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Home  | Arctic River Trips | The Caribou River 




                                    The Little Caribou River



 Paul and I had talked about canoeing in the Arctic for many years and in 1994 we made the commitment, packed up and headed out. We both felt that we were experienced, capable and up for the task at hand. We were quite wrong. We had the wrong clothes, the wrong gear and we were unprepared for paddling in the Arctic, but we fumbled and bumbled our way to the our pick-up place and the airplane ride off of the river. We both loved the trip and had planned another bigger trip long before this trip was over.




                                               The Big Picture


The Caribou River starts at Commonwealth Lake and just skirts the tree line to Hudson Bay.


The shallow, rocky Caribou River started at Commonwealth Lake and eventually dribbled into
the Hudson Bay. It was more of a walk than a paddle. It's not too far north of Churchill.


Packing out. It's hard to think cold when it's over ninety. That's Paul sneaking something

into a stuff sack, maybe a little candy.


We flew Paul's plane from St. Paul to Fort Francis and then Red Lake. From there to

Thompson for more fuel and then on to Churchill. There was very little to look at on the

ground except lakes and trees. 


Here we are finally on the ground at Churchill. You can just see the Hudson Bay in the background.


This was the Fixed Base Operator at the Churchill Airport. They serviced all general aviation needs, which were few. They don't get a lot of transient traffic. This is a destination.


Churchill's main street and longest street. There were a lot of cars and trucks for a place

that only had about six miles of roads. The railroad was the only thing that came here on

he ground, and that was three times a week.


We are staying at the best motel in town, the Tundra Inn. We ate at the Tundra Cafe

which as directly across the street. There's a theme here.


We loaded up Doug's plane at the seaplane base and headed northwest towards the river.


We stopped at Caribou Lake and picked up a very clapped out canoe. From there we

continued to Commonwealth Lake were Doug dropped us off. This is the off-loading at Commonwealth Lake and the headwaters of the Caribou River. The river started just out

of the trees and followed the tree line more or less to the Bay. Trees grew anywhere that

there was a little shelter, but not very big. This region of the North is known as the "Land

of Little Sticks".


This is the scene that greeted us at the outlet of the lake where the Caribou River began.

We started too late in the season  for this little river. Most of the water had drained away

already. We got to the river and immediately started to carry and drag our gear towards

the Bay.


The river stayed consistently shallow and rocky making our progress very slow. We

walked or dragged the canoe and our gear most of the way on the upper river.


To makes things worse, our beat up canoe didn't have a yoke. Every time we had to

carry it, we had to rig up our paddles to serve as a yoke. This was a frequent occurrence.

This was one of our harder, longer portages. The river just disappeared in the boulder

field which seemed to go on forever. It was too boggy to walk on the shore, so we had

to boulder hop with all our gear and the canoe. That made for a long day.


This is somewhere deep in the boulder field. We must have stopped for a rest.


There were some places with enough water for fish, and we caught them easily. Paul is

holding some nice sized grayling.


More shallow, rocky water. We walked next to the canoe dragging it over the rocks quite

 a lot.


We were stopped by high winds near the entry to Round Sand Lake and took a break on the shore.


Round Sand Lake was very shallow and surrounded by sand dunes and stunted fir trees.


You could walk in most of the lake but there were places that were three to four feet

deep Paul is dragging the canoe through the shallow water. It was often easier to

walk than to paddle.


We were pinned down by very high winds after the storm and spent the day hiding behind

a sand dune. In mid-afternoon we looked up and saw our canoe cartwheel over our heads

and land about fifty yards from where it had started. We tied it down very carefully after that.

Your don't want to lose your canoe.


This is Round Sand Lake with the afternoon wind on it. When we arrived the night before,

the water was several hundred yards away from shore. We had a little storm surge.

Another view of Round Sand Lake as the storm blew itself out.

We walked out into the lake after the storm to try to find a way out. There was almost no water 
and we ended up carrying our gear and the canoe to the lake's outlet. 


We dragged our gear to the outlet of Round Sand Lake. It was still very windy when we

left the lake and got going down the little river again.


We were not prepared for the bugs. We learned a lot on this trip.


The continents basement rocks were very visible along most of the river.

Smoke and low clouds on Caribou Lake.

There was an abandoned native cemetery on an esker on Caribou Lake.


Paul on Caribou Lake trying to figure out where we were.


The abandoned Hudson Bay Station on Caribou Lake was used by the local people for

temporary shelter when they traveled in the winter. Their unusable items of gear and

clothing were left and abandoned in the station and all around it, including a broken down snowmobile and what had at onetime been a rather nice cedar-canvas freight canoe.

A beautiful evening on the river, somewhere past Caribou Lake.


A little no name lake, or rather a wide spot in the river. We caught fish in every little pool.

There were giant brook trout in the rapids. I have never seen brookies bigger than these.

Some of them were in the neighborhood of three pounds. That's a pretty big brookie.


We slowly learned how to deal with the bugs, stay dressed. Even though it was often very warm,
a jacket, hat, pants tucked in your boots and hat and handkerchief would keep the little devils from
eating you all up.


This was a sweet place to camp. Not many bugs and there were lots of fish in the rapids.


We didn't have the right gear and clothes for the weather and bugs. The black flies bothered us quite a lot but we just soldiered on. Bugs rule the North in summer.


I wore a head net when it was horrible but discarded it whenever possible. They are warm

and you can't see very well. I'd rather get bitten than melt in the net.

As we got closer to the Bay, the country opened up and the lakes became a bit more

frequent making traveling easier. It's easier to paddle that walk and drag the canoe.


The river never got big and deep. It stayed shallow and rocky to the end. There were the occasional lakes or wider spots in the river but by and large, it was shallow and rocky.

That made every day slow and hard. This was not a good choice of rivers to paddle.

Some no name lake farther on down the way. There were not many places like this that you
could stick your paddle in the water without hitting the bottom.


We had some cool weather but most of the time it was hot. The cool weather

was much easier to deal with and kept the bugs down.


Another challenging rocky rapid with no place to paddle.


There was a lot of wood around and we could make a fire nearly everywhere we stopped.

I may not look too happy but I was. The kettle was boiling and dinner was going. No bugs

for a few minutes either.


More smoke on the horizon. We were in the smoke or smelled smoke on nearly the whole

 trip. This flare-up was not very far from us. We saw a number of fires from our plane as

we flew from Thompson to Churchill.


With the fires burning, the horizon was generally hazy. Sometimes visibility was cut to almost
nothing. Earlier, we got lost on Caribou Lake in the smoke. We couldn't see fifty yards.


More fires. This was a common scene for us. The smoke would flare up for a day or two

 and then disappear for a day or two. We could smell it it almost all of the time.


Looking back, we could see where we had been two days earlier. You can see a long

way when there are few or no trees.


The trip is over and we are back at Anoka County Airport.




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  2009 Jim Rutzick