Friday night: Met up with 10 other nutcases in front of the Shatner building. It was raining a bit but there was no snow on the ground in Montréal – but things would soon change for us. The drive out to Floodwood Pond was uneventful – the border guard asked us a lot of questions, but I think most of them were because she was bored. After the border the 4 people in our car waited for the other cars, and to our surprise only 6 more people showed up. Our concern quickly vanished as we learned that J.Y. got an urgent call from work and was dropped off in Châteauguay to make his way back to Montréal.
The campsite was covered in about 10cm of powdery snow. I setup my tent and realized that it was still dirty from Burning Man. I drew a man: )'( in the dust and I was happy. Slept OK despite the -5°C low – my feet were a bit cold and it took a while to remember how to properly seal my sleeping bag but oh well.
Caturday: I was the first person up, and met the canoe guy who drove up with 5 metal boats in his truck. He pointed out that the pond was completely frozen and suggested we canoe in a different area, but Peter, our fearless leader, convinced him otherwise. As we were getting into the water, a woman showed up and lectured us on the stupidity of what we were doing. She said she was a canoe instructor. She said we should stop, and come back a month earlier next year. I took her aside and explained my point of view: "yeah, the group is very optimistic, but I think realistically if we make it to —> that island by dark we’ll all be happy. And we have enough time and experience to do that safely."
I ended up in "the lead boat" with a guy named Marc. We used our paddles to break the ice but it was a long and tiring process. Other people in other boats tried different techniques, some of which made more headway, and our lead quickly evaporated. We eventually discovered a reasonable technique for areas with medium (around 3cm) amounts of ice: both "paddlers" bash the backs of their paddles into the ice (yay, cheap aluminum and plastic paddles) and then pull the boat forward. If needed, rocking up and down will then break the ice under the boat enough that the process can be repeated. The two boats with axes (one ice axe and one lumberjack axe) also made rapid progress with their own techniques, and sometimes we followed their path. After over an hour of this, we reached a small stretch of open water, which was a welcome break. Actually paddling was so relaxing that we took our time getting back to the ice.
All good things must come to an end, and we were soon back fighting the ice. Our "goal" was still to head to the right of "that island", down a river, etc. It was suggested that we lunch on "that island". We made it there by 13:30. People were already talking about spending the night there. We decided to have lunch and see how we felt.
After a leisurely lunch, there was relatively little discussion. A couple of people expressed disappointment that we weren’t at least going to try for "that other island over there" but only after a majority of the group had voted, all in favour of staying on "that island." I put up my slightly less dirty tent, we built a campfire, and sat around it for hours talking about nothing. During the evening, a powerboat tried to make its way to the other end of the pond but gave up in the channel to the left of "that island" and turned around. I slept a bit better despite a low of -9°C, probably because I wore 2 pairs of socks.
Sunday: We really took our time getting ready in the morning since our goal was clear: follow our paths back home. Marc and I discovered some new techniques for dealing with the freshly frozen trails from the previous day. The most rapid was to have one person in the front of the boat leaning out as far as possible (which was easy considering the boat was not actually floating but rather resting entirely on ice), bashing in a paddle, and pulling forward as hard as possible. The person in the back could assist by pushing against some of Saturday’s ice chunks, which were now frozen in place. When the ice was too thick for this, we resorted to scooching [*] our body weight rapidly forward to make the boat slide. This was much slower than the pulling technique, but less frustrating than actually trying to break the ice. In any case, Marc and I made it to the open water well ahead of the other boats.
Erm, the previously open water. Overnight, about 5mm of ice had formed there. Fortunately that was thin enough that we could just crunch our paddles through it – it was a bit like paddling through thick oil with a crunchy topping. Eventually we did find some open water, and waited for the others. One of them decided to explore a river, which led us to a bridge that someone recognized from the drive in. So we pulled out our boats and portaged the last ~500m back to the cars. Phew!
We had one last adventure on the way out – one of the cars was leaking brake fluid. We were stopped near the middle of the small, unploughed road while the driver investigated, called CAA, etc. A pickup truck approached, saw the situation, and patiently waited for us to get out of his way. Then, about 30 seconds later, a car drove up from the other direction and decided to try and pass us all. She got stuck in the loosely packed powder on the shoulder of the road… it was our friend from yesterday! As we helped her get free, she said she was glad we made it out and apologized for giving us such a hard time: "I’m not really a bitch. I was just worried about you." By the time she was free, there was enough room for the pickup to pass without using the shoulder. As the driver did this, he slowed down and advised us: "Stay away from that one. She’s a crazy bitch."
[*] what do you mean, that isn’t a word?
It was a good weekend and a fun adventure. I’m glad I got out "paddling" one last time, and it was a good way to dive into winter head first. I’m no longer afraid of what this season will bring weather wise – if a crazed group of mostly McGill students can survive a frozen pond without even one case of frostbite, we can survive anything this city can throw at us!