Being out on a large windy lake is the by far the top scariest paddling experience in Quetico. Some lakes are notorious for sudden weather changes but all lakes have the potential to surprise. Crossing big lakes is the single most dangerous thing you can do in a canoe and yes this includes running rapids.
There is no sure way to know if it’s totally safe to cross a large body of water but some common sense rules should be followed. Here a a few tips….
1. Thermal heating is a major cause of wind on lakes. Thermal heating occurs when the sun heats the air over the land thus initiating the convection currents that hawks use to glide on. This is why lakes are often dead calm at night and early in the morning. One way to avoid paddling in windy conditions is to paddle at night or get up really early and paddle before the waves pick up. Savvy paddlers use this approach when planning their lake crossings and will save a lot of time and effort while covering more distance.
2. Stay close to shore and this rule is especially true when the water is cold. Keep in mind when paddling alone that dumping your boat in cold water can easily kill you. Furthermore, even if you are crossing as a group remember that initiating a rescue on a big windy lake is very difficult and can cause a chain reaction with multiple people in the water.
3. Travel point to point to minimize the risk of being pulled out into the middle of a big lake. If I am facing more challenging conditions, I will choose closer points that will provide a break from the wind and keep me from going too far out.
4. Call it quits and set up camp when conditions are not safe. If you have the luxury of choice choose a site on the leeward side of a point or an island. Setup your tents with the full complement of guy ropes and tie downs and relax to….it will pass. Being windbound is a normal part of paddling.
5. Use good judgement. Keep in mind the consequences of swimming to shore with little or no gear. Even if you make it to shore your trip is probably ruined and you are in a difficult situation.