Spring canoeing or kayaking trips can be some of the best paddling one can hope for. But they can also be the worst if not prepared. When planning spring trips many other issues come into play. Is the Ice out? Will the bugs be bad? How cold is the water again? What if the weather changes its mind and decides spring should wait? etc. With the increased issue regarding a spring trip it can still offer some of the best paddling around for two simple reasons. No bugs and no people. Many spring trips provide an amazing feeling of isolation and enjoyment in areas that may be crawling with other people in the summer or fall. This past week I spent several days on the water and was easily reminded of the differences between spring, summer, and fall kayaking. Below is a summery of some considerations when planning your next spring paddle in the north.
If you live in Canada or any other icy nation you are no stranger to ice and snow. When planning your next spring paddle you need to factor in the ice. If your not lucky enough to live up north and are required to drive several hours to get away like me then you can’t take your local weather as a guaranteed indication of the weather up north. Melting ice and flowing rivers at home does not mean 5 hours north will be anything remotely similar. My spring paddle this year was a prime example. The main channel was open but to get to where we intended required leaving the main river channel and paddling between a set of islands and the main land. The result: completely locked in with ice not meters away from the flowing main channel. No possibility of breaking it or desire to risk a capsize in the process. If you get up and find your limited by ice, change your plans find a nice place to camp and stay there. Don’t risk a dump in the still freezing waters.
Even if it is 20 degrees in the south where you live it does not mean the northern area you may be heading to will even be above zero. This is not something to shy away from but rather something to prepare yourself for. Dress in layers and bring extras. Check the weather ahead of time but don’t bet everything on it. Many times the weather has changed significantly on trips in the spring. A friends of mine was hiking on crown land and they got an un-forecasted dump of 20 cm of snow. The tent collapsed under all the weight due to improper set up but lucky they had warm cloths and proper foot wear. For more times involving cold weather trips see winter camping tips.
It may be spring but the water doesn’t know that yet. The water is usually just above freezing during this time of year and even seconds submerged in it could mean life and death. During the spring I limit paddle distances for safety reasons and stick closer to shore then I normally would. I also carry an emergency blanket, warm cloths kept in wet bags, a lighter, some tinder as well as waterproof matches all sealed and on my person.
If you go to early there may be ice… Too late and their may be bugs. Several warm days up north is all it takes to awaken the swarms of black flies waiting patiently to emerge. I have been to early and had ice limit my travel and to late. I would take the ice and cold temperatures any day over swarms of flies. They are relentless and have driven may people insane. Rumours have it that people on adventure races have lost their bug net and been hospitalized after due to the bites. If your prepared then ether way you can enjoy a trip. see my article involving bugs here.
The northern regions can be busy in peak seasons. Now most provincial parks in Canada have a waiting list. That is why I prefer crown land. It is land you can use any day of the year because you pay for it via your taxes. Popular crown land areas such as Temagami or Noganosh in northern ontario can even be busy in peak season. After a long day of paddling to get into Noganosh one Canada day weekend I was greeted by a canoe or kayak at every available spot I could see. In the spring this is not an issue. Most people prefer to wait for warm weather so if you venture into the wilderness in the early spring be prepared. You don’t have access to park rangers and many cottagers haven’t even opened up their cottages yet. Waiting instead until May 24th when the bugs are usually in full force. When you paddle use common sense. Tell others when your leaving and when you expect to return. If your going into more isolated regions consider a satellite phone or SPOT device in case emergencies should arise. Seconds in the cold water is all it would take.
Be safe and get out there this spring. Some of the best paddling awaits!