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Home  | Trip Journals | The Nowlye and Kamalukuak Rivers

 

 

On our third trip to the Arctic, Paul and I paddled the Nowleye and the Kamalukuak Rivers in the Barren Lands. The trip went well in spite of the very hot weather and a lot of bugs. Bugs rule the North, at least in July and August.

 

 

 

 

BACK TO THE BARRENLANDS, 1999

It is spring and we are packing again for the Far North. Paul and I have taken two trips to the North in the past five years and we are going again. We had visited the Barren Lands five years ago when we traveled down the Caribou River and we want to see more of this area. According to Sandy, we caught Arctic Fever on that trip and we havenít been cured yet.

We know very well what to expect in this part of the world, but it is still a big undertaking to plan and pack and get ready for three plus weeks away from a convenience store. Iím buying all the food and planning all the meals. Three hundred dollars worth of pasta, one and one half pounds of food per guy per day. That works pretty well for guys our age in warm weather. When it is all packed up, we will have about one hundred and ten pounds of pasta, nuts and dried fruit. And coffee, donít forget the coffee and donít forget the overproof rum. What if we run out of stove fuel. We could use the rum, but we wouldnít.

The area we plan to visit is in the heart of the North American Continent and as far from any existing community as one can get today. The rivers we will travel have been populated by various people for some ten thousand years or so, but have been abandoned since the middle of this century. We are planning to go down the Nowleye River to Noleye Lake, which is in the Kazan Drainage, cross a narrow isthmus to Kamalukuak Lake, and then down the Kamalukuak River to Dubawnt Lake, which is the Dubawnt Drainage. All of these waterways have been lived in and traveled by the native people and Europeans until around 1950. As far as we could determine, few people, or perhaps no one has traveled this route for many decades.

Farley Mowat had written about the Nowleye River, referred to as the "River of Death" and Kamalukuak Lake, called the "Inland Sea" in a story he had written about his travels in this area after World War Two. We wanted to see these places for ourselves.

The following is our journal of our days on these waters.

JULY FOURTH, 1999

It is Independence Day and the weather is perfect for the Fourth of July. Hot and windy, ninety-five degrees with scattered clouds and a dark blue sky. Weíre packed and ready to go. Two hundred pounds in three watertight river bags, one hundred pounds of food and one hundred pounds of gear. Iíve been buying and packing out the food since March, a little at a time, slowly filling out our larder for the trip. It was easier this time because Iíve packed for the two of us twice before. At least I have a notion of what we like and what works for us. The food is fairly simple, mostly pasta, nuts and dried fruit. I keep bringing things to cook but they often donít get used. Most of the time it is just a one-pot meal. We choke it down and get out of the outside into the tent away from the bugs.

We are taking Northwest Airlines to Winnipeg, overnighting in the airport hotel and then on toKasba Lake in a chartered Conveyer with a bunch of fishermen the following morning. From Kasba we will be picked up by Bob Hutika in his Beaver and flown to the Northwest arm of Ennadai Lake and onto the Nowleye River. This will be our third trip to the North in the past five years. This trip has been much easier to pack for than the last two; we know much better what we need and what to expect. Tomorrow at 5:00 P.M. we head to Winnipeg. Weíre very ready.

 

JULY FIFTH, 9:30P.M. MILE 262

 

I am lying near naked in the tent listening to the mosquitoes swarm outside. Itís an unbelievable display of bugs, the worst weíve ever seen.

Yesterday we flew to Winnipeg, ate dinner at the hotel and sacked out. This morning we got up early to get the plane at 6:00 A.M. which didnít leave until 8:00 A.M. It was a rather nicely restored Conveyer with a very nice crew. A couple hours on this turbo prop brought us the Kasba Lake Lodge, a large sport fishing enclave in the middle of nowhere with a 5000 foot gravel landing strip.

Bob Hutika, our bush pilot and northwoods host met us here in one of his float equipped DeHaviland Beavers, lashed the new canoe he had purchased for us to the plane, loaded our gear, and flew us another couple hundred miles north to the headwaters of the Nowleye River.

When we got to where we thought we wanted to start, there didnít seem to be enough water to land on or paddle so we thankfully continued down river, or in this case, down the swamp and bog until there was at least enough water to land the plane.

Bob landed, taxied and then drifted the plane to shore, or what seemed like shore, more peat bog than anything else, and quickly helped us unload our gear. Quickly because we were under attack by a bunch of bugs that obviously hadnít seen anything alive since the caribou had walked through here a month ago. He waved, wished us luck, fired up and left, leaving us sinking into the swamp as we watched him blast down the river and back south.

We had nothing to do but load up, and start paddling. The river was not quite a creek where we started, oozing out of the low marshy ground and slowly starting itsí short trip to Noleye Lake. It was rather warm and calm as we got going, allowing the bugs to stay with is on the water. A couple hours after Bob dropped us off, a few thunderstorms blew through and cooled things off a bit, and it was a welcome relief.

We got off the river and camped on the tundra or near bog in this case. It is so soft that I am not even using my air mattress. I am lying near naked in the tent listening to the mosquitoes swarm and buzz. Itís an unbelievable display of bugs, worst weíve seen.

It was a long day, but very good, overcast and seventy degrees, not two much wind. But the bugs, the bugs!

Weíre shooting for 20 kilometers per day. Weíll see how it works.

 

 

JULY 7 MILE MARKER 240

Iím lying in the tent roasting like beans baking in a pan. Twenty kilometers. It was very hot all day, no clouds at all. We just baked in the canoe and the bugs followed us everywhere. I canít be outside any more; Iíve got to rest. We had a very good travel day, paddling and drifting twenty kilometers down the river.

I unpacked the satellite-messaging gadget and found the battery dead. It is a Garmin GPS with e-mail capability. I bought the service that was required and all we have to do is get the thing going and get a satellite in our line of site and press the button. It wonít be that easy. Not many satellites on our horizon. I have one more battery but I would like to save it in case we get in a jam. I will try to use the solar cell and see if I can get an "e mail" message out to the girls. I know that they are counting on hearing from us. Hope this thing works.

 

JULY 8 MILE MARKER 210 BIG DAY

 

It started out hot and still, very buggy in the camp, mosquitoes and black flies everywhere. They followed us onto to the water and stayed with us. In spite of the annoyance, we had good paddling all-day and ended up with a tail wind in the afternoon, which helped us cross several very big lakes. We paddled some rapids and walked the canoe through a larger one. It felt good to get into the water and cool off.

Weíre camped on a rocky point. It was bug free when we arrived, the wind went down and we are getting swarmed by black flies and mosquitoes. Paul is down, sick. Too much sun and heat. He may have heat stroke. It was awfully hot today and thereís no place to hide, we canít get out of the sun. No trees, no shade.

When he got sick, I pulled us off the lake immediately. It was the worst place I had ever been in. No wind, no shade, no open space for the tent and blistering heat coming off the ground. I dragged our stuff through the willows and put the tent up in little open space and got Paul inside and undressed. I soaked what I could in the lake and he covered himself with the wet clothes to get his body temperature down. He looked awful and I was more than a bit concerned. I made a number of trips to the lake to soak the clothes between cooking up a pot of gruel in the scorching, windless, bug infested camp. It was terrible. I choked down what I could and brought some into the tent for Paul. He couldnít eat. The day was almost over. I cleaned up camp and crawled into the sick-bay and got out of my clothes and tried to cool off. Finally getting to the ritual rum rationing.

The bad news is Paul is in bad shape and there doesnít seem to be much that I can do about it. The good news is that he is too sick to drink his rum, so I get it. No reason to save it.

THE NEXT MORNING

This is the first time that Iíve been able to sit down outside since we started the trip. Paul is OK and I wonít have to leave him at our camp under a pile of rocks and come back for him later. Good news. We finally have enough wind to get the bugs down. I was able to get two messages out this morning using the solar cell. Thanks NASA. Fifty bucks and we have an inexhaustible supply of low voltage power via the lightweight solar panel right out of the space program. I hope the girls get our mail. The first battery doesnít work at all and the solar cell doesnít seem to have enough punch to run the gadget without a little boost, so Iím using the good battery with the solar cell hoping to keep it fully charged up.

Weíre finally on higher ground, out of the swamp and bog. Maybe we wonít have so many bugs now that itís not so wet and low.

 

 

 

 

JULY 9th LONG DAY 61-47 N, 101-25 W

 

We left "no name lake" for "no name lake". The river, such as it is, is really a series of long lakes, five to fifteen miles long and one to three miles wide connected by a series of rapids. We are at mile marker 187 . Weíre lying in the tent cooking like beans in a pan. Itís 8:30 PM and the sun is pouring into the tent, baking us. Canít be outside, the blackflies are swarming. Itís dead still. Itís sounds like hail on the tent walls.

We covered twenty plus kilometers today, a big day, a long day. It was overcast this morning but it cleared up and got really hot. When it gets hot here it is really miserable. There is no escape, no shade, no way to get some protection but the tent, and the tent is an oven, but at least youíre out of the bugs.

We ate in the tent tonight. We never eat in the tent; I donít want food in the tent. It can attract a bad crowd; we donít want any bears around us when we are sleeping. Canít eat outside, the bugs are fearsome, itís impossible. The heat has pretty much killed my appetite and my interest in cooking. Iím just making one pot meals of whatever I can cook fast, and then we choke it down.

The one thing we brought that we really like is the one hundred and fifty proof rum. We are carefully rationing it out at night, hoping to make it last the whole trip. The consensus now is too much food, not enough rum.

 

 

 

JULY 10th

 

We woke up to calm air and bugs. Ate breakfast, granola or oatmeal, same every day, and bucked our stuff across a little rapid and got underway. The wind came up form the West early in the morning, blowing pretty much right in our teeth. We had a hard head wind all day.

We paddled five rapids into a big no name lake, ducking from one small island to another, trying to get down the lake. It was really huffing and puffing. We finally turned a corner and had only open water and no place to hide. We gave it a try and were stopped in our tracks. We couldnít get to the Western shore were we thought we might get some protection from the wind. No Bugs! Blowing really hard. We found shelter are in a little protected place on the East Side of a very small island and it was really comfortable, no bugs.

Bob flew over in the middle of the afternoon and we talked to him on our hand held radio. He was coming back from dropping off some fishermen at one of his camps on Dubawnt Lake. We asked him to call the women and tell them that we are doing fine. Maybe they wonít be so worried if he talks to them.

The wind stayed up, never let down at all. We decided to sleep a little while and paddle after midnight if the wind goes down later. We put up the tent and went to sleep. I got up every so often to check the wind.

 

JULY 11 3:00 AM

 

The wind was down some so we got up and packed. Itís was still very windy but not nearly as strong as it was a couple of hours ago. It was a hard paddle across about a mile of open water to the Western shore, but we managed. Turned up the lake and almost immediately got stopped cold by a very strong NW wind. We couldnít make three feet into it. Temp about forty degrees, a little chilly. We turned around and found a place to get off the lake and out of the wind. Quit and made camp. We ate and were back in the sack before 7:00 AM. Itís clear and windy. We covered two klicks.

We spent the day at this place. It remained very windy all day and the lake was really up, white and frothy. We were out of most of the wind and the spot was quite beautiful consisting of a very large level area with a big hill behind us, protecting us from the westerly flow. Paul found an old bowl; Hudson Bay trading style and a number of man made stakes and a food cache under a big boulder. We are not the first ones to use this place. Many people have been here in the past. In the middle of the afternoon we walked up to the top of the hill to have a look around. From the top we could see were we were yesterday and were we were hoping to go tonight or tomorrow. The hill was the highest land around for many miles. We turned in early hoping that the wind would go down, planning to leave as soon as we could get back on the lake.

 

 

 

JULY 12th OFF THE LAKE

 

We turned in at 8:00 PM when it was clear that the wind was not diminishing. Woke numerous times to check the water and at 3:00 AM we packed and made a dash, or rather a long grind up the lake. It was still windy but the lake was down some and we could make headway. It was hard paddling but very pretty slogging up the lake in the low light of the early morning.

Weíre off the lake and into the river! Life is sweet! We made breakfast at the end of the lake as it entered the river. Many people had stopped or camped here in the past. It is the obvious place to rest and get off the water. We found single rock markers set up in perfectly straight lines pointing to what I take to be a food cache. Two intersecting lines of rocks marked the cache, which was filled with bones.

Twelve hours later we stopped 157 klicks from the fish camp. We made 21 hard klicks today. Itís hot and muggy at camp, which was laced with more stone markers in long straight lines.

 

 

JULY 13TH COOL AND CLOUDY

 

 

The wind switched to the Northeast! We have a headwind again! It was a 180-degree change. We made it to 145 klicks, 12 hard klicks down the river. We paddled and walked three long, big rapids. The water was not too cold. We saw stone markers all along the river, marking the old camps. We finally arrived at a very long lake and had to quit. The wind was tearing down the river right in our teeth. We were in an old native camp; signs of the old people everywhere. No bugs when we got off the lake and then the wind went down and the bugs came out big time. Another one pot meal with flat bread and soup. That would be a three-course meal. I was almost cooking.

 

 

JULY 14TH ANCIENT CAMP

 

 

Itís three PM and weíre in the tent dozing off an all day rain. We arose before 5:00 A.M. this morning and quickly packed and paddled up the lake in semi darkness. It was hard to navigate when we could see and nearly impossible in the low light of early morning. Everything looks the same. You canít tell a bay from the open water, and the islands are indistinguishable from the shore. The wind was light but cold. It rained off and on as we picked our way along the long lake. Three hours on the water and we stopped and made coffee. It remained dry while we ate.

Back on the water and up the lake. It started to rain hard. After nine hours on the water we stopped at a sand spit sticking into the river to rest and discovered an ancient camp. It was an obvious place to get off the water. Many tent rings and stone tools and points where scattered around the site. We set up the tent and crawled in. We were too tired and cold to start the next rapids which where about one half mile down the river. It was nice in the tent, warm and dry. We were soaked.

The tent was warm and smelled of our wet clothes and gear, which we spread and hung everywhere. It really felt good to be in the dry sleeping bag after being wet all day. We dozed and listened to the rain on the tent. It was hypnotic and comforting to be inside for a change instead of out in whatever was happening.

By late evening the rain stopped and the sun returned. We where rested and dry and treated to a beautiful late evening warm up. The sun was low and it made everything glow orange and gold. When we surveyed the site we found about a dozen very old tent rings and various signs of camp life everywhere. It was a very pleasant place to stop and obvious why the native people stayed here. We found several sites where quartz was being knapped into tools. There were knapped stones everywhere and discarded scrapers and stone knives all over the camp. Quartzite is what was being used for their tools. I hadnít seen any in the area so I am guessing that it was gathered somewhere else or was traded for with other people.

 

 

 

JULY 15TH HALF TRAVEL DAY

 

I got up, packed my things, and got dressed for travel. I barely got out of the tent before I returned. It was cold, windy and drizzling. It was terrible. I got undressed, unrolled my bag and wormed back in where it was warm and dry. We lay low all morning, dozing and reading.

We got up at midday and headed down the river against a very stiff headwind. We paddled and walked the first rapid. We paddled six or seven more; it was an easy passage down the river under a very low overcast sky. The sky and the water and the shore where all the same shades of gray and black. We saw many stone markers along both shores; single stones set on end on the horizon, blatant signs of the past. In the middle of a big rapid while we where paddling hard in white water, I saw a very large vertical marker on the skyline on the Eastern Shore. I was overwhelmed with the presence of the ancient people that had been here before us and where now gone.

We paddled and then walked a big rapid at the end of the river and rode the flume into Giant Noleye Lake. As we started up the shore, Bob flew over and we raised him on our handheld radio. As we where badly behind schedule and now faced two big lakes, we asked him for a ride to the headwaters of the Kamilukuak River. He told us that he may be back and continued flying south. We waited around for a few hours and explored the lakeshore. It was very pretty, big boulders and hills rising above the lake, giving us many good vantagepoints. We couldnít see across, the water just disappeared into the haze. We got cold waiting and it was still very windy so we unloaded the canoe and camped on the lakeshore.

 

 

JULY 16TH THE ISTHMUS

 

Bob didnít return for us so we stayed at our camp on big Noleye Lake. The wind didnít go down much over night and it didnít get too cold. Now we didnít want Bob to show up. We wanted to get to the isthmus that we had read about in Mowatís book. Paul had written him a letter telling of our plans. He responded with a nice letter and description of his trip to this area fifty some years earlier. He described the hunting blinds and the vee shaped row of boulders that the Inuit had built to herd the caribou together as they traversed the isthmus. He described an old trappers cabin on Kamalukuat Lake and a hawks nest and wished us well. We have the letter.

We packed up hoping Bob wouldnít materialize. We wanted to see what Mowat and his companions had seen fifty years earlier. We paddled down the lake towards the isthmus into a steady headwind. Paul guided us through the maze of islands and to a small peninsula, which had a very small opening through it leading to the open part of the lake and the West shore, our destination. The low point was filled with willows and was one to two feet deep, but it was "the chosen way". We found numerous rock markers guiding us through the tangle of rocks and shallows. People had been coming this way for a very long time. We stopped at the most likely spot and found tent poles and sled runners. We always seemed to stop where everyone else had stopped. It was the human place to stop, or to rest, or to camp.

We were on the last bit of land before the crossing. Everyone who came this way before us stopped here and surveyed the crossing as we were doing. It was midday and the wind was down to a gentle breeze. We looked across the two miles of very open lake and discussed the chances of making it across before the wind returned. We talked and stared and shuffled around and stared at the isthmus, now almost in our reach. I wanted to go and Paul was hesitant. It was a big piece of open water with a very long fetch and no protection and no place to stop. Once we started, we were committed to continuing; there was no place to stop and hide.

It was about midday and we finally decided to go for it. I was anxious to start while the wind was down. It was a big stretch and very open. For the first third all was well, but as we reached the point of no return, the wind seemed to pick up a bit, and as got further into the lake, it started to blow. Soon we were paddling in black water, working very hard to maintain headway with the shore a long ways away. We could see a little rock pile about two thirds of the way across and aimed for it, pulling as hard as we could. It was another paddle for life. No turning back, no where to go but into the wind, pulling as hard as we could. After what seemed hours we slowly pulled into the lee of rock pile and jumped out of the canoe in waist deep water, exhausted. A few scraggly willows were poking through the rocks and the waves where splashing over the rock pile and us. I had visions of being stranded here for a couple of days and it wasnít very appealing.

After resting for a bit, catching our breath and staring at the lake, we decided to go for it and piled back into the canoe, pulling out of the protection of the rock pile and back into the full force of the wind. We had about a third of the crossing left to cover and slowly pulled towards the windward shore. As we covered the last portion, we started to get some protection from the isthmus itself and the traverse became steadily easier until we finally got in the lee of the shore and blessed calm water and relief. We had made it. Another "paddle for life". There always seems to one or two a trip.

We paddled into a little bay, beached the canoe and climbed to the top of the long hill that was on the north side of the isthmus. At the crest we got our first look at the "Inland Sea" that Mowat described in his book. Standing on the hill, we could see down to the narrowest portion of the isthmus, separating big Noleye Lake from the "Inland Sea", big Kamilukuak, disappearing at the horizon, whipped to a brown froth by the strong northwest wind. What a place.

Paddling to the lowest and narrowest place on the isthmus, we found the spot were everyone stopped and camped. As we walked the three-quarters of a mile to the West shore of Kamalukuak, we found numerous stone markers, hunting veeís, ambush places and signs of the hunting and camping that had taken place here in the past. It was exciting and a little Erie being in this place that had been so well used and was now so empty. Only the stones and bones were left.

 

 

 

 

JULY 17TH DUST-OFF

We woke to a cold rain and strong wind. The wind never went down overnight and there wasnít a chance of getting on the big lake. I sent an e-mail to Bob and asked him for a ride across the big lake to the river. We have no idea if he will show up or not. If he doesnít come, weíll just go when we can.

We had a leisurely breakfast and went for a long walk up the isthmus, which got us several hundred feet above the two lakes as the isthmus rose steadily both north and south away from the low point that separated them. It was spectacular to look south and see the two big lakes almost touch. We were looking at two very large, important drainages simultaneously, separated by a bit of low marshy bog.

Later in the morning, I tried to cross the marshy creek that flowed from Noleye into Kamalukuak but was turned back by a bad bog and thicket which held most of the isthmusí supply of bugs. I did determine on this ill planned crossing that the Noleye does leak into the Kamalukuak, which by our altimeter is thirty feet or so lower than the Noleye, just as Mowatt wrote fifty years earlier. It continued to rain off and on all day.

We walked to the big lake to see if we could launch a canoe and returned disappointed. There was a nice surf crashing on the rocks. No go. When we returned we found the gulls had eaten the trout that Paul had caught for dinner. They were hanging around looking for more, which we couldnít provide.

We were in the tent dozing off the rain when we heard the drone of Bobís Beaver. Dust-off, evac, free fifty klicks to the Kamalukuak River. Skip the big lake paddle. Get right to the river.

Bob had difficulty spotting us and we had to talk him to us on the radio. We were surprised because we still had the yellow tent up and thought it would be easy to see. He landed and taxied to shore near our camp as we broke down our gear and packed up. He had two guys with him that he was taking back to Kasba for their return south. While tying the canoe on the floats Bob slipped and fell in the lake. We didnít laugh.

Bob dropped us off just uplake from the beginning of the river on a point of land that jutted into the bay where the river began. We could hear the first rapids from our camp. This was as pretty a campsite as we had visited. The sun was just below the horizon and the world turned orange and red. We had a late dinner and cocktails, 150 proof rum. Too much food and not enough rum. We wonít make that mistake again.

In the morning we started to look around and found ourselves in a rather large, heavily used old camp. There were tent rings scattered all over the point, with many food caches and piles of broken and gnawed bones. We found a cache of tools and trapping gear under the remains of a large sled. Fox traps, awls, wooden tools that we couldnít identify and pieces of bones filled the crevices and holes under the rocks. Someone had obviously planned to return for their gear. Who left their possessions here? We will never know.

 

 

 

 

JULY 18th FISH CAMP MILE MARKER 40

 

 

We left the camp at the headwaters and started down the Kamalukuak River. As soon as we reached the river we were at the first rapids which were loaded with fish. We fished the rapids as we walked the canoe down river, stopping at the better spots and caught many lake trout and a few big grayling. The sun was out and it was warm, making our slog through the rapids very pleasant. We saw numerous old camps as we descended the river. This area was quite well traveled and lived- in in years past. Every place that we stopped we saw signs of people, camps, tent rings, stakes, poles, food caches and the ever present broken bones.

Towards the end of the day, we caught and kept two nice lake trout, which I poached for dinner with some corn bread. The bugs were so bad that we had to eat in the tent. It was impossible to be outside. I hate to eat in the tent. We are now forty klicks to Bobís fish camp on the big lake.

 

 

JULY 19TH ONE BIG DAY

 

We left our camp at mid morning to fair weather and a southwest wind, which blew us down a long lake. It was nice to have a tailwind, a rare treat. In the middle of a rather large lake Paul hooked a large lake trout. I laboriously pulled us to the shore while Paul dealt with the fish, hoping not to loose any more of our meager supply of tackle. In the rocks at the shoreline, we unhooked an eighteen-pound laker and went on our way. For the record, we clip all the barbs on lures. You donít need barbs here, and you probably donít need them anywhere else. The wind steadily came up and by the time we reached the next rapids, it was ripping. The lake behind us was up and in a fury. We saw many old camps as we paddled and drifted down river, all located at a good take out where the wind off the lake might keep the bugs down. The next set of rapids was four miles of continuous white water. The river fell sixteen feet in this distance and the resulting rapids were big and very impressive. We walked and lined through four miles of "bad road", slipping in the holes, falling over the slimy boulders, dragging the canoe over the shallow spots and generally having a hard time of it. When we were in the middle of it, unable to see where we had come from and how far we had to go to get out of this hellish little place I was low and tired. It seemed as if we were going to be there forever, but once I could see the end, I revived. It took us a long four hours to get through that stretch. It was our hardest day, wet, cold, windy and exhausting.

With black clouds building behind us, we went through the last chute and onto the next lake. We had taken the right channel around a long island and it was a mistake. The only place to get off the lake was on the west shore of the left channel and it was a long pull directly into what was now a very strong wind, perhaps thirty five to forty knots. It took us almost thirty minutes to get upwind to the shore, which didnít offer much protection. The campsite was a large flat area about fifteen feet above the lake reached by scrambling up a steep bank. It was sandy and clean, and offered a spectacular view of the lake. This site was one of the largest and prettiest camps we had visited. Near the lake we found the remains of a twenty four-foot sled with all the crosspieces. The runners were enhanced with steel strips, which were very finely made. I found numerous stone tools scattered around the camp, as well as the ubiquitous broken and cracked and gnawed bones.

The sky cleared, the wind continued to howl and Paul went to the lake and caught a couple of grayling, which I cleaned and poached with corn bread. The colors looking northeast were beautiful. The lake was black with white wind streaks tearing away from us towards the far shore and sky and the tundra were almost the same shade of blue-green. In the end it was a great day! No bugs!

 

 

 

 

JULY 20TH BUG CAMP MILE 18

The wind blew hard all night. It was cold in the morning and still very windy. We paddled the long lake that we had camped on and saw a pack of white wolves on the far shore. As soon as they saw us, they moved away from the lake and out of sight. There were six or seven of them jogging along in loose formation. We lined and paddled a long series of rapids that emptied into the last big lake before Dubawnt Lake. It was still cold so we stopped at the end and changed into dry boots and rested and snacked. Towards the end of the day we paddled to the top of the of the last series of rapids that emptied into Dubawnt Lake. The sun finally came out, it got warm, the wind went dead and the bugs came out in swarms and clouds, engulfing us on the water. We were in a low marshy area about a quarter of a mile from the next set of rapids and we were tired and wanted to stop.

We scouted a couple of less wet places and chose the dreiest little hump we could find which was marked by a large stone tipped up on end set on the top of the hummock. We figured that this was as good as it was going to get and were afraid to go further for fear of ending up in the rapids with no place to stop. The campsite was surrounded by bog and we were in the middle of a mosquito ranch and they were herding up. I somehow boiled something up and we were forced to eat in the tent. It was impossible to be outside. The sun was still rather high and we baked, dripping and sweating without a breath of air.

 

 

JULY 21ST BUGGY SWAMP CAMP

 

 

We woke to clear skies and moderate temperatures. We planned to line the last five clicks of rapids, which led to Dubawnt Lake and were looking forward to a strenuous day. As we rounded the little point that hid the river from our campsite, we came upon one campsite nicer than the last. If we had just gone another quarter of a mile last night we would have had a much better place to stop, but we were afraid of what we couldnít see. We didnít want to make a marathon out of what had already been a long day.

The long series of rapids that was shown on the map turned out to be one long fast chute after another. We never got out of the canoe. There were some rapids but the water was deep and nearly free of rocks, making shooting the whole thing rather easy, and very enjoyable. The last section of river before the big lake was very pretty with many rock markers on both shores. This river had been well traveled for many generations.

The overcast burned off as we paddled through the fast water and the morning heated up. We stopped about one half mile before the lake and walked and fished the fast water and eddies, but couldnít get a bite. It was surprising because it was very fishy looking. The shoreline on both sides of the river was now very low, flat and boggy. We could see the big lake past the expanse of tundra and the low hills surrounding the bay that the river emptied into.

Paddling the last rapids dumped us into the big bay and once out of the current, we were on mirror flat water. No wind, just the bugs and heat. We crossed the bay hoping to get out and rest and eat but when we got to the shore, we found an impassible willow thicket that started at the shoreline and went at least a quarter of a mile inland and up the low hills surrounding the bay. The willows started growing in one to two feet of water making it impossible to get to shore. We got out of the canoe and stood in knee deep water and snacked and rested.

I tried to send another "e" mail with my gadget but I wasnít sure it got out. When we returned to the canoe, we paddled the whole bay looking for a place to camp but couldnít find a break in the willows that wasnít boggy. We did find the portage, which was marked by one of Bobís boats. It was left there for any of his fishing guests that might want to fish the river. We never got a rise, but maybe it was the wrong time of day, or the wrong day, or maybe the wrong month. Weíll never know.

We spent hours looking for one small dry place and eventually found one very small, nearly dry spot almost big enough to pitch the ten. It was on the very edge of a large boggy area on the south side of the bay very near the water. Had to cook on the rocks right at the waters edge. This was a very small campsite.

The shoreline was made up of medium sized water worn rocks arranged in a continuous line of scallops, almost like a sign wave on the entire southern shore. It was like the pattern you might see in sand made by the waves, but these were one to three pound stones arranged perfectly by the prevailing winds and waves. The distance between scallops was about fifteen feet, so I am assuming that that is an even multiple of the average period of the waves that formed the shoreline pattern. The fetch across the bay was about three miles without any tree on the shore to slow things down. The wind probably blows pretty hard here and the waves are probably fifteen feet between crests, making them about seven feet high. Iíll bet thatís a real sight to see. Iím not that sorry that I missed it.

I cooked a fast one pot meal while being swarmed, choked it down and dove for the tent. We had wanted to try fishing after we ate but we couldnít be outside. It was just too bad. The bugs were swarming. The Western sum beat on the tent and made it an oven. We are hoping for a nice cool day for the big portage.

 

 

JULY 22ND LAST PORTAGE

 

We woke to the sound of Bobís Beaver as he flew over our boggy camp. We talked to him on our radio and told him that we would be in his fish camp sometime today. We had hoped that it would be nice and cool and cloudy for the walk today but it was hot when we crawled out of the tent. Along with the heat came the bugs, bright and early.

We packed down good and tight and headed for the portage. It was cloudless, still and getting hotter as we loaded up at the portage for the walk across the isthmus to the East Side of the lake. We made the portage under the worst possible conditions. It was hot and sweaty and bad walking, soft and boggy with long stretches of hummock grass with bugs buzzing and swarming. It took us two trips and we were done, sweaty, tired and eaten up.

 

We packed the canoe and started North towards the fish camp. The lake was a mirror, mimicking the sky on the clear water, but the wind was gone and the bugs followed us far out into the lake. It wasnít very pleasant; very pretty but not much fun.

We paddled and drifted and chatted, finally arriving at Bobís camp around mid-day. It was good to be at our target. This part of the trip was over.

We pulled the canoe out of the water and were greeted by Anne and Joe, the camp manager and his wife, or the camp manager and her husband, we werenít sure which. We sat down in the cook tent and to get aquainted and were immediately served lunch. It was the first food that I had eaten in three weeks that I hadnít prepared and served. Quit a shock but I got over it.

After lunch we went fishing and caught a fish as big as me every cast. Too many fish. Shocking! It didnít matter much were we fished, we caught fish. We took turns fishing, arguing about whose turn it was to fish. You didnít want to take an extra turn because you would have to handle another big fish. We had never seen such a place. The fish were everywhere. All lake trout, only lake trout.

 

 

JULY 23RD FISH CAMP

We spent two days waiting for our ride back to Kasba Lake and the Convair back to Winnipeg and then Minneapolis. The fishing was breathtaking. Every cast produced a lake trout, most of them pretty big. If a guy wanted to catch fish without doing much to earn the right, this was the place. Bob had a camp on the north end of the lake also. That was were the "big" fish were supposed to be. You couldnít prove it to me. We had trouble catching fish that were small enough to eat.

The afternoon of the third day at the camp, a very noisy Beech 18 on floats roared over the camp, landed in the bay and taxied back to shore to take us away, ending our time in the north.

The ride back to Kasba was flown at about five hundred feet, just under the rainy overcast. We skimmed across the tundra and saw a good deal of the rivers and lakes that we had so laboriously paddled just a few days earlier. Everything was somber and dark, the clouds reflecting the green of the tundra and gray black of the lakes. The rapids, which were often such a trial for us, looked flat and inviting. The beautiful camps were invisible in the vastness of the land. Everything just melted together into a huge green and gray mat. We were going home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 © 2009 Jim Rutzick