October 15 - Day 1
Paddling Sproule Bay

This is an account of a quick two night weekend on Lake Opeongo. My planned objective was to camp on Bates Island on in the South Arm. Yes, I am aware of its infamous history, the tragedy that occurred there back in October of '91. I had wanted to camp there in the hopes of scouting out the island for a possible winter camping trip destination and to pre-cut a supply of wood.

My partner Joan and I arrived at the West gate to pick up a permit just after 11:00am. We had driven up through gusty winds and the odd rain shower. It really wasn't a nice day out.

We arrived at the docks of access#11 on Lake Opeongo just after 12pm and began the process of loading up the canoe. The area was nearly deserted except for a solo canoeist in a light blue canoe who was wisely taking a shuttle up the lake. There was also about one hundred seagulls on the docks. I had never seen so many there and as such I chose to launch our canoe at the natural put-in, away from the docks and the mess that the flying garbage cans had made of the area.

As we prepared to launch, the shuttle with its solo canoeist headed up the lake and I paused to watch the shuttle. The winds, occasional drizzle and rolling waves certainly made the scene a gloomy one. It was great to be back in The Park though and as I watched the shuttle disappear around the bend, I figured the waters weren't too bad, so with a few drops of rain (and Joan insisting she saw a few snowflakes) we launched at 12:25pm.

The waters moved 'fast'. That swirling wind driven wave action that the water had, made me feel for a moment that this trip was a mistake. I looked into the water and saw nothing but black cold waters mere inches away. I looked away and up the lake…pushing away those dark thoughts and instead thought about getting closer to the opposing shore and heading up the lake.

Sproule Bay on a gloomy day

We prepared to launch onto Lake Opeongo amid gloomy conditions


All was going well, we passed a few campsites then hit the bend, went around it and saw Wolf Island ahead of us as we paddled nowhere in heavy choppy waters. We paddled for about 3 minutes and maybe went about 1 foot forward. Joan was asking, "Where are we going?" Nowhere it seemed. The howling wind was strong and I could barely hear what she was saying, yet I understood her concern. We had to do something.

The water was so choppy (We were very near the shoreline) and the canoe was weighed down so much (sluggish to respond) that it took all my effort just to maintain directional control over the canoe. Joan's efforts to propel us forward weren't simply enough. It required more power than she or I could muster. We felt like the proverbial cork bobbing in an ocean.

Despite the conditions I was glad we were close to shore, I looked West of me and saw that the winds were much worse out there on the open water. Joan asked if we could turnaround? I didn't want to but we had no choice. "What are you waiting for?" I was just waiting for the right moment to turnaround. Pick the wrong moment and we would tip.

After a few minutes I spied a lull in the waves as the wind died momentarily; "Okay, paddle, PADDLE!" I began turn the canoe as Joan paddled furiously. There was one wave that struck us and made me feel like that was it, but as soon as it passed we regained our balance and we were back behind the bend and out of the wind. Within a space of a few more seconds we were in calmer waters paddling easily and breathing a sigh of relief.

We made our way back to a campsite I had spied on our way up, I had picked it out as a potential backup site. I had never intended to camp there, but was now happy that it was available. We landed at a very small sandy landing and scrambled up a grassy bank to the campsite proper. It was small but would do in a pinch and it was a pinch we had just got ourselves out of!

Our small but cozy campsite on Sproule Bay

 

Looking back to the access point from our campsite on Sproule Bay


By 3pm we had camp set-up; tent, tarps, camp chairs and a warming fire roaring as the air was chill and the wind didn't help much. We were protected for the most part from the wind, but we still had a cold breeze blowing through camp occasionally. Joan perfected the tarp set-up, providing a wall beside us, trapping the heat of the fire and reflecting it back towards us. So, as we sat in our chairs drinking frosty beer out of mugs, our backsides were kept warm.

Sporule Bay
Late fall colours on Sproule Bay


Earlier, when we were setting up camp, what looked to be the traditional SAR helicopter, flew above our campsite and hovered briefly. I did not wave or give any indication I was in trouble, I merely stared up at the helicopter till after a moment or two it went away.

After a time we could hear the helicopter again as it returned nearby. I wondered if someone nearby us was in trouble? The weather certainly was gloomy and we never saw any other craft that day except for one more shuttle going up the lake and returning. No canoes were out on the water, only we were the crazy ones that afternoon it seemed. We settled in to enjoy the rest of the day as the chilly windy weather continued.

By 5:30pm, the sun broke through the cloud cover to the west. The winds had died down somewhat and I broke out my camera and took a few pictures of the embarrassingly close access point. We were about a kilometre away, maybe 1.3km and that was it. I felt dorky being camped so close to an access point. I thought perhaps everyone has a trip at least once in their lives like this and this was it. It happens. Still, I couldn't help but feel embarrassed, especially since some of my friends and family were tracking our position via satellite. Darn technology!

For dinner we had pork schnitzel with sauteed mushrooms and mashed potatoes (with gravy), with a nice cold beer to wash it down…ahhhh!

dinner
Nothing beats a hot and tasty meal on a cold and damp day

 

Sunset on Sproule Bay
Early Evening: A partial clearing in the cloud cover gave us a nice sunset

By 6:30pm the sun was setting and two motorboats from the Harkness fisheries research laboratory headed out onto the water and up the lake and out of sight. Nearly three hours later, they returned. Fisheries research sure seemed like it was cold, damp and dark work! It remained cloudy and the wind died down as the evening progressed and by 11pm I retired.

 

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