Getting to Pic Island proved to be easier than leaving it.
Our plans were to leave on Thursday, and paddle back across Thompson Channel, which separated us from the mainland. We would then camp that night at a location not far from our Friday take-out in Coldwell (just to the east of Neys).
We had just had three days of fine weather and that is quite a stretch here in the fall. So, when morning rolled around to the sounds of blustery winds and raucous waves, we weren’t really too surprised.
We were stuck, so I did what any artist would do out here when you can’t paddle – I went and found something to paint. Fortunately, I didn’t have to go very far.
Meanwhile back at the camp, Janet and the girls were busy videotaping caribou in the woods behind the tent. They were probably the ones responsible for the tracks that greeted us on our arrival. As we later tucked in for the night, Andie whispered a prayer that included calm waters for the day so we could move on. The next morning, not only were we on our way, but the wind was to our back as well. I think I read somewhere once about “faith like a small child’s”…
After packing our gear back in the truck, we made our way down to Pukaskwa National Park, which was less than a one-hour drive east. Our trip was not without interruption however. The urge for a burger hit Jan and I rather unannounced, and commandeered our vehicle to the A&W in Marathon.
After refueling ourselves, we also put some gas in the truck and moved on to Hattie Cove campground. As we setup camp for the night, Rick Snowdon met up with us from Naturally Superior Adventures. For the next few days he was going to join us and lend a hand. As an experienced guide, the extra help in these unpredictable fall waters would be welcomed, especially with young children in our canoe.
As well as being a veteran guide, Rick turned out to be fine cook as well. His meals brought an element of luxury to our trip that we’ve not experienced in the past. I’m not knocking my wife Janet’s great cooking, but in the field we have chosen to keep meals simple, quick and easy. The day’s is secondary to other more important things – such as making sure Sydney doesn’t fall in the lake.
Weather was good for travel the next morning so we headed down the spectacular Pukaskwa coast.
Incredible rock formations line much of the shores, interspersed by the occasional beach area. As you pass these ancient shores, you really feel as though you are stepping back in time.
A couple hours of rather leisurely paddling brought us to the mouth of the White River, where we headed a short distance up to our campsite.
This spot was situated in a small quiet cove, nestled amongst the trees. The land narrowed to within a hundred yards and literally a stone’s throw on the other side stood Lake Superior.
In the cove we had access to the sheltered waters of the river, but it was convenient to be able to check on the state of the lake. We also had a great view of the setting sun.
Historically, the White River was used for log drives, and, if you’re looking, you can still see signs of the drives. At the mouth of the river we pass an old metal ring with a piece of chain that is attached directly to the rock that used to anchor a log boom. Around the corner are some old logs washed ashore with parts of large chains still attached.
Paddling upriver took me to a fine aerial view of the river. A suspension bridge straddles the flow, creating a dramatic view. I try very much in my paintings to avoid the typical postcard-type scenes, the ones that anyone could easily stumble upon.
Instead, I like to seek out my own perspectives on things, painting them in ways that perhaps others haven’t. However, I just couldn’t resist the view from the swaying bridge and set up my easel there and worked on a small piece.
Evening came and we decided that after a good night’s sleep we would strike out a little further south to explore the Willow River area.
It is, apparently, quite different geographically from our location on the White, and we were told there was good inland hiking in case high winds made canoeing too dangerous. I say, apparently, because we never did make it more than the first couple of hundred yards past the river mouth where we were staying. In addition to the white caps, I think what really did it was the water that rolled into the side of the canoe as we struggled with the wind. An experienced explorer might say “just pump it out and go on”. However, with our baby Syndey riding in the front of the open canoe, and Andie (who actually wanted bigger waves), Janet and I thought better and turned back. This time we pulled up on a different campsite not far from the mouth to wait things out.
The first thing that we noticed was that this site had been recently visited. A mostly destroyed mountain ash tree, with some berries remaining, was the main clue, plus the scratch marks and tuffs of black hair caught in the cracks of the wood. By the looks of it, we weren’t certain who got the worst of it, the tree or the bear. Despite this, we remained there the next couple of nights (as the winds never did calm down) and fortunately we didn’t have to share dinner with any return visitors.
Staying at White River longer gave me the opportunity to explore and paint on a small “island” called a tombolone. I learned that this had been an island at one point, but was now connected to land because of the continual washing in of rocks and driftwood which eventually formed a peninsula.
And what a pile of driftwood! Climbing in and around, I finally set up and worked on a painting that just had to include some of the wood. The shapes and contortions found in these castaways are an artist’s dream. The moon began to show itself in the clear sky as the sun worked its’ setting magic on the scene before me. These last moments of extraordinary light never seem to last long enough. I worked until the light was all but gone, and left thinking that this scene could make a much larger painting back in the studio.
At camp we bundled up as the thermometer dropped down to -2 degrees C, our first real taste of the colder weather that is to come and then it was time to leave Pukaskwa. The gale force winds that were forecasted through the night didn’t come until Wednesday morning. Winds were still stiff, but manageable, as we paddled back to Hattie Cove, leaving me looking forward to a return visit or two, or three…