River Trips Kunwak-Kazan Trip Journal
We wanted to paddle some big lakes and see some of the Kazan
Drainage. We paddled four big lakes, rode some big swells,
scared ourselves a bit and got to the airplane. The Inuit People
had lived in this area for centuries and we saw their camps,
caches and monuments everywhere we went. The trip was very
interesting and the country was quite beautiful. It was a hard
weather trip; cold, rainy and very windy for long stretches
making paddling very challenging. We scratched our way down the
lakes and rivers, fished a lot and had a very good time.
The Kunwak and Kazan Rivers
We are packed and anxious to get
started on our fifth trip into Canadaís far north. We are going
paddling! We will get dropped off somewhere and all we have to
do is get to the airplane and our ride home. It sounds simple
and thatís the beauty of it. Itís simple; just scratch our way
down the river to our ride home. All our problems, issues and
distractions get reduced to scratching our way down the river.
We have paddled one big river in the
west, the Horton and three rivers in the heart of the Barren
Lands, the Caribou, the Thelon and the Nowleye and Kamalukuak.
Now weíre going to paddle the Kazan drainage, starting on the
Kunwak and joining the Kazan River at Thirty Mile Lake. Weíre
going down another historic river, one where the Inuit lived for
hundreds and probably thousands of years.
We chose this route because we havenít
paddled any of the "big" lakes and wanted to see what that was
like. Scary, thatís what itís like. When they were up, it was
either impossible to cross them or really scary. When they were
down, and worst of all, flat, they were even scarier. Weíd be
out in the middle of some crossing on some big flat lake waiting
for the wind to come up and swamp us. It was worse flat than
paddling though giant swells. Anyway, we chose the big lakes and
we paddled the big lakes. Now we know what theyíre like. Scary.
The trip was very interesting and we
saw beautiful country. We had both read Knud Rasmussenís "Fifth
Thule Expedition" which traversed nearly the entire North,
starting in Greenland and ending briefly on the Chukchi
Peninsula in Siberia. When we were on Thirty Mile Lake, we found
ourselves in the exact same places that Rasmussen and his
colleagues visited in the early 1920ís. The big difference was
that they met and visited with Inuit groups every two or three
days as they traveled west. This area was their home then and
now they are gone. It was thrilling for us to see the land as
they saw it then. The land doesnít change, only now the people
That was a good trip and good route.
We saw a lot and had a good time.
July 11, 0 Day
We left Anoka County Airport in Paulís
nice old Cessna 182 between thunderstormsís and headed north to
Winnipeg. Once clear of the storms we enjoyed a smooth
uneventful flight of two and one half hours to the airport. It
was overcast with light rain when we landed and we stood next to
the plane for forty five minutes while our welcoming committee,
Canadian Customs, went through our gear?? What do they think
weíre going to sneak into the country? Fifty pounds of pasta and
some dried soup?
Tomorrow we ride the second or third
Convair built to Kasba Lake where Bob or his guy will pick us up
and drop us off on the Kunwak, or so we were told. The Convairs
are interesting, put in service after World War Two, they were
originally powered by a pair of big radial piston engines, but
were all converted to gas turbine engines early in their
service. They were often converted to a pair of Allison engines
of nearly 4000 hp each. That provided plenty of power and made
them a very useful, serviceable aircraft with a very long useful
life. The people that operate our Convair ferry fishermen up to
a pretty decent gravel landing strip at Kasba Lake Lodge. The
plane and the strip serve a number of other enterprises in the
area as well. Our guy, Bob has a number of fish camps around
that part of the world and uses the ferry service to get his
customers part of the way up to his outpost camps. Weíve done
this before and it works pretty good. It gets us pretty far
north very quickly. Things will slow down when we get together
Day 1, July 12th, Travel
Up at 5:00AM, we were picked up from
our hotel near the airport and carted to the terminal, corralled
up and bussed around the field to the recently painted
"Norliner" Convair. The Norliner cargo version was parked next
to the passenger transport. Off the bus, into the plane and two
hours and forty five minutes to Kasba Lake. We have a full
plane, two cabin attendants, a pilot and first officer all
dressed up with ties, epaulets and pressed trousers.
An uneventful ride north over the
trees and lakes and we landed at Kasba Lakeís gravel strip.
The Kasba Camp is the same, a bunch of
generally old dudes really fired up to go fishing and catch
"big" fish. Paul and I hung out waiting for our turn on Bobís
Otter. We ran into Clark Jenney (a guy I knew from high school
who runs a fish camp not far from here). He asked me what I was
reading. I apparently have a reputation for reading in the
North. I had a nice chat with Clark and got the very back seat
in the Otter and napped and read to Mosquito Lake, check that,
Tukto Lodge. Thatís where they took us.
Had a nice chat with the staff at the
Lodge, poked around and found our canoe. It had been repaired
recently. A bear got to it over the winter and chewed a bunch of
big holes in it. A bear with a taste for polyethylene? Who knew?
The canoe got tied onto the Otter and after stuffing some
deserts in my pocket we piled on for the next leg. From Mosquito
Lake we went to Bobís Dubawnt Lake North Camp to drop off
supplies. The stuff got dumped on the dock and we left with Art
and the pilot, flying more or less east through rain showers and
The Drop-off N 63 32 00 W 99 12 00
The boys got the Otter down in the
first wide spot on the river they could find and shoveled our
stuff out of the plane and we waded it to shore. We havenít even
started the trip and we are cold and wet. Not a big surprise.
They got the plane stuck on a little reef and they had to get
out and rock and push it off the river bottom. Now they were
cold and wet. Once off the rocks, they fired her up, taxied up
river, turned around and took off, giving us the traditional
buzz job before disappearing into the low clouds. Then it got
quiet. First you go real fast and then you go real slow. We
paddled for a couple of hours in the rain and made camp at the
beginning of thirty miles of bad road- shallow, rocky,
continuous rapids. They go forever. We woke frequently to the
sound of rain showers pounding on the tent. That was a long day.
Day 2, July 13th, Thirty
Miles of Bad Road
I was tired, even though we slept in
until 8:30 or so. Yesterday was a hard day. I finally took a
look around. Yesterday we just got in the canoe and paddled.
Itís low and rolling, not quite marshy and itís still overcast
and dark out.
The river is braided and rocky with a
set of rapids we didnít want to try, so we started walking the
canoe through the very slippery rocks. I made a very bad route
choice and it turned out horrible. About half way down the first
big bypass I slipped and sprained my hand. (It turned out that
is was broken) Eventually we started paddling the little rapids,
but it was difficult and shallow. By mid afternoon the wind was
blowing hard right in our teeth making it nearly impossible to
paddle. It rained off and on all day. We finally couldnít go any
further and camped a quarter of a mile from the river to get to
a flat, dry spot. Fifteen miles of really bad road. Iím
exhausted and my hand hurts. It cooled off and we had some soup,
rum, and lights out.
Day 3, July 14th
It was cool and clear when we woke but
quickly warmed up. Had our usual breakfast of lots of coffee and
oatmeal with lots of brown sugar and raisins. We cleaned up and
hauled our gear back to the river and headed downstream through
really bad boulder fields and into a hellish forty knot wind. We
clawed and scratched our way and finally quit at a large bluff
that marked the end of the braided boulder section. Yahoo! The
wind was too much. At the top of the bluff we found two old tent
rings in a bug free zone. Weíre sitting up here, waiting for the
wind to go down. We canít paddle until it eases off, we couldnít
make any headway.
In the middle of the afternoon we
launched into a modestly decreased gale and grunted down the
river. After paddling and bumping through a long stretch of fast
water and rapids, we eddied out to rest and watched a herd of
over thirty musk oxen graze on the meadow about a quarter of a
mile from the river. Quite a site seeing the little ones
frolicking around their moms and the big males guarding the
We got rained and blown off a sandy
wide place and camped about three miles downstream. A rather
hard, nice day and a beautiful evening. Small rain showers moved
across the tundra creating numerous rainbows. Itís still bright
Day 4, Monday, July 15th
,63 19 474N 99 04 729W
Cold and clear, not a cloud in the
sky. Coffee and granola, packed up camp and paddled fast, rocky
water for a long time. The wind was down but it was so rocky and
the river was so low we were on constant high alert and working
very hard for a long time. We finally got to more of a river and
were out of the braided section. The water was clear and fast.
Midday it started to shower off and on. We paddled through some
long sandy wide spots and finally got to the lake. At the end of
the lake we got back to the river and a long, big, rocky rapid.
We portaged about two thirds of it and made camp. Pretty good
I made mashed potatoes hors doeuvres
and soup with a pasta hot dish. Weíre eating a lot, about one
and one half pounds of food per guy per day plus the fish we
throw in. It turned into a beautiful night with rainbows in the
distant south as the storm cells continued to plow through the
landscape. It was very pretty and we didnít get wet. After we
ate, we fished in the rapids and caught grayling and lake trout.
I caught a five pounder; nice fish. Itís late and itís still
Day 5, July 16th, The Big
Lake, 63 25 590 N, 98 52 145 W
We woke to clear skies and a cool,
strong wind out of the northwest. Coffee and cold granola, weíre
conserving fuel, packed up and back on the river.
The wind is right in our teeth at
thirty knots, a very hard paddle. It was only eight kilometers
to the big lake but it might as well have been fifty. That was a
very hard paddle, grunting with every stroke to keep from losing
headway. We saw seven caribou on the way. We have been seeing a
lot of animals, up close and far away. The tundra is crawling
with game of all kinds.
We are now at Tabesjuak, our first Big
Lake. We chose this route because we wanted to see and paddle
the big lakes and see what thatís like. Now weíre here looking
out at the lake and not seeing the shore that we are headed for.
We could hug the shoreline and follow the bay around but that
would add a couple of days of extra paddling. Weíre going to
wait for the wind and the lake to go down and make the crossing.
The wind is way too strong to go out
on the Lake. Weíre sitting in a rock pile waiting for things to
calm down. I walked all over the point and found no signs of the
Inuit. This is the first time that we havenít seen their signs
at the obvious places that people get off the water. I was very
surprised because people almost always stop at the same places.
If it looks good to us, it looked good to everyone else before
us. We always stop at the same place. Itís something that
attracts all of us, including us city slickers. Itís being
Paul is fishing and I want to move
around the point away from the river and the wind to a better
camp site in the event weíre stuck here for a while.
The wind, which had been ripping all
day, actually freshened. We just laid around, fished, read,
napped in the rocks, daydreamed and waited. I donít want to be
on that big lake when it looks like this.
Late in the afternoon the wind started
to abate. I made some Ramon and trail hot dish. We packed up and
decided it was a go. The lake seemed pretty flat near the shore,
but as we got further out, we left the small waves near shore
and got into BIG swells. They were so big that is was
comfortable paddling in them. They were longer than the canoe,
so we just paddled up them and then surfed down them, no terror,
no worries. As we got further out, the swells go bigger and we
started to get into white caps on the swells. Now we were
getting wet and working really hard. About every third stroke, I
couldnít reach the water as the front of the canoe was out of
the water on the crest of a wave. Paul asked me if the shore
line was moving away from us. Maybe yes, maybe no. I couldnít
tell. I asked how much freeboard we had. I was too busy to turn
and look. I wanted to know if we were going to swamp and swim in
that cold water. He started to sing the ballad of the "Edmund
Fitzgerald", and the cook said, "so long boys, itís been good to
know ya". It did look like Lake Superior where we where. This is
a very big lake, not as big as Dubawnt, but big enough to be
scary. I would have preferred "Home on the Range" or something
like that. We just put our heads down and paddled hard,
quartering into the black swells and not taking on too much
water until we finally got across and into the protection of the
shore. I was really glad to be there.
Once across, we proceeded north in the
dim midnight glow of the low sun. It got cold but we were now
following the shore line in light winds. We stopped at a point
to get out and warm up and stretch. That was a hard paddle. We
found three tent rings and a ball point pen. Everyone gets off
at the same place.
We continued up the shore in the
beautiful never ending sunset, but it never got dark. The
sunrise slowly followed. It didnít get dark but it got very cold
and we continued to paddle in dusky twilight, ghosting up the
shore line of the peninsula.
We like to paddle at night. Itís usually less windy and quieter
and the animals come out. We quit around 2:00AM. It felt good to
get off the water and warm up. We were tired.
Day 6, July 17th, Paddle
Into the Night,
63 35 724 N, 98 50 763 W
Cold, windy and rainy. We slept in and
had brunch late in the morning. There was no reason to rush. We
had coffee and oatmeal under cold overcast skies. What a big
lake! There is conglomerate everywhere. It is made up of sharply
fractured field rocks in a black matrix. I canít identify either
the field or the matrix. Iíve never seen anything quite like
this before. Pink wild flowers are growing in the rocks,
everywhere, profusely, in every little opening in the gravel and
on the beach. We stayed in camp and dined late in the afternoon,
waiting for the wind to go down. As evening, what there was of
it came, we packed up and headed north into a moderate wind. The
lake was not flat and it did not lay down. We paddled through
big swells, riding up and surfing down the backs, and made slow
progress toward the end of the peninsula.
With the sun just below the horizon,
it got darker but the sky was light and it was easy to see,
light enough to read a map. It was magical, the sun sliding
along, beginning to rise,
lighting up the waters with its rays reflected from the clouds
while the moon came out and added to the light fest. At the end
of the peninsula we quietly paddled by a herd of musk ox
sleeping on their feet. They never saw us.
We finally found our way around the
end of the peninsula, turned to the southeast and had the wind
at our back at last. We eventually stopped to try to figure out
where we were and quit. It was morning and it was cold. We had
paddled all night. I found a nice tent site and pitched it on a
bed of moss behind a rock wall that had been pushed up by the
winterís ice. We had our rum grog and immediately fell asleep.
Day 7, Thursday, July 18th,
63 42 246 N, 98 50 00 W
We finally got baked out of the tent.
This was the first time on the trip we woke up warm. The sun was
up and it really cooked the tent. It felt good. We had brunch of
coffee and granola, packed up and started paddling, which we had
been doing not that long ago. Not much tent time last night.
Finally, a tail wind! We had made the
turn this morning to the southeast and now we had the benefit of
a push. Down the peninsula and we would finally be off Tebesjuak
Lake. This is a BIG lake. It took two nights and one day of
paddling to get through it. The weather was typically variable,
hot, cold, windy and rainy in that order. I put on and took off
shirts, sweaters and long underwear all day long. We finally got
into the river and again paddled north into the wind. The water
was fast and we made good progress down the river.
I wanted fish for dinner so we stopped
at a rapids and took five or six big lake trout out of a couple
of holes and kept one five pounder. I cleaned it on the spot and
put it in the bottom of the canoe to stay cool. We went another
few miles and made camp. It was typically hot and buggy on
shore. I made the noodles, mashed potatoes and boiled the fish
in onion soup. An epicurean delight! The fish was stupendous.
Itís always good when itís not all out of one pot. Finally into
the tent as it got dusky. What a GREAT DAY! Ten caribou walked
through camp as we crawled into the tent.
Day 8, Friday, July 19th
What a day!! Up to clear skies. Got
baked out of the tent again. Buffet breakfast of coffee and
oatmeal and down the river. Fast and flat to Malory Lake with a
tail wind. We started down the lake with the wind at our back
again. We stopped at the obvious place on the point to snack and
rest and found two tent rings and a bunch of other errata left
from the past. As we were getting ready to leave, the wind
dropped and the bugs swarmed. The lake went completely flat and
glassy. Three or four hatches of different bugs were coming out
of the water all around us, midges or gnats or something. We
couldnít tell what they were going to be when they grew up.
Maybe they were already grown up. They didnít bite, but there
were billions of them all over us, on us, in our clothes and
thousand of dead bugs in the canoe. Lots of bugs here, thatís
why the birds are here.
The trout were eating the bugs on the
surface aggressively. We stopped to rest and I caught two three
pounders and cleaned them for dinner. The lake stayed flat and
we kept going, not looking a gift horse and so on. Paddle when
you can. Stop when you have to. Get to the airplane.
We paddled all of Malory Lake arriving
at the outlet around dusk. We passed the little plywood trappers
shack that we had been told about and stopped to look it over.
It was very small and windowless. I wouldnít want to spend more
than ten minutes in it, but I suppose it was better than
sleeping out. All in all, it was not very appealing. It wouldnít
stop the bugs, the rain, the snow or anything else that shows up
We left the shack and camped about a
half mile past the shack and the entry rapids. We ate the fish,
one pot meal, boiled in soup, always good. Throw in some noodles
or some barley to thicken it up. As we ate a number of caribou
walked through camp. We paddled about 40 klicks, 30 miles, and
crossed a very big, magic lake. That was a pretty good day.
Day 9, Saturday, July 20th,
63 50 456 N, 98 49 489 W
Baked like beans in a pan! Itís hot
and Iím not looking forward to the day. Itís hard when itís hot.
The tent is scorching and the bugs are up and acting crazed.
Weíll be on Princess Mary Lake soon, only 9 klicks down river.
We shared our usual buffet breakfast with the small herds of
caribou that were grazing and wandering in the area. They were
walking right through our camp as we ate and packed up. Packing
up takes a matter of minutes. We arenít carrying much and we
have our drill down cold. Paul and I have done this countless
times and we each have our assignments. It works really well and
it gets everything done in no time at all. Nothing gets
misplaced and we can always find what we are looking for. All of
our gear always goes into the same place, day after day after
day. We are anal, if nothing else. It works for us.
We left before midday and started down
the river, 9 kilometers and 8 or 9 little rapids to our next big
lake. We paddled all but the last two rapids as the river
widened and there wasnít enough water to navigate through them.
It got pretty shallow as we neared the lake. We stopped where
the river entered the lake. What a pretty place.
Princess Mary Lake is VERY BIG with
big hills surrounding it. We canít see the far shore and are not
planning on paddling in any really open part of it. We wanted to
see what the big lakes are like and now we know. They are scary,
even when they are flat. They can go big in a heartbeat.
We stopped twice as thunderstorms
built all around us but we never got hit. We continued down the
lake, off and on,
all afternoon and evening. We stayed on the water as long as
possible hoping the bugs would go down as it cooled, which
doesnít always happen. Off the lake just before dusk and plenty
of bugs, probably around 10:00 PM.
We camped on a point with a panoramic
view of this end of the lake. This might be the prettiest lake
we have seen. Its classic water and tundra. Weíre in the tent
watching the sun slide just beneath the horizon as I am writing
It cooled off as the thunderstorms
rolled around us. It was a magic day, 25 kilometers down the
Note: When I transcribed this portion,
I couldnít remember that Princess Mary looked a whole lot
different from the two other big lakes we had been on so I went
through my pictures to check. It looks like the others, classic
tundra surrounding the big lake, low hills and lots of animals.
I took a couple of pictures of some storks we went by, clacking
at each other and several herds of musk oxen. I think I was
impressed with the fact that it was flat, no wind, the water was
deep blue mirroring the sky that went all the way horizon to
horizon. Thereís a lot of sky up there. The lake wasnít black
under a windy sky and we werenít paddling up big black swells
and surfing down the back side, wondering if we were going to
founder and swamp. That must have been the difference.
Day 10, Sunday, July 21st,
63 48 430 N, 98 34 002 W
It rained a little during the night
and the wind came up out of the north. It was clear and cold
when we got going, and none too early. We prefer to work late,
stay on the water as long as possible and sleep in. Itís
generally very hot, buggy and uncomfortable on shore at the end
of the afternoon. Itís better to be on the water, and itís the
prettiest part of the day.
We had our usual buffet breakfast and
sat on the rock and pebble beach looking back up the lake where
we had come from. The clarity of the water and air is shocking,
absolutely clear. We could see right to the bottom in water that
was quite deep. The lack of humidity allows us to see the far
shore line with no diminishment. You can see to where the earth
curves. Again, this may be the prettiest lake we have been to.
The morning is so pleasant and comfortable that it is hard to
pack and leave. The camp is on a very long relatively flat point
projecting into the lake below a high hill facing a large high
island about a klick away, affording a three hundred and sixty
degree panorama of the North. Quite spectacular. Paul and I
agreed that being at this spot was well worth the effort and
work of the last week.
Note: Additions to the Day
Up with the sun baking the tent.
Buffet breakfast served in the boulders overlooking the gravel
beach and looking down the lake until it disappeared over the
horizon. This is one of the nicest stopping places weíve been
to. It was hard to leave, but eventually we packed and continued
our march down the lake. We have plane to catch.
By mid afternoon the lake went flat
calm, remarkable. Not a ripple. It was warm and sunny, not a
breath of wind. We shed clothing as we paddled down the lake;
long underwear which felt good when we started now comes off
along with shirt and rubber boots. We paddled the windless lake
all day and into the evening, stopping after making a one
kilometer crossing across a large dead end bay. I wanted fish
and they were finning and eating the new hatch of bugs on the
Immediate action. I lost a very large
lake trout and caught a bunch of grayling which I cleaned on the
spot. Weíll eat the grayling but we like the trout better,
Another hour to the outlet with a
sudden rise in the wind caught us in the middle of a large bay
where the river exits the lake. Just a reminder to us about what
can happen in the open water of these big lakes. We pulled in to
look for a place to camp and found more tent rings but it was
hot and buggy so we went on down river.
Down the very fast entrance to the
river, we paddled a while and eddied out on the other side and
camped. It was very buggy here too, but we stayed. We had fish
and corn bread for dinner. A larger thunder storm passed just
north of us.
Day 11, Monday, July 22nd,
63 55 800 N, 98 03 1010 W
It stayed fairly warm all night and
started raining in the early morning, as Diane had told Paul the
previous night it would over his satellite phone. She told us we
can expect two days of rain. Iíd rather not have that
information. It gives me too much to think about. The barometer
dropped like a stone over night and didnít stop falling until
late in the afternoon. We never got up for breakfast. It was
raining so hard, we just lay in the tent. Iíve done it before,
zone out and wait.
I finally went out in the rain in the
early afternoon and made coffee and oatmeal which I served to
Paul in the tent. "Oh,
boy, a little more of this, "and "Oh,
boy, a little more of that" is all I got from Paul. He liked
being waited on. Who doesnít?
It started to pour and I was already
wet so I stayed out and went fishing. A fish on every cast,
mostly grayling, but the occasional trout also appeared. I had a
ten to fifteen pound trout on, "Paul, bring the gunÖÖÖÖ" during
the deluge. When I looked up from the fish I was wrestling with
I saw a small herd of caribou, twenty five to thirty animals
appear out of the mist and walk down the shore opposite of me.
They stopped and looked at me, walked further down rive and swan
across and disappeared in the rain, all this within twenty five
yards of where I was fishing.
Paul came out to watch the herd cross
the river. We fished the rest of the afternoon and I kept a five
to seven pound lake trout and cleaned it for a late dinner. No
We came in and warmed up and napped
when it started raining again. Itís very windy and rather cold.
I saw a few snowflakes mixed with the rain. I have on all of my
In the middle of the evening we made
corn bread, Ramon and boiled the trout in a ferocious wind from
the north. The barometer is rising. As it got dusky, we turned
Day 12, Tuesday, July 23rd,
End of the Kunwak
63 55 144 N, 97 49 981 W
We woke to the same as last night,
cold and windy. Weíre going to leave Princess Mary and go to
Thirty Mile Lake, which will then be the Kazan River. We left
midday in a ripping cross wind which turned into a tailwind
around the first bend. Yahoo! We donít get many tailwinds.
Goodbye to the big snowfield high up in the hill across the
river from our camp. We watched it most of the day we paddled
down Princess Mary. It was huge. That must be how it starts,
first a little snow field that doesnít melt, and it grows a
little each season. In 100,000 years or so youíve got yourself
10,000 feet of ice and an ice age.
The wind must have blown 30 to 40
knots. In the narrow river we could manage it, but in the open
bays and lakes it was hard and cold. The temperature
was in the low forties and it didnít feel like it had warmed up
much from this morning. We crossed one five mile long lake with
a quartering tailwind. About half way down the lake the wind
picked up and we were surfing down the waves. It was not a
comfortable ride. We stayed close to the shore in shallow water
and scratched and grunted our way through it.
We finally got back into the river
channel and then Thirty Mile Lake. We stopped on the last island
in the Kunwak and then stopped on the first island in the Kazan
and made camp. It was way too windy to travel further, and as it
turned out, it was too windy to cook. We couldnít keep the stove
lit. It was ripping. From the point of the island we were on we
could see the last rapid in the Kazan before it dumped into
Thirty Mile Lake.
We slept off and on through the night
as the wind ripped at our tent mercilessly. This was a testament
to Sierra Design, the tent was bombproof. By morning it was
blowing harder yet and I went out to redo the guy lines. It was
cold and blowing forty plus. Nothing moved in this giant flat
land except the wind. Weíre pinned down here.
Day 13, Wednesday, July 24th,
63 47 834 N, 97 25 984 W
We ate from the lunch bag and dozed
and chatted and read. Three days of wind, this being the most
fierce. We are literally pinned down. I pissed outside and it
never hit the ground; virga pee! When your pee doesnít hit the
ground, thereís no travel!
The wind, out of the north-northwest
has been rattling and ripping at the tent all night and all day
without diminishing, constantly ripping across the perfectly
open terrain without anything to slow it down but us. The
landscape surrounding the lake and the river is low,
featureless and flat. The water is about 290 feet above sea
level and the highest feature where we are is a hill some miles
away which is 320 feet above sea level, according to our charts.
That makes the most prominent feature we can see, and we can see
until the earth curves, thirty feet above the level of the river
and lake. Thereís lots of open space up here. You can see a long
way by stepping on top of a rock which is one to two feet above
the ground level. Weíre planning to go out later, get some soup
and try cooking in the lee of the tent.
Day 14, Thursday, July 27th,
Windy Camp, Down the Lake
63 39 357 N, 97 02 845 W
Woke to the same wind, hard and cold
out north-northwest. It went down for maybe two hours last night
and then cranked right back up again. It got cold last night, I
burrowed into my bag, zipped it up over my head. We havenít seen
the sun in four days. We will probably try to get off this
island and scratch our way down the north shore of the lake
later today. We have a plane to catch. Thereís a crossing about
five kilometers away and it presents another problem. Weíll have
to wait and see. Iíve been two days off on my calendar which I
corrected today. I thought we left on the 11th. Guess
We packed up, loaded the canoe and
grunted our way to the north shore where there was a little
protection from the wind and started down Thirty Mile Lake.
There was a noticeable current running along the shore and it
helped a bit. Every little bit helps when itís blowing so hard.
It was windy and cold and we stopped
several times to rest and plan our next leg. It was hard going,
sometimes downwind, sometimes crosswind and occasionally upwind.
At the end of the evening we crept along a large island which
saved us from having to cross a large, open part of the lake;
longer but safer.
We portaged a bit when we ran out of
water in a shallow channel as we started to make the crossing
back to shore, our goal for the day. We left the island,
protected in its lee until half way across into the open part of
the lake where we got into VERY LARGE swells coming from far up
the lake. They grew as we got closer to shore and as soon as we
turned straight downwind were riding high into the air going up
and surfing down the back sides of the swells. We turned towards
shore and camped where we crashed on the beach. We werenít going
any further. It was a hard but satisfying day, only eleven slow
hard kilometers. Good choices, good execution. We cooked and ate
soup in the rain. A great day.
Note: Actual distance covered was 16
Day 15, Friday, July 28th,
63 37 905 N, 96 49 976 W
It rained all night and was cold. The
wind went down in the early morning but it continued to rain.
When the rain stopped we ate, packed and left a pretty nice
The wind came up out of the north soon
after we were on the water and continued strong all day at
fifteen to twenty knots. Fortunately we were able to hug the
north shore and got some protection but still made numerous
paddles upwind, grunting all the way. We saw frequent Inuit "way
signs" after leaving camp on both sides of the lake. We
photographed the bigger, more interesting stone markers but saw
many more along the way. At one point in the afternoon we
scratched and clawed our way up a bay. We stopped at the end and
climbed a high rocky ridge overlooking the big lake and some
smaller lakes north of the big lake. We saw a herd of musk oxen
drinking and foraging around one of the smaller lakes, perhaps
three hundred yards from the ridge top. As we were walking
towards the musk oxen we came upon a very pretty inuksuk. It was
a large inverted "U" shape made up of three rather big flat
stones. It must have marked the "preferred route", and by
looking through it one could see the lake and surrounding
countryside and know where to go. It was quite handsome and I
took a number of pictures of it.
Later we came upon a monumental marker
in a field of other inuksuit on a rock point high over the lake.
The site and the view were stunning. You could see for miles
down the big lake and the inuksuit could be seen very easily
from the lake a good distance away. We saw them from at least a
half mile away. We camped not far from the point at another
beautiful place with a huge view and a nice flat place to tent
We made a leisurely camp, cooked and
lounged around, looking down the long lake we were going to
paddle. We had no sooner climbed into the tent and zipped it up
when it started to rain again. It was another long, hard
satisfying day. We clawed our way 18 kilometers closer to Kazan
Falls and our plane ride out. We had seventy kilometers to go.
Day 16, Saturday, July 29th,
63 37 147 N, 96 20 914 W
It rained off and on all night and
didnít stop until morning. We slept until the tent stopped
making noise. We donít mind the extra sleep. Itís cold and weíre
working hard. We have four days to get to the falls and quite a
lot of big water to cross. Itís all up to the wind now.
We left "Monument Camp" camp and again
started down the big lake. The north wind strengthened and made
hard work of coasting along the shoreline. The sky cleared and
we had the sun back. It felt good to warm up in its heat.
Afternoon brought scattered rain showers which whipped the lake
into a white-capped froth. We made a few modest crossings and
stopped for a snack, ate bread from last night and some salami,
cheese, nuts and dried fruit ending with some Hersheyís
semi-sweet chocolate. The chocolate and salami are almost our
The breakfast and lunch food are
almost gone but thereís still plenty of fuel, cornbread and
pasta plus a few soups and some miscellaneous side dishes. We
absolutely didnít bring too much.
We are now waiting on a rock point for
the wind to go down. We have about a two kilometer crossing to
make and then weíre almost off the Thirty Mile Lake, which I
think is like Ninety Mile Lake. The crossing is the mouth of a
very long bay, giving the wind plenty of fetch to get the lake
up. There are no swells out there but there are huge white caps,
worse than swells. Itís very rough and boisterous in the mouth
of the bay and the water is pure black and white.
This is the longest thirty miles Iíve
ever seen. We caught some nice lake trout and I cleaned one. I
love to clean fish! If Iím cleaning fish, weíre eating fish!
Thatís always good news. Weíre going to eat here and wait for
the wind to go down.
Well, we ate, fished, and watched the
gulls very cautiously eat the remains of the fish I cleaned,
and we waited some more. At around midnight (it was getting
dusky) we pitched the tent on the only more or less flat spot on
the on the rocky point leaving the canoe loaded with most of our
gear, had our grog and immediately fell asleep to the rattling
and buzzing of the tent in the wind. I woke as it was getting
lighter, around 3:00AM or so and listened. The drumming of the
front flap slowly subsided and became quiet. I peeked out the
back of the tent at the crossing to see what it looked like and
couldnít make out the white caps that were there when we fell
I woke Paul out of a deep, sound sleep
and we quickly packed the tent stuff up and left to make a dash
across the big bay before the wind started cranking up again. We
still had a hard paddle in the early morning light, but it was
It is now day 17, Sunday, July 30th,
Nice Camp, The Big Wide Open, 63 39 531 N, 96 01 312 W
We made the crossing and continued
down the lake for a couple of hours before we stopped and ate.
We pulled up on a gravel bar that was barely out of the water
and ate what we could dig out of the food bags. I wandered
around the bar and found an old daredevil fishing lure. We are
not the first to come this way.
We made four fairly big crossings
before getting to the end of Thirty Mile Lake and the first big
rapid in the river which we lined down and then portaged around.
It was quite an impressive display of white water, big, wide and
roaring. The whole drainage was going through here. I caught
about a fifteen pound laker at the end of the portage and we saw
about thirty caribou on shore and swimming across the river. We
paddled until nearly seven that evening, thirteen to fourteen
hours on the river. Weíre tired but it was a good satisfying
It was cold in the morning, warm at
midday and cold again in the evening. Virtually bug free with
the temperature as low as it is. Weíre camped at a wide place in
the river, fifty kilometers from the falls.
The camp was on a relatively flat spot
gently rising from the lake. It was wide open and we could see
for miles in every direction.
Note: The last two days were run
together in the journal as they never really ended or started.
Day 18, Monday, July 31st,
63 43 339 N, 95 47 903 W
The weather is the same, cold and
overcast. We are seeing a few little snow showers mixed in with
the rain showers now. Summer is short here. Weíre heading for
the falls. We left slow, a nice camp after two pots of coffee.
Just as we were pushing off, we saw
three canoes coming down the river. It was the Widji girls! They
had been right behind us for days. We chatted and found out the
leader, Mary, was Dick Gehrzí niece. My wife worked for Dick for
about ten years. She also knew my nephew, Ryan. It is a very
We left and paddled hard all day into
a big head wind. A few kilometers before the rapids and the
falls we started seeing numerous inuksuit, stone markers on the
horizon. It was very much like the Nowleye River where it
emptied into Nowleye Lake. The monuments were on the ridge line
and could be seen from a great distance, standing out on the
horizon with the grey sky behind them, reminding us of the
people that had lived and traveled here, and not that long gone
from the land.
We stopped at a very prominent display
of a dozen or more unuksuit, some being very large, weighing a
thousand to fifteen hundred pounds. Some were piled and stacked
while others were large slabs of stone which had been stood
vertically on end and stabilized with small pieces of stone at
their base. It will always be "Monument Park" to us, quite
extraordinarily beautiful, all saluting the horizon on a nearly
monolithic chunk of the shield bedrock.
Another half hour brought us to the
rapids and Kazan Falls. No question about this one, it was a
good long portage if you were going to Baker Lake.
We finished our paddle and checked out
the Canyon and the portage around the falls. It was about a mile
walk and the Canyon and the falls were spectacular. The whole
Kazan drainage was flowing though this soft spot in the bedrock.
When we returned we ate lunch and
watched the Widji girls (Note: The girls were from camp
Widjiwagon, a trip camp located in northern Minnesota) come down
the lake. We decided to go on vacation and skip the portage.
Instead we took a hike down the Canyon, came back and fished and
decided to get picked up here, above the falls.
The girls were setting up camp at the
top of the falls and told us that they had been out six weeks
and hadnít caught any fish or had a fish dinner, so we decided
to teach the girls to fish. They wanted a fish meal bad and were
very excited. We got out our extra gear and assembled their
somewhat ratty outfits (their dadís should be ashamed) and led
them to the rapids above the falls.
We all fished and between us we got a
bunch of lake trout and a few grayling, which I cleaned for
them. I taught Katie, the vegetarian how easy it is to make them
ready to eat. They were excited to have their first and last
fish meal of their trip. Maybe theyíll get some on their own
sometime. I hope so.
Our mission complete, Paul and I
paddled back up the river about a mile to give the girls some
privacy and set up camp. The sky cleared, cooled off and got
cold and was almost bug free. I fried the trout we took-
absolutely outstanding! What a nice day and what a great trip!
Day 19, Tuesday, August 1st,
Finally, we got baked out of our tent.
We have a blue bird day at last. After a week and a day of
pretty horrible weather, it turns nice. This is either our last
day or our pick-up day. We wonít know until Bob gives us the
word. The weather is bad at Mosquito Lake and Bob is concerned
about getting us out and back to Kasba Lake and the Convair ride
to Winnipeg. It doesnít matter a great deal, but we do want to
hike down to the bottom of the falls and fish some more. Weíll
Weíre on vacation! Pick-up tomorrow
about mid-day. We packed our fishing gear and lunch, what was
left of it, kind of down to seeds and stems, and went down to
the portage trail.
The girls had started to carry their
gear down the trail earlier, anticipating a boat ferry to Baker
Lake where they were to catch their plane ride out. There is
another group of Widji girls two days behind us somewhere on
Thirty Mile Lake. Our girls got half-way down the portage and
found out that they couldnít get the boat ride but would be
picked up by an Otter on wheels and flown to Baker Lake in high
style. They had the same wind days that we did and it really
slowed them down. They had intended to paddle to the community
of Baker Lake and get their plane ride from there, but time
didnít allow them to finish, so they will be picked up at the
top of the Falls.
Paul and I walked the trail along the
Canyon and falls. What a site. All the water in the Kazan
Drainage was roaring through the gorge. A gigantic volume of
water accelerating through a rather narrow gash cut through the
bedrock, the basement rocks of our continent. We continued to
the end of the gorge and fished a little. No luck. Our position
63 43 339 N, 95 51 415 W. A very
We found the girls at the Canoeistís
Cairn, a rock pile with a tripperís journal making their entries
and looking for friends that had preceded them here. We walked
back up to the lake, ate lunch and fished. No fish?? Eventually
we walked back to the Cairn, make our mark in the paddlerís
ledger and went to the top of the first rapid and caught a bunch
of trout for dinner.
As we finished dinner, a single engine
gas turbine Otter flew over us and landed on the esker for the
girls. I walked up to the esker which was near our camp and said
goodbye to the girls for the 8th time and in they
piled, all their gear except their canoes which they left for
someone else to pick up.
I had my camera and wanted a picture
of them leaving, so I asked the young pilot what his plan was. I
didnít want to be in the way. He told me that he was going to
taxi south down the esker, turn around and take off north. While
he taxied, I stationed myself on the far west edge of the esker,
which was oriented north-south,
expecting him to align his take-off roll with the long axis of
the esker. Wrong!! He did his run-up as he was taxiing south,
turned about three quarters of the way around and firewalled it.
He had the tail up and was nearly airborne, heading right at me.
I doubt if he ever saw me or knew where I was. I had a choice of
right, or left. I sprinted to my left, directly across the esker
and dove flat on the ground as the Otter roared over me, several
feet off the ground. He had taken off at a forty-five degree
angle to the esker. Who Knew??! Way too close to be enjoyable.
All in all, it was a great day to end
our Arctic Trip, sunny, warm and almost bug free. Tomorrow we
get our dust-off.
Day 21, Wednesday, August 1st
This is our "wake-up", as we used to
say in Basic Training. So many days and a "wake up" until the
end of basic and out of Fort Bragg. Baked out of our bags again,
a blue bird day clear and warm. Weíre going to eat, pack up and
move to the head of the portage trail and wait for our ride.
There is a nice gravel and sand beach which will be a perfect
place to beach the plane. The Otter should be able to coast
right in as it is steep and deep. Tonight weíll be in Kasba Lake
and home on Tuesday. I cooked up the VERY LAST of breakfast
food, oatmeal and granola mixed together with hot coffee poured
All the lunch and breakfast stuff is
gone and we have about 12 pounds of dinner food and one half
quart of stove fuel left. Pretty good planning, maybe a little
tight. We ate, packed, and for the last time and paddled to the
Paul got a nice trout in the first
eddy while I watched. When my turn came, I caught a nice trout
and as soon as I hooked it, the Otter came into sight over the
We helped John with the plane and then
had a nice lunch of last nightís fish and corn bread and
sandwiches and rolls that John had brought from the Dubawnt
Camp. When we finished eating, we loaded the plane and left.
We flew right back over all the water
that we had clawed and scratched our way down. Thirty Mile Lake
didnít look scary from 1500 feet AGL, but Princess Mary, Malory
and Tabesjuak still looked like inland seas. In a very few
minutes, we traversed what had taken Paul and I almost three
weeks to paddle. It was fascinating to see our trip from above,
going fast when we were so recently down there, going so slow
What a GREAT TRIP!
Bobís pilot flew us to his North
Dubawnt Lake Camp and then down to the Kasba Lake Lodge. We
spent the night at Kasba Lake and took the Nolinar charter back
to Winnepeg and then back to the Twin Cities.
We are flying on Nolinar, the charter
company, in a Convair 580 powered by a pair of Allisonís.
Whatever happened to Allison?
I looked it up. They were purchased by
Rolls Royce in 1995. The Allisonís on the 580 are 3800 hp a
side. The Convair has a normal cruise speed of 280 knots and
consumes 293 gallons of jet fuel and hour.
Thatís just about a nautical mile per gallon. Not too bad.
Allison, now Rolls Royce was used to
power the ubiquitous C-130. Six of them, probably not too
dissimilar from the old power plants on the Convairs.
All the breakfast and lunch food was
consumed by day 20, and 12 to 14 pounds of dinner food remained.
At three pounds of food per day for the two of us, we had about
five days on full rations and an easy ten on half rations, more
if we squeezed and fished harder.
The equipment was ok. We didnít use
the backup tent and we could have had more I-Ibuprofen. I broke
my thumb on day two and rebroke it on day 18 or 19. Oxycodone
would have been ok too; kind of a little treat but we didnít
The new rubber boots were really good,
a little higher than the old ones. The thin wool ski socks
worked good. We came back with about a half a quart of fuel and
the Dragon Fly stove was bullet proof and good on fuel.
All in all, pretty good planning. Not
too much of anything.
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