Page Sized Topographic Trip Maps
We produced our own maps by downloading the 1:50,000 and 1:250,000 topographic sheets from the Canadian government. These are available for download, at no cost, in various file formats from Natural Resources Canada. We used the Canmatrix Print Ready 50k TIFF files. These are just scans of the old paper topo maps. Many canoeists use just the 1:250,000 sheets but these lack detail and in places are very difficult to use.
The TIFF files were imported into a drawing program where they were scaled and A4 page sized sections printed at either 1:50’000 or 1:100,000 scale. Most of the 1:50,000 sheets are black and white line drawings and print well on any laser printer. Where sheets are in colour we have them laser printed, again at A4 size. We make two complete sets of maps. Both the bow and stern paddler has a map in front of them.
Adjoining A4 sheets are then placed back to back and laminated. Sections of the 1:250,000 sheets are also printed as an overview. The result is waterproof, rugged, convenient to use page sized maps. Each map is annotated with indelible marker. We give each rapid a unique number, all cross referenced to previous paddler’s trip notes.
We navigate strictly by map and magnetic compass. We carry a GPS but it is almost never used. Occasionally on long stretches of featureless river we will use it to pinpint our location, otherwise it stays packed away.
Safety and Communications
We carry a GPS equipped Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). It operates on 406Mhz via the international Cospas-Sarsat satellite-based search and rescue (SAR) distress alert detection and information distribution system. The beacon is registered to us so if activated SAR personnel know who is in trouble and exactly where we are. What they can’t know is the nature of the problem.
We also carry a DeLorme InReach two-way satellite texting and distress alert system. This allows short text messages to be sent and received from any email address or mobile phone, anywhere on the planet. It also has an emergency beacon feature. We use it to stay in daily contact with family. They in turn can track our progress on the web via DeLorme’s web tracking feature.
We lodge detailed trip information with the RCMP. This includes a route map and approximate itinerary, satellite emergency beacon ID, tent and canoe colour, our passport numbers and emergency contact details in both Canada and Australia.
The Weather Bot
One of the most devilish problems facing wilderness canoeists is the old ‘do we or don’t we pack up and go?’. You wake up, the weather looks marginal, the wind is already a head wind and seemingly rising. Another lay day or do we bite the bullet and give it a go? The time from wake up to eat, pack and in the canoe and paddling is anywhere from 1.5 to 2 hours. Knowing roughly what the weather is likely to do is a real bonus.
On our 2014 trip Steve, our IT savvy son-in-law set our InReach up to act as a weather bot. We knew there were three automatic weather stations (AWS) along our route, at Stony Rapids, Dubawnt Lake and Baker Lake. We bought a Saskatchewan Area Code 306 mobile phone number. Steve then wrote code such that a call from the InReach would retrieve weather data from one or more of the AWS and send it back to us as an InReach text message. The ability to have daily forecasts of likely wind speed and direction was most valuable.
We are self confessed news junkies. We both hate not knowing what’s going on in the world. We carry a Sony SW7600 receiver and about 20 metres of fine copper wire for an antenna. We were able to reliably receive Radio Australia International morning and evening, mostly their service to the Central Pacific in the 31, 25, 19 and 16 metre bands.
Sadly, international radio broadcasting is dying. Radio Canada International which was one of the world’s most respected international broadcasters terminated shortwave broadcasts in 2012.