderbird eggs”. When rubbed together they emit a flash of light – really cool.

Naturally Superior is a great place to hang out for a day or more.  My parents arrived late Thursday and it was so nice to see them. Luckily for me the canoe seat also arrived that day so my parents helped me install it the following morning.

Pascal continues solo from Blind River

After spending a hectic 5 days reorganizing things and buying equipment such as a one-man tent, a smaller food barrel, a cell phone (yes, he didn’t own one!), topo maps and other odds and sods, Pascal and his parents drove to Blind River on May 28th so Pascal could have an early start the following morning from the Marina in Blind River.  It was also really nice to have his aunt Carolyn and uncle Paul there to send him off on the next leg of his expedition.  The weather was cool and foggy but Pascal spiced it up by playing air guitar on his paddle to a Jimmy Hendrix tune.  He paddled 35 kms with a bit of a tail wind to start but then a cross wind and some rain to finish off the day.  A good start all in all.  His parents are extremely proud of his determination and his up beat and positive attitude.Blind River 3Blind River 2Blind River 1guitar 2air guitar