Got up at 2AM for the planned night travel across sturgeon lake. I would navigating by the stars. Within an hour I had breakfast done, all 3 thermoses filled for the day, tent and all packed and loaded and heading on a S., SW bearing. Using the blue white star Spica in the consolation Virgo as my bearing. Pulling was moderate, but I was making time. On one of my few breaks I heard an almost inaudible roar in the direction of the Maligne River. I listened attentively and recognized it as the sound of rapids or falls. On each break the sound in the darkness of the night got louder.

Part 1: {audio}podcasts/2014_Solo_Canoe_Haul/20140403a_WillStegerDispatch.mp3{/audio}

Part 2: {audio}podcasts/2014_Solo_Canoe_Haul/20140403b_WillStegerDispatch.mp3{/audio}

Got up at 2AM for the planned night travel across sturgeon lake. I would navigating by the stars. Within an hour I had breakfast done, all 3 thermoses filled for the day, tent and all packed and loaded and heading on a S., SW bearing. Using the blue white star Spica in the consolation Virgo as my bearing. Pulling was moderate, but I was making time. On one of my few breaks I heard an almost inaudible roar in the direction of the Maligne River. I listened attentively and recognized it as the sound of rapids or falls. On each break the sound in the darkness of the night got louder. This brought back the excitement and a little fear of previous times when I was heading for dangerous waters ahead. On this still, calm, zero degree night the sound traveled well. As the night wore on and the stars rotated westward I changed bearing from Spica to the two stars in Libra, the balance. That night Mars was in Virgo and Saturn was in Libra and there was a glow of the northern lights to the North. As I moved across the surface of the Lake I felt like the sole occupant of the universe. The hauling was tiring and it was too cold to stop and rest. It was a memorable night as Sturgeon Lake started to funnel in where it would flow into the notorious Maligne River. The more the funnel narrowed, the louder the roar got. It felt like I was ascending into Hades. Around this time a bank of clouds came in, blotting out the stars. I then used the roar of the rapids ahead as my bearing, keeping north of the sound. This was a little tricky since there were islands and big bays on the North shore and I didn’t want to get tangled up there where the snow was deeper. So I was careful to keep in the outside of the island and peninsulas which were faint silhouettes. Dawn came and slowly light came back, giving me good visibility just as I entered the narrowest point of the funnel where the rapids were.

I took the portage on the North side, but it was tricky getting to it because of thin ice that was to dangerous to walk on. I ended up lining my canoe over the thin ice with a long rope attached to the bow and me crawling over the steep shore lines, boulders and small cliff, pulling on the line like leading a reluctant puppy, sliding the canoe along. I made the portage in one load, the snow had set well from the last thaw followed by the blizzard cold. On the other end I waterproofed everything, dressed up in my hydroskin outfit and started paddling. It was terrifying at first but I had learned a lot from the stream in the storm. I paddled in the blizzard so it wasn’t so long before I felt somewhat comfortable and started to enjoy the adventure.

The problem was the strong current flowed under the ice across the entire river. So I got out on the shore to negotiate around this obstacle. However as soon as I pulled my wet bottomed canoe up on the shore and unto the soft snow the canoe froze into place and I couldn’t budge it. The solution to this was to pull out my bivy bag and the sleeping bag inside it and sleep for three hours until the surface conditions were warmer.

I had a good sleep. The rest of the day was exciting. I had to do two portages and some navigating the shore ice, but for the most part I paddled the black swift moving waters. I shot a couple lesser rapids where I was 200% attentive. There was some calm sections which allowed me the leisure of being relaxed. It was a beautiful afternoon and the river for the most part the river on either side had shore ice that extended out from the banks. It was an exception to find rocky shoreline with no ice. If I tipped over out on the river it would be difficult to get to shore, and this added to the excitement and commitment of the day. The weather was raw and dreary, thick grey clouds, a little wind from the SE which was not that audible in the trees since the sound of rushing water filled my day.

I have had this experience a number of times in my life. Like today where I started out terrified of what I am doing. Cold water is my biggest fear, but by the end of the day what was terrifying was now simple routine as I mastered the skills and techniques that allowed me to have confidence in myself.

I made camp at the foot of a rapids. I was chilled and ready for camp. Too bad my fuel is rationed because I am not able to really warm the tent much to get warm and snug. Instead I dress up. It was fairly warm, around 10 degrees, spring is around the corner… somewhere.

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