We awoke at Lamprey Falls campsite to a stunning, still morning. So did the mossies, so we didn’t linger too long. This section of paddling is through one of Manitoba’s provincial parks, where wild camping is discouraged. Fortunately, the semi-organised campsites provided by the government are pretty darn good, equipped with picnic tables, fire pits and toilets, which proved useful as Cas had seemingly picked up a bug at some point. She soldiered on, and we got back in the boat though aware that the luxury of a toilet of sorts might be quite pleasant later. We were forced to put the tent up shortly after arriving on Eaglenest Lake as a storm tore through, and got back on the water after a break of a couple of hours. We didn’t mind a shorter, broken day however, as the paddle from Lamprey to LaVasseur Island was quite stunning. Minimal moving water allowed us to really enjoy the paddling, and we pulled in to a stunning beach around mid-afternoon. We don’t think we’ve given ourselves too many easy days, so were happy to kick back for a few hours in the afternoon sun.
We were now within striking distance of Ontario, our fourth province. We enjoyed a reasonably easy paddle to the border against a bit of occasional fast water, and stopped for coffee whilst another storm brewed. Refreshed, we headed on towards Boundary Island, where we encountered an un-named set of falls guarding the way. After two failed attempts at scaling these, and about to resort to lining, we had a look at the third potential line and decided to give it a go. Having let one fishing boat through we had another look, to see another boat hurtling downstream towards us. We tried to tuck back in and he slowed rapidly on seeing us, but that simply had the effect of mixing an even larger wake with quite a punchyeddy-line, with white water splashing into Cas’s cockpit and over the spray deck. With no real option but to get out of the churning water, we paddled like fury out into the middle of the flow and literally inched our way up the falls. It was without doubt our most difficult upstream section and possibly our sketchiest moment to date thanks to the poorly timed boat. With no clear sight of us he can’t be blamed, but racing through on the plane would have produced far less wake, something many boat owners don’t seem to grasp.
Congratulating ourselves and our boat we continued on as yet another storm gathered momentum. When the thunder cracked right behind us we decided it was time for tea, and took another break before heading on up to our last dam (which we hadn’t realised was there until the day before). Whitedog Dam is the final portage before reaching the top of the Winnipeg River, and the portage site provided an adequate campsite for the night. The threatened third storm of the day amounted to little, and we both had the best sleep we’d had in days. We set out the next morning thinking we might reach Kenora, but ongoing strong currents in this high water year made progress slow. We set out on to Sand Lake, which we think must have been named before the dams were all installed, and gradually adjusted to the increase in boat traffic we were seeing. Most islands have a cottage, and many of these are now occupied for the summer so we resigned ourselves to no longer being in the wilderness. We passed through the small town of Minaki, complete with float planes and an on-the-water gas station, and found a stunning island peninsular for the night where Mike picked up his second leach. The bemused looks on the faces of most of the boats that went by suggested wild camping is not so common in these parts.
After 235km of some of the most beautiful landscapes we have paddled through so far we finally arrived the next day at Keewatin and took the boat out of the river that has been such a great surprise, and joy. The portage here is short, into a purpose-cut channel that links to Lake of the Woods. This area has been one that we have both been looking forward to, as the myriad of islands and channels should prove to be paddling heaven. As long as the speed boats stay clear. Within minutes of arriving here we looked to our left to see a large sightseeing boat, the size of small ferry, bearing down on us. Feeling very small we carefully traced our way around the islands, surprising a small turtle who was sunbathing in the reeds. We think he now has an additional pink stripe adorning his shell, and a tale to tell his friends. Yes, we ran over a turtle.
We arrived at Anicinabe Park campsite in the afternoon with a forecast of increasing wind the next day. Needing to do a small resupply, and finding that Kenora is the home of the Lake of the Woods Brewing Company, this seemed like a good place for a break.