Tornado Warning & Headwinds

When Deanna and I first started planning out our second annual trip to Algonquin Park, we had a pretty ambitious route planned. We were going to tackle the loop starting from Lake Kioshkokwi. A trip that was some 50km in length with 9km of that being portages alone. Difficulty be damned we were going to do it and reservations were made.

Then in the middle of February I found out that I was pregnant with my first child. Suddenly any and all back country camping trip plans were cancelled, and put on hold until it was established that I was going to be given the go ahead by my midwife to complete a trip. Thankfully I was given the go ahead, and new arrangements were made. Ones that would be a lot easier, since I would be over 5 months pregnant at the time our trip would take place.

Our new route was to depart from Canoe Lake and paddle some 16.5 km to Burnt Island Lake. Here we would spend 2 full days camped on the lake and exploring it waters. We would then paddle a further 9km where we would spend 3 days exploring the Otterslide Lakes region, before taking two days to make our return trip home.

Nature would have other plans for us.

We left Hamilton at around 3:30 pm on Monday June 8th. With a brief stop in Mississauga to meet Scot of @ManCamping fame to borrow his SPOT device. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t have concerned myself with such a piece of equipment, but being that I was heading into the back country at 5 months pregnant, I figured it would be handy in the event of an emergency.

We made excellent time getting to Algonquin Park, arriving at approximatly 8:00. On the drive we had discussed how many moose we thought we would see on our trip. Last year we saw 5 over the course of 4 days. We hadn’t gotten far when we spotted our first cow moose on the side of highway 60. We stopped to admire her before continuing on.
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Tonight we would be car camping at the Canisbay Lake campground.

Once we arrive at our site and began to set up, the first thing we both noticed was this very odd thumping sound. It was like two slow ‘WOMPS” followed by multiple ‘WOMP” sounds in rapid succession. What made it so unusual and down right freaky to us was the fact that not only could you hear the sound in the woods, but you could feel the sound reverberate within your ear drums. This sound occurred about every 5-10 minutes for the next 2 hours. We concluded that it must have been some mining or drilling going on and the sound was vibrating through the ground. It wasn’t until I got home and told the story to my husband that he said that it was a grouse drumming, and a short YouTube video later proved this to be correct! We weren’t crazy after all.

We got camp set up, caught a glimpse of a fox running past the car and had a fire courtesy of the previous campers who left us ample firewood, ate a snack and hit the sack. We wanted an early start tomorrow.

Tuesday June 9th

We got little sleep. The only thing making that worth while were the loon calls going on throughout the night. We were up by 6:30 and had camp broken down by 7:00.

We drove to Canoe Lake for our permits, and were advised of bear activity in most of the area where we would be spending the next few days. We also took a moment to look at the weather posting. Wednesday called for rain with a chance of thunder showers. “Oh well, We’ll have camp set up by then anyways so it doesn’t matter.”

We collected our canoe rental, and for the sake of nostalgia, we requested number 539. The same canoe Deanna and I got to take on its maiden voyage last year. We were on the water by 8:30.
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We had decent paddling on Canoe Lake. A bit of a headwind, but nothing too intense.

We completed our 260m portage into Joe Lake and it was here we faced some much stronger winds.
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We were tired and hungry so by around 11:00 we stopped at a campsite and cooked ourselves some breakfast. We rested for about 40 minutes before continuing on.

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It was around this point that we’d began to notice that all the paddlers we came across were heading out of the park. We celebrated this because it could only mean that we’d be some of the few, if not the only ones out there once we got to Burnt Island.

Just before we began the paddle into Joe Creek, we came across another cow moose but this time with her calf! We saw some young moose on our last trip, but this one was just a baby. We admired them for some time, and kept paddling.
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Not even 100 feet away around the bend we came across our 4th moose.
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Thanks to Jeffs Map, we knew we would be able to skip the next portage. A 120m. From here until we reached the Baby Joe Lake portage, we enjoyed a very calm, gorgeous paddle through a winding creek.
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Next we had our 435m portage into Baby Joe Lake. The longest portage I had ever attempted, and there were only two words to describe it. Mosquito. Infested. Even though it is a pretty easy portage, we were exhausted, and I had difficulty carrying my gear. We must have done a quadruple carry on this portage. Not that it mattered It was still early in the day, and I knew I had to take it easy.
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By the time we had hauled everything to the Baby Joe put in, I knew we were in for it. I told Deanna that given how we felt by the end of this portage, I didn’t think we would be able to complete the 790m portage from Burnt Island to the Otterslides. Even with 2 days rest. She agreed with me, and so it was decided that since Burnt Island Lake was large enough, we would spend our full week on that lake alone.

We took our sweet time paddling across Baby Joe Lake. In part because we were tired, in part because there was no wind, but mostly because we knew that we had our last portage of the day not too far ahead of us.
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With that easy 200m portage behind us, we had begun our paddle on Burnt Island Lake.
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The paddle started out calm enough, but as we approached a more open stretch of water, the winds increased dramatically.

   
 

 
There were near white caps on the water, and with the wind slamming us from the East, it was giving the canoe a dangerously good rocking. We tried to point ourselves into the waves as best we could while making for the closest campsite we could find.

The site we landed on was on a semi exposed point. It was great because you could walk around the point and have a view of everything, and even better was the wind blowing through kept the mosquitoes away.

   
    
We set up a tarp shelter to block the wind so we could cook our meal. We ate a late lunch and got to setting up camp. I pulled out our SPOT device and pushed the button to send out the “We’re okay. Stayin here the night” message which would include our location.

Later on while resting in the tent, we heard a splash followed by what sounded like a pig grunting. We went to investigate and saw it was a female Merganser with some where around 10 ducklings.   

        
Around 9pm, after we had a late dinner, we were sitting around the fire when we heard the sound of a Barred Owl calling in the distance. I mimicked his call, and got a response from not one, but two barred owls. I tried again, but they stopped after that. They must not have liked what I had to say.

Wednesday June 10th

We slept great. But all I could hear over night and this morning was the sound of very strong gusts of wind. We guessed that the gusts must have been approximately 50 km/hr. We got up at around 10am and made breakfast, and then retired back to the tent. The winds were too strong for us to do any paddling today. It hadn’t let up since we landed the day before. We decided it was best to stay put, or head back. We didn’t want to do any day trips, and risk getting stranded by the wind without our food or shelter.

Our decision to stay here another night is enforced by the rumbling of thunder in the distance.

The rain started at 11:00. By 12:00 things just sucked! Our tent is being absolutely pummeled by winds and heavy rains. The strength of our tent poles are certainly being tested as one corner is forced inward and the rest of it thrashes about. We were worried about the tent collapsing. So severe was the weather that I recall saying to Deanna, “I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a tornado advisory right now.” I decided to send the “Weather sucks! We’re staying here the night.” message from our SPOT device with our location.

As we lay in the tent, watching the lake as the fly flapped open, we noticed that the tent pegs were beginning to be pulled out of the ground. I made the decision to strip down, don my rain gear, and head out to secure the tent.

I stepped out of the tent, and into a god damn hurricane. Winds that must have been in excess of 80 km/hr and rains assaulted me. I looked out onto the lake and saw the largest white caps.

Not even 30 seconds of me getting out of the tent, I watched as the wind picked up our canoe and tossed it into the lake.

“OH SH*T! SH*T! SH*T! SH*T! OH MY GOD!” Was all I could scream as I waded into the lake to fetch the canoe. Words can’t really express what I felt at that point. I just about cried. I hauled the canoe up onto the campsite and wedged it between two trees, stuffing any other items we had out underneath it. I then grabbed the hatchet and hammered those tent pegs as far into the ground as I could possibly get them.

I climbed back into the tent and put on my dry clothes. “It’s official. Tomorrow, we’re getting the heck off this lake!”

We passed the time by reading and playing cards. Eventually, we took a nap. Looking back, I don’t know how we managed to do that. But we slept for another 2 hours. When we woke up the rain had stopped. So we decided to make some lunch. When we emerged from the tent we saw a very menacing cloud over the lake. We established that we had no more than 5 minutes to cook this meal. I had barely gotten everything ready when the downpour started again. We ended up having to cook in the vestibule of the tent.

After lunch we noticed that our tent had essentially become a water bed. Water was pooling between the ground mat and the tent floor. So every so often we would run our hands along the floor of the tent to push the water out the other side.

I remembered we had two extra tarps in the dry bag, so I brought them in and laid them on the floor of the tent. I was quite impressed by how how dry we were. With the heavy rains coming down on us we only had one small leak come from a loose seam in the fly.

By 2:30 it was still raining and thundering. It must have continued on for some time because I recall it being some time around 8:00 before we finally had dinner.   

    Before retiring for the night, we established that as soon as we woke up, if that lake was safe to paddle on, we would pack up and go home first thing.

Before going to bed, I sent off one last message from the SPOT device. The “We’re okay. Staying here the night”

Thursday June 11th

I woke up at 6:00 and immediately noticed there was no dramatic wind gusts. I climbed out of the tent and observed a mostly calm lake. Some chop, but paddleable. I went back into the tent and nudged my sister “Get up. We’re going” We were packed up and on the water by 7:00.

We fought head winds on Burnt Island Lake.

   
  Baby Joe Lake was mostly calm. We kicked ass on the 435m portage. The Joe Creek paddle was just as calm and beautiful as when we paddled it the first time.

   
   And in roughly the same area as we saw the 3 moose on our trip in, we saw our 5th moose in 3 days.
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At the Joe Lake portage we ran into a group of guys. I asked where they were headed off to. “Burnt Island” We responded with a “HA HA HA! Have fun!!” and proceeded to tell them our tale. That’s when one of the guys said, “Yea we heard there was a tornado warning” This was the first we had heard of it, but we weren’t surprised.

We had some head winds on Joe Lake, and most of Canoe Lake. By the time the permit office was in sight, I barely had the energy to paddle. We hadn’t eaten and just gave it our all getting there. The only thing fueling us was the though of two large scoops of Kawartha Dairy ice cream and bacon cheese burgers.

At 12:30 when we reached the dock, I collapsed half in half out of the canoe. We high fived each other for surviving and finally being back on the main land.

All the talk was of the storm. How severe the warnings were. When I switched on my phone I was flooded with Twitter, Facebook and text messages asking if I was okay. When Deanna checked the alerts from The Weather Network it read along the lines of “Tornadoes imminent. Seek shelter immediately. If you know anyone that is camping at Algonquin Park please contact them and notify them to seek shelter immediately” It wasn’t until reading that we realized just how bad the situation was. Then of course your mind wanders off onto how bad things could have been. We could’ve been stranded without a canoe. We could’ve actually been hit by a tornado. Our tent tossed into the lake with us inside. Nobody coming to search for us for another 4 days….

We really were lucky. Somebody was looking out for us that day.

I’ve always liked camping in the rain, but in hope I never have to experience anything like that again.

We are really lucky. Some one was definitely looking out for us that day.

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