BPEG January Meeting: A Winter’s Paddling Expedition Across Georgian Bay

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Submitted by Joanne Rodgers

What does the heart of Georgian Bay look like in winter? Is it possible to do a winter crossing? Scott Parent was curious to find those answers and when Zane Davies’ first answer was “not on your life”, Scott knew this was the guy to join him on what was to be a paddling expedition on a wintry Georgian Bay.

Scott Parent and Zane Davies presented their fascinating story to a packed audience at the Jan 2019 BPEG Meeting.

This was not an adventure to be undertaken lightly and would draw on all their skills and preparations.

Altogether, the team had over 10 years experience with ice climbing, glacial expeditions, outdoor adventure, fire and water rescue and spent weeks developing systems to allow them to traverse the transitionary terrain of open water and thick and thin ice. They experimented with a wide range of gear from ice climbing tools, ski poles, dry suits and reinforced paddle boards, and used NOAA satellite images to study the ice. They also set some ground rules such as ‘not risking each other lives” and ‘self-rescue” and “not to travel at night”.

 After practicing off Lighthouse Point at Neyaashiinigmiing, refining their techniques, finally the required mature ice formed during the last days of winter/early spring 2015. Ideally, they needed 4 to 5 days of consistent weather whereby the wind would not change direction. The only window during the 4 week training and waiting period was 3 days. “Go Day” was 11 March 2015, the overnight ice was less than 2 inches thick.

With their fibreglass paddleboards reinforced with glued-on crazy carpets, 2 drysuits, 2 sets of gear each, food essentials such as beef jerky and chocolate bars and a balmy 0C (quite different conditions from their minus 20C practice days with glare ice); they left from Neyaashiinigmiing. The greatest threat were bummocks, large plates of ice turned up by the wind and hidden under the floes that can be pushed up at anytime. They walked on the ice, tapping ahead every step, constantly in tune with the ice and what it was doing all around.

Day One was slow going, by nightfall they had completed 20km, with another 27km to get to the Western Island Lighthouse. Sleeping on their paddleboards and in their dry suits, they accounted “best night sleep ever”. However, while they were sleeping, the ice opened up and they drifted backwards 1.5 km, panicking their ground support tracking them on their SPOT device. 

On the second day, they pushed through to the Western Lighthouse and camped out in the lighthouse. With the movement of the ice, had they stayed on the ice, it would have taken them an extra day to get back on track. With cell service, they were able to update their families and arrange their transport home.

They arrived at 12 Mile Bay on March 13, 2015, meeting their families for the drive back home.

They noted how deadly quiet the lake was, admired the dark skies, met one seagull. 3.33% of the trek was on open water. Asked if they would repeat the trek, Zane replied “maybe Lake Superior!”

Please go to bpeg.ca for the audio recording of this talk.

The next BPEG meeting is at 7:30pm, Anglican Church Hall, Lion’s Head on February 6 2019: John Festarini will provide an update on Bruce Peninsula and Fathom Five National Parks.