DAY 0: We left Anoka
County Airport in Paulís Cessna 182 after loading it with all
our gear and provisions for a three week wilderness canoe trip.
There was a little fog on the ground, clear and calm above. We
left the Twin Cities and headed North for Ft. Francis were we
went through customs, gassed up and flew to Red Lake. I stared
at the ground for two hours as we plodded along at 110 knots. I
haven't looked at the ground that much in ten years. Iím used to
flying at 14,000 feet and going 160 to 180 knots in my plane. I
never look out of the window. Paulís plane carries a huge load
but it sure doesnít go very fast. Three hours to Thompson, a big
mining town in Canada. The rivers and lakes are brown/gray from
the Inco Nickel mines and smelter. The sludge and waste water
from the mining and smelting operation are dumped into the
nearby lakes and rivers, killing them and all the vegetation
around them. We gassed up and headed to Churchill, two hours
away. We flew along the Churchill River, very pretty and big.
The trees thinned and the bare bones and basement rocks of North
America showed through the sparse vegetation as we went north.
Heading to Churchill, we flew through dense smoke from huge
forest fires which were burning just north of our route. Seventy
miles from the bay, the trees gave way to tundra. The last fifty
miles were treeless and desolate opening up to large tidal flats
and the Churchill River delta.
We landed at the old
military base, shrouded in smoke, old and worn looking with a
single control tower operator to handle us and the few other
flights of the day, no Tracon or ground controller. It was very
quiet at the field. SAC was gone, the Canadian Navy and Army
were gone, and the old buildings were falling down and blowing
in the wind. It was a lonely place.
We stayed overnight in
Churchill, a very ragged and dusty affair. This is a very worn
looking town of 1200 people, about half Indian and half
European. We watched the Balugas in the river, listened to them
sound and blow. We ate dinner at the aptly named Tundra Cafť
which was across the street from our "motel", the Tundra Motel.
Our waitress, a very nice young girl from Churchill, asked us
where we were from. When we told her, she stepped back and
exclaimed, "You got all our dirt!". And so we do. Large amounts
of our soil came from this region. When the glaciers ground
their way south, they scoured the far North clean, scraping off
all of the top soil, leaving this part of the world almost
devoid of cover. The Precambrian basement rocks of the early
Earth are exposed almost everywhere here, covered only with the
small amounts of organic debris and sand that has been generated
since the last glacier disappeared. After dinner it was back to
the Tundra Motel and finally sleep in a very stuffy, funky hotel
room after a very long day.
Up early, coffee, no
breakfast. Dwayne, Doug Weberís assistant, called on us at the
Tundra Motel, hauled us to Paulís plane to pick up our gear,
then to Dougís office to pay the balance for the ride. I suppose
they want to make sure that they get their money in case they
canít find us later in the month. Thatís a morbid thought.
Doug Weber was our
contact in Churchill and our pilot. He was the Mayor of
Churchill and his wife was the president of the Chamber of
Commerce. They had a five star fishing lodge on Knife Lake,
which was about one hundred miles south and west of Churchill
and they had bird blinds and shooting galleries all over the
area. They brought city guys like us up to the far north and
helped them shoot and kill stuff.
Off to his yellow and
orange Beaver parked at the seaplane base near the airport. We
loaded our gear and took off into the smoke of the burning
We headed northwest and
after about and hour crossed the Seal River and then the Caribou
River, our river. The ground was covered with a maze of Caribou
trails crisscrossing and weaving a random pattern from hundreds,
thousands, of years of migrations in the treeless tundra. West
to Caribou Lake to pick up the "canoe". We landed on the lake
and Doug and his helper beached the Beaver on a sand beach,
jumped out and after rooting around in the bushes for a few
minutes, dragged a very old, worn out aluminum canoe to the
plane and started to tie it on the floats. It was the most
clapped out Grumman I'd ever seen. The bottom was caved up and
the sides were caved in and there was no yoke. Paul asked me
twice if it was OK. What could I say? It was ours. There were no
canoe stores nearby.
We tied it onto the
floats, took off and headed west over the River or what used to
be the River. There was very little water and a lot of rocks.
This was going to be rough.
LATER THAT DAY
Paul just hailed me
down to where he was fishing. Our first "arctic Char", no, itís
a grayling. We caught four in a few minutes where the river ran
through a little chute into a large pool. Nice fish, a lot of
fight and aerobatics, one to two pounds.
BACK TO THE STORY
We continued northwest,
sometimes crossing the river, and sometimes flying over the
tundra. When we flew near the river, we could see that there was
very little water in it. It didnít look like it was going to be
a floater to the Bay.
We finally got to
Commonwealth Lake and landed, taxied across the lake and beached
the airplane on a small island. Doug had a hunting shack on the
island for the fall when the city guys come up to shoot geese.
After looking at what little remained of the river for the last
two hours and seeing mostly rocks and shallows, I started going
through our gear, discarding anything and everything that we
might not need and tossing it back in the plane. I didnít want
to carry anything that I didnít have to, and it looked like we
were going to have to do a lot of carrying. The boys helped us
unload our gear, checked their hunting shack, took a picture of
us and flew away. It got very quiet. The lake was large and
treeless and quite beautiful.
We repacked our gear
and headed to the River which was across the lake. As soon we
were off the big lake we ran out of water. Where the river ran
out of the lake, we found a trickle of water and gravel and
rocks. There wasnít enough water to wash your socks. Forty five
minutes into the trip we made our first portage. We dragged our
stuff one half mile to our next little paddle, emphasis on
little. Two hundred yards of pond and we portaged across tundra
for another half mile. We walked more than we paddled. No water
in the river. Exhausted, we made camp.
We caught grayling in
the rapids after we made camp. Later that evening, a big thunder
storm came, with thunder storms all around us and a lot of wind
and lighting until almost midnight. It never truly got dark. A
few mosquitoes and swarms of black flies. That was a big half
Huge wet hump. We
paddle and walk the canoe, paddle and walk the canoe, mostly
walking along side of the canoe and dragging it over the rocks.
We were in the river all day, eight hours. Maybe five
miles-tough-cold-rainy. The tundra is almost treeless. There are
scattered clumps of poor, little, dwarf trees in hollows and
protected places, but by and large, only the endless, flat,
tundra. At this pace we will be lucky to get to Caribou Lake.
Up at eight, nice day.
Paddled and walked a long time. Beautiful day, warm. We got to
the boulder field we had seen from plane. Couldnít see the end.
Portaged around it. I was SWARMED! MISERABLE! Black flies up my
nose, in my ears, in my mouth, in and under all my clothes. This
will keep the tourists away! Made camp, more black flies, up
your nose, in your ears, BAD! Barely ate and into the tent to
get some relief from the bugs. Our legs were bleeding around our
socks where the black flies had been chewing on us. They crawled
under our clothing and chewed on our bellies and the inside of
our wrists and everywhere else that our skin was soft and
tender. We were bloody all over. We may not be dressed properly.
Berry red sun, lots of smoke from tundra fires. We can smell it
all the time.
Up early-still swarms
of black flies. It never cooled off last night-very warm. We
need some cold weather to get rid of these bugs. Coffee only,
packed and got on the water to try to get away from the black
flies. Long beautiful day on the water. The sun was a red disk
from smoke--eerie. A lot of open water today. Many shallow
rapids. Late in the day we roped part way down a big rapid and
portaged the rest. Caught big two to three pound graylings in
pools. Got to Hell's boulder field and stopped. Very buggy. In
tent the flies sound like rain and hail on the tent as they bomb
the shell trying to get at us. Hard bodied little devils, hard
to kill. Getting in the tent is a real challenge with each of us
owning our personal swarm. The flies covered our clothes and
flew around us .Once in the tent the clean up began .Luckily
they are attracted to the tent walls once inside where we
dispatched them by the thousands, covering the floor with their
black little bodies. My legs and arms are a mass of bites .The
key to surviving is bringing a piss pot in the tent. Going out
to piss is sure death. Once in, weíre in for the night. Ten
o'clock and you can read in the tent with out a light. It
doesnít get too dark to read until after eleven thirty.
Woke up to a beautiful
morning and the boulder field from hell. It stayed warm all
night-only cooled down a little bit, slept in my shorts on top
of the bag. Only a few bugs in the morning-maybe it was the
wind, maybe the temperature. Camp looks like new place without
them. We tented on a tundra field and cooked in the rocks in the
river bed, making a little stick fire to save our cooking fuel.
We made little stick fires whenever we could to stretch our
stove fuel. Packed up and made "le Portage from hell". About a
mile scramble through a giant boulder field. Then a very short
hundred yard paddle and the "canoe walk from hell", another
short, deep, boulder filled channel . Fifteen minute paddle to
spectacular Round Sand Lake and weíre stuck, winded out. There
are thunder-storms all around us and the wind is up, forty plus
knots with much higher gusts.
The shore of the lake
is treeless with large sand beaches. The little inlet we are
hiding in has high sand banks with dunes formed away from the
water. There are dunes all along the south side of the lake,
making it look like a Caribbean Beach, but only a few short
yards from the dunes the tundra starts and reminds you where you
are. The lake is very big, maybe five miles across and very
shallow, a combination that makes very big waves without a lot
of wind, and this place has a lot of wind. The wind comes from
the north and rips across the tundra with nothing to slow it
down and with nowhere to hide. Weíre going to sit it out for a
while and see if the lake clams down a little before we try to
cross it. Sitting in the dunes reading and writing. This is a
very big, rough, country. We will not get to the coast at this
rate. We must get to some place Doug can land. Weíll figure it
Later in the day the
wind abated a bit and we started across the lake. It was kind of
spooky. We were paddling in moderate waves and three to four
feet of water and then we would run aground in the middle of the
lake. The lake was nothing more than a wide spot in the river.
Whatever sand the river carried, it dumped here. We paddled and
dragged the canoe, and then paddled and dragged the canoe
towards what we thought was the outlet when we noticed a huge
storm bearing down on us from the southwest. To avoid being
caught out there in a big blow, we made for the nearest shore.
We ground to a halt about two hundred yards from the dunes on
the south side of the lake. The wind was starting to blow and we
dragged the canoe twenty to thirty yards from the water and
carried our gear another 150 yards to the dunes and set the tent
up behind a dune and out of the wind. Once settled, we made a
hasty meal and went to the tent for shelter from the storm, and
We woke up to the
darkest night we had yet encountered here and heard the canoe
rolling along the beach. The tent was flattened around us with
the first gusts of a huge blow at two thirty a.m. I sat up to
hold the tent up. It was blowing hurricane force from the north
west. It was a good thing we didnít put up the tent in open on
the beach as I suggested. We would have been blown away. We're
behind a dune and getting some protection. We struggled with the
tent for a few hours and moved it to a better spot when it got
light enough. This is an unbelievable wind storm. Itís raining
and blowing so hard that we canít go out in it. If we walk
around the dune and lose itís protection, weíre nearly blown
over. The wind has a thousand mile fetch. Thereís nothing here
to slow it down, no hills, no trees, no nothing. Weíre
After relocating the
tent we went to look for the canoe. It had been blown almost a
quarter mile down the lake. It was just luck that it was an
onshore wind and not an offshore wind, because if the wind had
been coming from the southwest instead of the northwest, the
canoe would have been blown out onto the lake and I donít know
if we would have found it. That would have made for a long walk
back. We dragged the canoe back to camp and tucked it up next to
a big sand dune, face down in what we thought was secure
We read and napped all
day. Gray, low and rainy and extremely windy most of day. The
rain stopped late in the afternoon and we went for a lovely walk
across tundra. Lots of moose tracks. We came back to camp to see
the canoe take off from were we thought it was secure and fly
over us end over end one hundred and fifty feet and land in the
dunes. I thought it was dead and killed. The wind caught it and
it flew like a bird right over the dune and it landed in some
scrub brush, which is probably what saved itís life and ours. We
dragged the poor Queen behind a dune and tied it down in the
stunted trees which grew behind the dunes which surrounded the
whole lake. Napped again, ate a great dinner-coffee and
smokes-bed. Weíre going to try to leave here tomorrow. The wind
hasnít let up at all, sixty plus and the lake is still a horror.
Weíre leaving flying
Canoe Camp in a somewhat lessening wind, maybe twenty five to
thirty knots, blue skies and cool sun. The scene is
indescribable. The Lake retreated overnight. It had come up the
shore about 150 yards from the wind induced tidal effect, and
now that the wind was down, the lake was returning to itís
previous level on this shore. We have a long hike to the water.
I just discovered I've been shooting 100 ASA film at 200. Damn
my old eyes. Humped our gear about half a mile to the point and
tried to carry the canoe-couldnít. Way too windy. Had to carry
the poor old thing between us out of the wind. Quite a haul. At
the point, we dragged the conoe about two hundred yards into the
water to get it to barely float. Loaded it and pushed and
dragged it about a quarter mile through the barest of channels.
We floated and dragged it another three quarters of a mile until
we finally left Sand Lake. Big tail wind. Roared downriver with
the wind at our back and saw several immature eagles. Went
through the lakes, only two feet deep and stopped at Mountains
Of The Moon camp site at end of Lake Gagnon. Splendid high camp
site. Climbed the ridge and saw the whole area. I could see
where we where three days ago. The river now runs south. It
looks low and swampy. Thirty miles of bad road coming up. We
made fifteen miles yesterday, one of our best traveling days.
Itís thirty miles to Caribou Lake. Swarmed at night.
Woke up worried to blue
skies. Hard-half mile paddle and then a 100 yard walk through a
short rapids followed by a quarter mile paddle, two hundred yard
walk through the rapids, and over again all day long. Weíre
getting nowhere fast. We'll never get to the Bay and our pickup.
We won't even get to a lake big enough to land the Beaver on.
Weíre trying hard to make some miles. Weíre starting to shoot
rapids. Thought we were getting good. Got into a big one-got
sideways on a rock. Paul was jammed between the rock and the
canoe. The canoe started to fill-she was going to break in half.
I jumped into the rapids and grabbed the canoe, chest deep,
strong current, and turned and lifted the canoe out of the
current. Just in time, she would of been gone. That was the last
rapid we paddled, we walked all the rest. Couldnít afford to
break the conoe. A good lesson learned. We were scouting every
ripple after that. Made about five miles and camped at a big
rapids. Grayling chowder. It stayed very warm. Black flies
swarmed again. Black flies rule.
Woke up to heat and
smoke. It never cooled off much. Smoke blocked the sun all day.
Big hump around falls to start the day. Ten Big, long rapids. We
were in the water as much as we were on it. Most of the time we
jumped in and walked the rocky bottom. Water feels good-knee to
waist deep, once in a while we'd step in hole. Lined down some
rapids. Wind came up in afternoon. Camped at "the falls". Low
bug zone till tent time. No fish. Almost dumped canoe. We're
seeing seals fishing in the ponds. HARD DAY. Three and a half to
Lost in the arctic. Up
to nice warm day, overcast skies. Packed and left. Open water,
long paddles. Everything OK to M&M break Went up river? Current
wrong way. Turned around. Weíre in a maze of small channels
overgrown with willows and scrub brush. We canít see and the
current is so sluggish we canít tell which way is down river. It
looks like the place that Bogart hauled the African Queen
through the reeds to get to the big lake. We donít quite know
where we are. Itís confusing. We came out of the maze onto a big
body of water, but itís very hazy from the smoke and we canít
see the outline of the shore. Itís very hard to figure out what
this place looks like. The visibility is only a quarter to half
a mile. Itís dead flat calm and very eerie and quiet on the
lake. We paddled across a sandy bay to Elk Camp slaughter point.
This was obviously a
very old Indian hunting camp. There were bones everywhere, and
the remains of many hundreds of years of hunting, butchering,
and camping all over the point. The point was located at a
rapids, where the lake narrowed, making a natural crossing place
for the caribou, which made a natural hunting place for the
Indians. It was very obvious, but we still donít know where we
are. Everything confusing. We're on huge big lakes not on map.
Map totally useless? Can't figure out where we are. Paddled down
very long lead to a dead end. Hiked to the top of a high esker
to get bearings. Backtracked and paddled to end of another lead,
dead end. Water flows in but not out? Paddled back to rapids
near Elk Camp. Threw tent up and ate potatoes in tent at 10:30
PM. Long confusing day. On water twelve hours and got nowhere.
Cool and overcast. This
will be decision day weather we go for Caribou or not. We have
to be on water Doug can land on. If weíre in the River when Doug
comes, weíre stuck-he can't land. The river is too narrow and
shallow. We have to be somewhere where the plane can get in.
Paul dreamed about the installation of Prince Charles. The Queen
and Charles didnít do it.!? What does this all mean?
We're found! We were
here all the time. We got up early and paddled the remaining
large bay looking for the outlet. The smoke is gone and we can
see. We paddled two very long leads and remained perplexed. Then
we went across the bay, climbing every little hill trying to
figure out where we were. Then into another dead end bay, and we
found a hunting camp on a beautiful ridge. This was a white mans
camp. You could tell by the trash, it was different than Indian
trash. Paul walked to the north end with his field glasses,
looked across the bay at the continuing ridge and saw the Cross
on the grave. We were at Caribou all the time. We had traveled
about twenty five miles further than we thought we gone
yesterday. In that part of the river there are almost no
landmarks, but big Caribou Lake still should have been a dead
giveaway. We never even considered being that far down the
river. That's why we were confused. We got locked in a bad mind
set. Another lesson learned.
We paddled back to the
Slaughter Camp after photographing the Indian cemetery. At the
rapids we fished and caught grayling and three to four pound
Brook Trout. I didnít know brookies grew that big. The sun
doesnít rise and set. It encircles you with it's warm red/orange
glow. It's been particularly orange the last few days from the
smoke. Sometimes we can't even see it through the smoke. Some
days it seems overcast all day, but it's only the smoke. We can
smell it all the time.
Woke up to bugs and
smoke. The tundra is on fire. A heavy pall of smoke hung over
camp and the lake. Weather warm and dry. Packed up and hauled
gear to end of rapids. Pulled the "Queen" out of the bushes and
headed up the lake to the abandoned Hudson Bay Station. The
station sat in a Beautiful high clearing over looking the lake.
A large square-sterned cedar/canvass cargo canoe lay in the
tundra, returning to the earth. Only one rather handsome
building remained of the outpost, the rest were rotting and
collapsing on their stone foundations. The whole clearing was a
garbage dump of bones, broken equipment and abandoned fishing
and hunting gear. It was now being used as a winter hunting camp
by the Indians. The station was about twenty by twenty with a
steep cedar shake roof, painted a faded red and a porch like
appendage on the front to enter through. Shit all over hell.
Dismantled snowmobiles, the ubiquitous fifty five gallon oil
drums, winter sledge and sleds, and bones everywhere.
Inside was dirty and
messy. Two wood bunks, a wood stove and a drying rack made of
cedar branches hung over the stove. There was stuff everywhere,
some of it was obviously put away, and some of it was just
dropped. A Skidoo engine was partially disassembled and lying on
the floor, the carburetor hung from the drying rack. Traps,
lures, books, a Cree Bible, a little food, magazines, fishing
gear, and on and on. Way too much too catalogue, but a
tremendous collection of stuff. This place is regularly used by
the Indians. Notes and names and dates with little stories were
everywhere on the walls which where covered with heavy brown
paper for insulation. Mary somebody and her friends where "going
to Churchill, waiting for the snow to freeze, maybe leave
tomorrow, having lots of fun!"
We went back to the
rapids and picked up our gear and left Caribou Lake. Long
downwind leg, long upwind leg, and two slimy rapids in the
smoke. We saw a seal hauled out on a rock in the middle of a
wide place in the river. We were on shore snacking when we
spotted him. I dropped my wide angle lens in the lake as I was
changing lenses to photograph him. Iíve dropped everything in
the lake on this trip. Paul wonít give me anything to hold that
we want to keep because Iíll drop it. My hands are a mess, all
dried and cracked and bloody. I wake up at night sometimes from
the throbbing and the pain. Paulís hands are fine. He has worn
gloves since we left Churchill. It makes all the difference.
The rapids downstream
from Caribou Lake where deep and rocky. The rocks where covered
with a very slimy, slippery growth making our passage a real
trial. We fished along the way and caught a bunch of grayling.
The smoke cleared and
we made camp on high ground overlooking a big bend in the river.
We called the place "Ground Zero" because at the top of the rise
the meadow was completely cleared of rocks in a perfect circle
with a ring of boulders surrounding the clearing. The clearing
was about two hundred yards across. It was quite remarkable in
appearance. It looked like an "A" bomb had been detonated here.
I left Harris a good-bye note in the center. You could see many
miles of the river from the blast area.
It cooled off , the
bugs where almost tolerable. The camp was known as the Blast
We woke to a cool and
clear morning, no smoke. The Blast Zone was a large arctic
meadow of incredible beauty overlooking the point protruding
into the lake. It was punctuated by a rock free circular area of
about four hundred yards diameter with the clearing located
exactly at the highest point. It was surrounded by the typical
arctic boulder field. I left Harris a letter under a very small
cairn in the center of the clearing.
We left the site to
high clouds and wind, first downwind in high waves, stopping at
a rock pile in the middle of a lake for a snack and life jackets.
I dropped my compass in the rocks and couldnít reach it. Another
sacrificed artifact to the north. The lake was up big making our
departure from our lunch spot exiting. First upwind to the
protection of two rocky reefs and then the "paddle for life",
downwind in quartering seas, occasionally washing over the
"Queens" port side. The lake was really up. We paddled hard and
surfed down the fronts and pulled up the backs of the waves.
Finally, into the channel and out of the wind, exhausted. We
stopped to observe the Mayan Ruin, then paddled up the lake into
a heavy wind, crossed the channel and made a beautiful camp high
on a boulder field overlooking the entire lake and river. This
place is like a dream, every corner and turn reveals another
stunning view. Nothing the same, no repeats. This will be our
last camp. Doug can't land on anything we could get to tomorrow.
LAYOVER DAY OR PADDLE
Woke to the same warm
weather, clear, no bugs. Ate breakfast, packed a frying pan and
fishing gear and headed down the lake to the rapids to fish.
Once we got around the point, we encountered very high winds
which increased in intensity as we proceeded up the long lake.
The wind was northerly quartering across the lake. To keep from
swamping, we quartered into it, which got us farther and farther
from shore. The lake was really up and we couldnít turn towards
shore without broaching in the now well developed two to three
foot waves. We couldnít stop and we couldnít turn back. A turn
downwind would have swamped us for sure. The only thing left was
to paddle to the end of the lake without changing course. This
would get us in the lee of the far shore and safety, now about a
mile and a half away. I was double stroking to made headway.
Paul just sat up front, made like a sprayshield and pulled hard.
We couldnít stop and we couldnít change sides. Truly, it was
paddle or swamp. We made the shore with reserves, but not much.
We rested on a little
hillock and watched four caribou wander along the edge of a
little creek. Once the adrenaline wore off we paddled back down
the shore to the rapids and fished the "honey hole". Grayling
without end and one and a half to two and a half pound brook
trout. We cleaned and ate two brookies and two grayling. Fished
and waited for the wind to go down. The wind never went down. We
had a wild ride back to camp with a bunch of fish. I made a
great fish boil. The food on the trip has been really good. Lots
of fish and pasta.
It was a spectacular
day. Huge plumes of smoke were visible all day. Paul and I
climbed a very high hill about a half a mile from camp to see
were the fires where. They seemed to be about thirty miles away
and to the west southwest.
Up to another warm
clear day. A bull caribou walked right into camp. Ate breakfast
and paddled back to the rapids to fish the "honey hole" while we
wait for our ride back. Actually got tired of fishing after
catching an endless amount of grayling and big brook trout.
I'm sitting on rock,
waiting for Doug and the plane. It's 4:00 o'clock and we're
speculating whether heíll come today or not. We're making plans
for another night on the tundra. Time will tell. We decided that
he wasnít coming, it was six o'clock so we fished for dinner and
caught a really nice brookie and three grayling. Just as we were
about to clean the fish, the old yellow beaver came lumbering up
the river. Paul hailed him on the hand held radio. He never saw
us. He flew right over us without seeing us. If it hadnít been
for the hand held radio he would have gone right by. We loaded
our gear in the canoe, paddled across the lake to where he had
landed, loaded our stuff in the plane and left the wilderness.
Back to the Tundra Motel and dinner and a beer.
THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES
Up early and we loaded
Paulís plane. Very smoky, sky obscured with one mile visibility
and a cold wind blowing off of the Bay. We got off Churchill IFR
in smoke. Thompson was better. The NASA crew from Moffet AFB
complained to me that they'd been there a week and couldnít fly
due to the smoke. They were flying a C-130. Poor weather report.
Scattered thunderstorms with some in progress. We headed down to
Red Lake hoping to be able to pick our way through. About
halfway to Red Lake we altered our course and diverted east to
avoid the storms. We were soon about half way to Lake Winnipeg.
We picked our way around, turning left and turning right trying
this and then trying that, hoping to find a way through the
storms until finally the whole screen of the stormscope was lit
up. Time to quit. We turned east and landed at Berrens River, a
cute little fishing town on the shore of Lake Winnipeg,
populated mostly with Indian people. A part 135 charter operator
in a Navajo just came up from Winnipeg and assured us, no
problem to get down to Winnipeg, just one big cell to go around,
no sweat. We started down, got about halfway, cells popping up
everywhere, one minute it's clear and the next minute the space
is filled with another boomer. All of them were very black and
threatening looking with lots of lightning. Just when it looked
like it couldnít get much worse, two cloud to ground strikes
four to five miles in front of us , and we turned back north.
Back tracking wasnít any picnic either, as by now most of our
route back was filled with growing black cells. We bobbed and
weaved our way back up the lake shore and landed at Bloodvien
River, another small Indian fishing village. Nothing there
except a couple of guys polishing a Harley. I don't know where
they ride. There arenít any roads there to speak of. The airport
guys told us to cross the channel to Matheson Island for food
and gas. We jumped in the plane to race a big cell which was
approaching the island from the southwest. We were going to
William Mowat's private landing strip.
Crossing the channel we
found ourselves flying a thousand feet above William himself in
a beautiful red and white Beaver. His wife Mary met us just as
William drove up from his seaplane base. He gassed us up and
they drove us to their four week old trailer house restaurant
for dinner. The island population is about 150, mostly their
relatives. Great dinner. We got the island tour from William,
full inspection of his immaculate Beaver and 185 and back to the
airport were we set up our living quarters for the night. We
went to an exquisite beach on the west side of the island and
watched the sunset, then walked back to the plane and our tent
which we had set up under the wing right in the middle of the
It was a very nice
night, warm with a little rain. We got up early, loaded the
plane and left in smoke, haze, and fog with towering cumulus to
We dodged through the
early morning clouds, and went through customs at International Falls.
Gassed up and it was only a short hop down to Anoka County and
the end of a great trip.
We brought back sixteen
pounds of food. We started with sixty pounds.
We started with ninety
five oz. of fuel and came back with thirty t thirty five oz.
COFFEE 32 OZ
OATMEAL 42 OZ
BISQUIK 4 LBS 22 CUPS
INSTANT POTAPOES 18
MINUTE RICE 12OZ
CHOC PUDDING 10-16 OZ
DRIED TOMATOES 6 OZ
DRIED MUSHROOMS 10 OZ
SWISS MIST 20 PKGS
JELLY 2 TUBES
PEANUT BUTTER 2 TUBES
INSTANT SOUP 8 PKGS
DRIED MIXED FRUIT 2
BROWN SUGAR 20 OZ
SALAMI 2 LBS
CHEDDAR CHEESE 2
HERSHEY 2 7OZ BARS
M&M'S 20 PKG
TORTILLAS 2 PKG
WALNUTS 2 LBS
CASHEWS 2 LBS
RAISINS 2 LBS
INSTANT ONIONS 2 PKGS
The food was good. We
didnít use the cracked wheat or the dried peas. The small pastas
were good to have. Cup of soup's good for seasoning. Didnít
bring margarine and didn't need it. We ate all the nuts. The
best were the cashews, we could have brought more. We ate all
the raisins and oat meal in ten days. Brought extra clothes.
Didn't use the wool pants or the wool shirts, the pile pants
were exceptional in the river, warm, dry, cool. Wore the wind
pants around camp. It was warm. Took too much fishing stuff.
Only needed a handful of lures and lightweight rod and reels.
Ate all the chocolate. The big Dove Bars were a treat. Bugs kept
us from doing a lot of cooking. Tent was OK, bug resistant and
semi windproof and more of less dry. It was good because it was
cool, two big doors. MSR stove cooked well and is fuel
efficient, but requires orifice cleaning with almost every use,
which is awkward. we ate almost five pounds of cheese, and the
salami went bad.
Looking back, the trip
was immensely satisfying. It was much harder than I expected,
but much more interesting also. Although the terrain had a
certain sameness, it was beautifully compelling and rich in it's
local diversity. Far from being fragile, it exuded a sense of
toughness and a hardy ruggedness. The open, treeless expanses
were hypnotic, usually broken only by plumes of smoke from the
The terrain and fauna
were almost identical to that which I am used to seeing in the
mountains above the tree line, except it was displayed in a very
horizontal format. We have traded altitude for latitude.
After leaving Doug's
hunting shack on Commonwealth Lake, it became obvious that few
come this way, and it would be unlikely to run into a couple of
canoes full of Boy Scouts singing SKI U MA, as Paul was so found of
reminding me. We saw almost no artifacts on the whole trip,
another indication of how seldom this particular area is
traversed today. We spotted a metal stove lodged in some bushes
along the river about twelve to fifteen feet above the current
water level, attesting to the huge spring flood conditions and
that we werenít the only ones to come by this way.
In many areas where
there were trees growing along the riverbank, the bark was badly
bruised, skinned and torn. Another sign of the ice dams and
floods of spring, Large piles of broken and smashed trees lined
much of the narrower channels as we got closer to Caribou Lake.
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