Sunday, January 21, 2007

Weather wackiness -- Georgian Bay style

There's a perception out there that most of this climate-change stuff has mainly to do with milder winters. But the sunny season's gone loco, too. Hence our experience near Killarney this past summer.

We'd just finished a four-day, fifty-kilometre or so circumnavigation of Phillip Edward Island (an amazing trip I highly recommend, by the way), bringing us to a final couple nights of wilderness camping on a stunning chain of granite islands called the Foxes. The weather all along had been up and down: cold wind and rain followed in just a few hours by perfect sunny and warm conditions. This was mainly due, as those of you from Ontario may recall, to a tropical storm that washed up in the area and made the much-anticipated Labour Day weekend a total wipeout.

Anyhow, after a fun morning of paddling amongst the islands in highly entertaining three-foot swells, we noticed the sky off to the east starting to darken. If there is one thing I know, it is not to tempt Georgian Bay; we scampered back to our campsite and took cover under a shelter we'd put together by lashing a tarp down to several boulders. Marine radio and snacks in hand, we waited to see what was going to go down.

What followed was definitely more than we bargained for. Golf-ball-sized raindrops quickly gave way to golf-ball-sized hail and a hard south wind, all of which lashed the tarp and the tent, taking both to their limits, but both held on. Then the most psychopathic part: The lightning came, striking the islands around us so close that the peal of thunder that followed was deafening. Minute-by-minute, things seemed to be getting worse, but there are only so many things you can prepare for in the wilderness. We laid low and hoped for the best.

Fortunately, after a very long hour or so, things started to settle down. But just as we emerged from our crude shelter, a strange sight appeared overhead. A Coast Guard helicopter circling low, as though looking for something. We caught the pilot's attention, but only for a second, then he zipped over to a neighbouring island chain and put down -- right in the water. Several minutes later, the chopper rose above the treetops and disappeared to the east. Back in town later on, we heard from a couple locals that a kayaker had been hit by one of those spikes of lightning and had to be airlifted to hospital in Sudbury. Unbelievably, we also heard that she was okay.

We finished the trip amidst chilly temperatures (a full head of steam rose off the lake each of the last two mornings), and below zero at night, which meant sleeping in all our clothes: fleece, socks, pants. Even hat and gloves. But ah, what a ride.


stacey said...

I just love looking at all your kayaking and camping pics. You guys take some really nice trips. Although i do think you guys should try camping stace and paul style once - we'd love to take you to our spot in Bancroft. the girls can swim and play, and the boys can try their hats at fishing. Paul has caught some mighty large mouth bass in this lake! we don't travel light like you guys though and of course the canoe we bring comes with a motor! I know i know! We do go for some paddles though. It's great paddling territory - you'd like it!

Chad Fraser said...

Sure. You bring the burgers, I'll bring the Hibachi(TM) and my trunks. I hope it'll all fit in the motorcanoe.