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Home  |Arctic 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

July, 2006

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 are gone.

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 with Bob.

Day 1, July 12th, Travel Day

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 low clouds.

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 perimeter.

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 daylight.

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 day.

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 warm out.

 

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 human.

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 around here.

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 this.

It cooled off as the thunderstorms rolled around us. It was a magic day, 25 kilometers down the road.

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 surface.

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, theyíre fattier.

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 travel today.

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 clothes.

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 in.

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, Windy Camp

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 not.

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 kilometers.

Day 15, Friday, July 28th, Monument Camp

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 campsite.

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 and cook.

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, Windy Point

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 only fat.

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 asleep.

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 ok.

 

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 day.

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 small world.

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, Kazan Camp

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 know soon.

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 was:

63 43 339 N, 95 51 415 W. A very pretty spot.

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 over it.

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 portage.

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 tundra.

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 and hard.

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.

 

 

 

Errata:

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 bring any.

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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 © 2009 Jim Rutzick