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 Post subject: Back River, 2005
PostPosted: October 24th, 2008, 8:01 pm 

Joined: January 22nd, 2005, 12:16 pm
Posts: 3930
Location: Toronto
Post 1, of 7.

Table of Contents:

Post 1:
Introductory comments
Upper Back: Rapids, route notes and campsite information

Post 2:
Lower Back: Rapids, route notes and campsite information

Post 3:
Day-by-day report

Post 4:
Short bibliography
Appendix B: Access and egress

Post 5:
Appendix A: Boats
Appendix C: Charter flights

Post 6:
Appendix D: Gear
Appendix E: PakCanoes
Appendix F: Accommodation in Yellowknife
Appendix G: Accommodation in Baker Lake

Post 7:
Annotated bibliography, with musings

I had intended to write a full report of our 2005 Back trip but so far have written only sections. It is now unlikely that I’ll get around to joining the sections coherently, removing duplicated material, etc, so I decided to post what I have.
I thought long and hard before posting the following, largely because the Back is so isolated and dangerous. A small error here can get you into big trouble, as it did a group ahead of us.
I would not paddle this river again.

One-sentence overview:
The Back, with four letters, is well described by the four-letter words sand, rain, wind, cold, bugs, oxen, deer (caribou).

A good many paddlers contributed to our trip and also explicitly to this report; I thank them by name in Post 4 (Summary). But I must acknowledge here the extraordinary assistance provided by George Drought, especially that he very generously gave permission to provide excerpts from his notes on rapids (and routes through them) and campsite locations. Here's an excerpt from his email:
I personally feel it is important that anybody going into the barrens should be completely aware of what they are facing. Also if they want to contact people who have done specific rivers especially the Back then they should have access to those persons and as much information as possible. I have little time for people who refuse to share.

Introduction to posts 1 and 2:

Posts 1 and 2 provide rapids, route notes and campsite information for the upper Back (Jim Magrum Lake to Mission Island) and the lower Back (Mission Island to 11 km above the Hayes) respectively. The file was too large (>60,000 characters) for a single post.

I have included all the information, and then some, on rapids, routes and campsites that I thought you might want to record on your topos in preparation for your trip; the section is then however too long to be taken along.
Sources are my notes, marked-up topos from the Drought-Burton trips of 2000 and 2003, conversations with George Drought, and reports of my companions.
I've tried to separate the technical information (posts 1 and 2) from the day-by-day stuff (post 3) but inertia prevented doing the job fully.

Because I couldn't decide where else to put the information, I have included extensive quotes from the downstream parts of [Back]'s and [Anderson]'s journals; may you too be humbled by their pace. Anderson's party covered our route in 19 days (vs our 41), but going UPstream.
I tried, not always successfully, to identify the rapids described in Back's journal with those on the topos. I believe that his journal contains errors; if so, he shares the sin bin with the modern cartographer who, as George Drought first pointed out, got Malley Rapids wrong.

1. Please forgive the preaching and butt-covering, but you are responsible for your own safety. Although I took care in compiling the information, the following almost certainly contains errors, some perhaps serious.
2. Extensive whitewater experience is necessary for unguided travel on the Back. Disaster awaits the incautious, particularly at Rock and Escape. Avoid like the plague prospective partners with something to prove.
3. This is a very remote area. In six weeks, we saw five other people, all on the upper Back. We believe that there was no party upstream of us for the 250 km from mission island to the Meadowbank; if we had lost a boat say in Rock we would have been in serious trouble. Check with your outfitter regarding what other parties are on the river; if possible, get their entry and exit dates and locations. As [McCreadie] says, the Back is not suitable as a first barrenlands river; adjusting to weather and bug conditions is difficult enough. Better suited to unguided first-timers are the Thelon from below the canyon to Beverley, the Burnside and the Mara/Burnside.
4. I make no recommendations as to what you should do at the rapids, except for comments like Scout! (which means get out and walk the shore). My remarks are descriptive (what we and a few other parties did); they are decidedly not prescriptive.
5. If your water level differs much from ours, the information given below may be useless, perhaps even dangerously misleading. The level on the upper Back for us was several metres above what Hans Baumgartner had on his previous trip; Rob Perkins confirmed that it was very high. And I conclude from reading other reports that the level was very high too on the lower Back. We paddled channels (at Hawk, on Pelly and below Buliard) not shown on the topos. And we had to line, wade through or portage rapids that other parties ran. Just as we found some rapids almost unrecognizable from the information we had, so may you find some almost unrecognizable from what I provide.
6. Neither should you follow blindly what Drought-Burton did on their 2000 and 2003 trips, in low and high water respectively.
7. Rapids ratings are inexpert, personal, inconsistent and not adjusted for runout or remoteness; in short, don't take them literally.
8. Some rapids are easy except for whirlpools; some of these, which appear out of nowhere, are big enough to flip a boat. And some eddy lines can flip you too. You have to be prepared for trouble in even innocent-looking stuff.
9. Do not take the topos literally. For example, some serious rapids are not marked on the 1:50k topos; the 1:250k set is often better in this respect.
10. Wet/dry suits are recommended; they are useful for lining (expect to do lots of this, in very cold water) as well as for running rapids.
11. Spray covers are pretty well mandatory for the white water; they help to keep you relatively warm to boot. We put them on the first day and left them on until we finished.
12. Finally and most importantly, trust neither maps nor any trip report including this one; in the final analysis, you must rely on your own judgement.

Route notes:
I've included information on the route we followed; occasionally I suggest other routes, for example which side of an island to go around (say when one side was dry or draggy, this I remind you in high water).

I give UTM coordinates of sites
(1) where we camped,
(2) where Drought-Burton camped in 2000,
(3) where Drought-Burton camped in 2003, and
(4) that we noticed en route.
This information may be useful in planning where to camp and also in assessing your progress down the river.
1. Campsite N1 means the site on our day 1, etc. The quality of our sites is rated, inconsistently, on a scale from A (superb, worth stopping early or pushing to reach) to E (avoid if at all possible); criteria used were ease of landing and loading, distance from the water, views, hiking, flatness, dryness, size (we had 6 tents on the upper Back, 3 on the lower), sand (ruins zippers), how tired or wet we were, and others I've forgotten.
2. Campsite DB1 means the site on day 1 of the Drought-Burton trip of 2000, from Jim Magrum Lake to Mount Meadowbank; many of these locations are only approximate (~).
3. Campsite of DB 2003 means a site from the Drought-Burton trip of 2003, from Mount Meadowbank to the mouth of the Hermann; again many locations are only approximate. I give only campsite locations, not the days they were occupied.
4. Campsite (plain vanilla) means a site that we noticed en route, some from shore, others only from the water.

Maps and coordinates:
The locations of rapids, campsites, etc are given in UTM coordinates, in the format easting/northing. This information is intended for use with the 1:50k set of topos; the precision is nominally plus/minus 50 m, but errors are often larger. You will have to make adjustments if using the 1:250k set.
Since the UTM northings differ by 200 or 300 m between topos using NAD27 and
NAD83, you should check the datum on your topo against mine, the latter as given below; and don't forget to set your GPS.
The UTMs given for rapids refer to the start of the rapids.

Drought locations:
Locations of campsites, map junctures, etc are given, roughly, as distances below the outlet of Sussex Lake as measured by George Drought and marked on his maps; I say roughly because some sites lie off the route that George marked.
An example: our first campsite was at D 51 km, 51 km below the outlet of Sussex; BTW, the Sussex outlet is 1060 km above the last narrows before Cockburn Bay of Chantrey Inlet.

Abbreviations for people:
D: George Drought; used only for Drought distances.
BG: Bob Bignell & Gene Chorostecki.
DB: George Drought, Barbara Burton and companions.
DD: Daniela Kosch & Doug Bell.
HH: Hans Schneller & Hans Baumgartner (kayakers met on the river).
LA: Linda Gordon & Allan Jacobs.
MH: Marilyn Sprissler & Hendrik Herfst.
SA: Stephen Catlin & Allan (again).

Other abbreviations:
C: centre.
L: river left.
R: river right.
CWT: centre wave train.
Ded: dragged.
Led: lined (or tracked, for the purists).
Ped: portaged.

Upper Back

Start on map 76C9 (NAD27).

Campsite DB1. ~426/808. D 51 km. 2 July 2000.

Enter map 76B12 (NAD27). Note that the UTM is discontinuous at the boundary (D 51 km) with map 76C9 (the one to the left or west).

We landed on Jim Magrum Lake (elevation 316 m) on 5 July 2005 and camped.

[Back], 2 July 1834: A line of rapids ... led us to an opening or small lake four miles broad, bounded on the north by a ridge of blue mountains ... which cut the lake at a right angle. The centre, and, indeed, the greater part was covered with ice.
The identification of the rapids with Muskox, and of the lake with Jim Magrum, is certain. At the western end of the lake was a large Indian encampment where Back met again his
old acquaintance and Indian belle Green Stockings: she was still the beauty of her tribe; and, with that consciousness which belongs to all belles, savage or polite, seemed by no means displeased when I sketched her portrait.
Back recorded the weather that day as thick and foggy, just what we experienced.

Campsite N1. 572/802. Class C site. Tent sites OK; good in and out (didn't get our feet wet unloading the aircraft). 5 July. D 51 km.

596/824: Below the exit from Jim Magrum Lake. Scout! I messed up here (my excuse, lame I admit, is the high water). Whatever the reason, we missed the extreme L channel run by DB & Rob Perkins and ended up instead on an island just L of a CIII+ ledge, with a third channel R of the ledge. We looked at the L channel, but it didn't look so great, even with high water. After lunch and much scouting and discussion, we Ped (nasty, over large rocks) and Led around the ledge; we then put in, joined the L channel and ran a CI+. After scouting this rapid (596/824) rather thoroughly, DB ran down the channel on the extreme L; about the far R channel, DB says careful, scout.

[Back], 4 July: An increasing current brought us to a strong rapid and fall, with an island in the centre.
His boat got hung up on a rock and was scraped in one place but not seriously damaged. Here Back met Akaitcho again. The strong rapid and fall is clearly 596/824.

[Anderson], 14 July: The ladings were carried at the Rapid where Back nearly lost his boat, but the canoes were merely lifted over a ledge of rock ....
The Rapid is clearly 596/824.

622/829: Ran easy swift on the L side of the island. DB, who says easy swift, did the same.

[Back], 5 July: we entered a small lake, whose western shore led to a narrow channel formed by an island with a rapid on either side. The one which we ran was rather shoal, but the boat did not ground.
The rapid must be 622/829; the western shore comment is confusing though since the river here flows almost due east.

Enter map 76B13 (NAD27); D 60 km.

695/887: Ran the R side of the L channel, easy swift with rocks in the C. DB did the same.

[Back], 8 July: A wide and deep channel that was passed terminated in a rapid, which ... was run with a full cargo, and brought us to a small lake.
Identification of the rapid with 695/887 and the small lake with Gold Lake, more than likely in any case, is supported by his later remark that the small lake forms the northern boundary of the Heywood chain; look at the topo if you have any doubt.

Campsite N2. 704/905. Class C site (tent sites OK, nasty landing and loading). 6 July. D 69 km.

Campsite DB2. ~704/912. D 70 km.

720/952: Ran a swift at the contour-line crossing.

[Back], 8 July: The river now became contracted, and formed an easy rapid, which is almost certainly 720/952.

Enter map 76B14 (NAD27); D 91 km.

Campsites N3 & N4. 757/011. Class D site (damp, ugly landing & loading, only two places to land and load). Necessity site (forced in by wind, windbound the next day); reasonable walking though. 7 & 8 July. D 83 km.

827/086: Ran R side of CWT. DB says swift.

824/088: Ran L side of CWT. DB says swift.

Return to map 76B13; D 95 km.

820/090: Ran swift, as did DB.

Enter map 76G4 (NAD27); D 96 km.

Campsite DB3. ~810/108. D 96 km.

812/108: Ran big waves; CII-.

812/114: Ran big waves; CII-.

809/127: Ran big waves; CII-.

[Back], 9 July: An easy rapid ... a very long rapid immediately succeeding ... a river joining from the westward ... a rapid then followed ... another tributary was observed coming from the same quarter.
I identify these five features with
1. the narrows at 827/086,
2. the stretch below it,
3. the river joining at 810/108,
4. the long rapid below it, and
5. the river from Fidler Lake respectively.
Then all three rapids mentioned by Back between 596/894 and 827/086 are accounted for, specifically as 622/829, 695/887 and 720/952.
BTW, the Fidler brothers John and Henry/Harry were part of [Anderson]'s party; he calls the first Half-breed steer'n and the second Half-breed mid'n. Use of this ugly term was common among Pure Breeds like Anderson and Thomas Simpson; a notable exception is John Rae, who, though he used it, apologized for doing so. The Addenda has more on the Fidlers.

Enter map 76G3 (NAD27); D 100 km.

884/177: Scout! Big bad rapid. Scouted from L shore; started hard L, then dodged rocks. CII+ (easy run as we did it but with opportunity to go wrong). DB says big rapid; ran tight L.

Comment: I considered but eventually rejected identifying 884/177 with [Back]'s rapid at An island, near the centre ... I'm a bit uneasy with my decision though, for if I am correct then either Back didn't consider 884/177 worth mentioning or he forgot it; and [Anderson] doesn't mention it explicitly.

890/208: Ran swift. DB did the same. [Back] doesn't mention this one either.

895/232: Fast water only at the bend (explicitly, we saw no rapid as marked on the DB map).

Campsite N5. 898/233. Class A site. Just above Malley Rapids, so called. 9 July. Same as DB4. D 116 km.

900/234: Malley Rapids, so called. Scout! We scouted from the R side, below our campsite. In the morning, we ran the R channel on the far R, dodging rocks. CII+. DB did the same.

Comment: George Drought pointed out, and I agree, that the cartographer got it wrong; as discussed below, 900/234 is not [Back]'s Malley Rapids.

[Back], 9 July: An island near the centre of the river, with thin columns of mist rising ... on each side.
Although the phrasing seems bloated, this must be 900/234 (which the topo incorrectly calls Malley Rapids).

891/265: Ran CI+. DB says swift. This might be the first of Back's no less than five rapids (notes for 9 July), though I counted only four.

893/278: About 4 km of continuous CII+ with many boulders, ledges and holes, requiring frequent and major course changes. The length made it difficult to scout much of it from shore, so many of us did boat scouts (aka blind probes) only. For us, the rapids started at the narrows, rather than several km downstream as marked on the topo. Several boats went L (as suggested by DB), others R (following Robert Perkins). All got through after much bumping and grinding; several tubes in Marilyn's boat got bent.
DB says Care!, Scout!, spray covers on; ran L side.

[Back], 9 July: a long and appalling rapid, full of rocks and large boulders.
He called this one Malley's Rapids in honour of the crew member who got lost on the portage. Back camped below it that night.

[Anderson], 15 July: His party left from a point below 596/824. Ran 10 Rapids with full ladings, except at 2 rapids ... Encamped at 9 1/4 p.m. at the foot of Malley's Rapids ... I do not find the Rapids nearly as bad as I was led to expect by ... Capt. Back's narrative - the water was certainly lower than it was when he passed, which renders them in this part of the river worse.

Comment: George Drought was the first (known to me) to suggest that the topo is marked incorrectly; explicitly, [Back]'s Malley Rapids is 893/278, rather than 900/234 as marked on the topo.
Here are five points in favour of this interpretation:
1. 900/234 is neither long nor appalling. On the other hand, 893/278 is long and more difficult that 900/234; the appalling bit looks like hype though.
2. 893/234 is the only rapid on this part of the river that comes close to fitting the long and appalling description.
3. How could anyone get lost on the very short portage past 900/234?
4. I provide above a plausible identification for Back's rapid with an island, namely 900/234; no other rapid fits this bill either.
5. The stretch between the bottom of 900/234 and 893/278 is about three miles long, just like Back's nearly three miles between the island rapid and Malley's Rapids.
The only contrary point I can think of is that I've been unable to make one-to-one correspondences between all the rapids mentioned by [Back] and those that we saw.
Summary: Identifying the island rapid with 900/234 and Malley Rapids with 893/278 both make sense, whereas the topo's MALLEY RAPIDS at 900/234 does not.

916/322: Ran about 1 km of CI+ rapids. DB says great rapid; ran L side.

[Back], 10 July: an intricate piece of water before us ... wedged in between two hills that forbade landing ... rocks under water ... a passage in a strong current, broken by shoals and sharp stones.
The identification with 916/322 looks sound; the banks of 916/322 were steep enough that we didn't consider getting out to scout it, but the difficulty was less that suggested by Back's other comments.

914/343: Couldn't scout; ran mostly C through huge waves. CII+.
DB says Scout!; ran C, through huge waves.

[Back], 10 July: Another rapid and a portage took us to what would have been still water ....
The identification of the rapid with 914/343 looks sound.

Campsite DB5. ~902/372. D 132 km.

Enter map 76G6 (NAD27); D 134 km.

Swifts at 874/450, 893/468, 902/484 and several other places before the island with tip at 927/540.

Campsite N6. 926/538. Class E site (wet, grassy, worst on the trip, quaking). Necessity site (getting late and we hadn't seen anything for a long while). 10 July. D 152 km.

Comment: I lost contact with Back's journal at some point below 914/343; from there to Beechey Lake, I couldn't make identifications with any confidence.
His low islands might be the islands below our campsite N6,
the narrow in his From a narrow we emerged into a wide space might be the narrow at 972/593, and
the river in his another large river might be the river joining at 982/618.
But the large river might well be the one joining at 883/470, and so on. In fact, some of Back's descriptions made no sense to me. For example, the lake, ruffled by a head wind ... might be the lake starting near 004/631, but we saw no rapid after 998/637 which is upstream from the lake.

993/633: Scout! Having watched BG dump small-time on trying the ledge on the R, the others ran the huge waves in the C. CII+.
DB says bad ledges on both sides; ran C.

998/637: Ran L channel, as did DB.

Comment: For the latitude just above the last rapid before Beechey, Back gives the value 65d 38', surprisingly different from the modern value of about 65d 29'. Whatever the source (transcription, typographical, ...) of the error, the 38' should have been 28' or 29'. My argument is first that measurement errors in latitudes (not longitudes) were much smaller than 10' in those times, and second that the latitude below the Beechey portage is given correctly.

[Back], 13 July: A small tributary came in from the left, and thence the river spread itself into several branches ....

[Anderson], 16 July: All the rapids mentioned by Back were run without difficulty. The water must have been higher and the Rapids stronger when he passed.
Back's description of the country is in general very correct but I did not perceive several branches of the river before arriving at L. Beechy.

Comment: The small tributary might be the one arriving at 001/642.
Like [Anderson], we didn't see the branches, only the islands marked on the topo, but maybe Back just used the wrong phrase.
[Back]'s strong ripple with white waves ... heavy rapid (13 July) must be the river arriving at 041/656. Again though, details of his description don't agree with the topo or what we saw.

[Back], 13 July: Referring to Bathurst Inlet and Back's River (now called the Western River), he comments Our proximity to the coast, however, explained the cold and dreary weather which had lately incommoded us.

Campsite DB6. ~050/655. D 171 km.

Enter map 76G7 (NAD27); D 174 km. We saw no good campsites on the R side of Beechey until well down the lake. Rob Perkins says that the L side is better for campsites; we saw few over there either, but then we stuck close to the R shore. [Back]'s party was blocked by ice here on 14 July.

Campsite N7. 173/514. Class C site. Tent rings. 11 July. D 191 km.

Campsite DB7. ~227/458. very good. D 198 km.

Campsite. 255/398. Had lunch there.

Skirt corners of maps 76G2 and 76G8.

Enter map 76G1 (NAD27); D 211 km.

Campsites. There are several good sites on the L, past the constriction.

Campsite N8. ~381/361. Class A site. Start of portage; nice walk to view cascades. Same as DB8 & DB9. 12 July. D 218 km.

Back arrived here on 15 July, Anderson on 17 July.

378/365: We Ped the entire Beechey Cascades on the R, about 2 km and 35 minutes each way. There's no real trail (we didn't see the one marked on the topo); we went a little L of the rocks visible on the horizon from the campsite and then followed our noses (and ears) to the end of the rapids. The top part looks maybe lineable but forget it; you'll end up portaging the same distance but over tougher ground. Hans Baumgartner (kayaker) ran the whole thing but ordinary paddlers won't touch the bottom part. The put-in is very rocky; we had to protect our Pakcanoes from the wash.

Campsite. Rob Perkins camped in the grass above the put-in point at the end of the portage; the site didn't appeal to us.

[Back], 15 July: ... loud roar that was heard long before we got to it ... an awful series of cascades, nearly two miles in length, and making, in the whole, a descent of about sixty feet.
He gives the latitude at the end of the portage as 65d 15'.

[Anderson], 17 July: A complete portage was made at the Cascades; all the Rapids below it were safely run with full cargoes, with the exception of one where the canoes were lightened ....
A candidate for the one is 76G1 495/300.
BTW, his party was on the water from 2:45 am to 9:15 pm.

Enter map 76G8 (NAD27) at D 224 km. The broad part of the river ([Back], 16 July) is not so broad, but the river does take a sudden turn to the northward, after which it bends suddenly to the southward.

Return to map 76G1 at D 231 km. And from the upper end of the southward reach there is indeed no passage perceptible at its farther extremity ([Back], 16 July).

495/300: Scout! We did a lengthy scout on the R, of this one and of 503/295, the latter from afar. We ran 495/300 on the hard R, dodging rocks. CII+. DB ran R.

503/295: Ran big waves in C to avoid bigger waves on the sides. CII-. DB ran C.

[Back], 16 July: ... an extremely sharp angle led us between cliffs in a contracted channel into a rapid, at the foot of which it was necessary to land to avoid another, the waves of which were too high to allow of its being run with the cargo.
There are actually two sharp angles, at 480/300 and 492/295; I recall that the second has a water survey station (no cabin). The rapid and another are certainly 495/300 and 503/295.

Campsite N9. 509/291. Class D site. The tent sites are class B but are far from the water, over rocks; and landing and loading are bad. The island is home to angry terns (wear your hat). Same as DB10. 13 July. D 242 km.

522/288: Ran CI+ at R turn; not marked on topo.

[Back], 16 July: A loud roar of rushing water, heard for a distance of about a mile, had prepared us for a long line of rapids, which now appeared breaking their furious way through mounds and ranges of sand-hills of the most fantastic outline.
These are likely the rapids from 522/288 to 604/282.

Enter map 76H4 (NAD27); D 245 km.

534/283: Ran CI+ at L turn; not marked on topo.

542/287: R turn. BG half-swamped going over the C ledge; seeing this, the others ran R through big waves. CII-.

550/278 (approx): Ran CI+ at L turn.

560/283: Saw nothing worthy of note; rocks are marked on topo.

577/282: Saw nothing worthy of note; rocks are marked on topo.

584/283: Started in C, then went R. BenRalph rapids. CII-.

Campsite DB11. ~611/272. Necessity site due to BenRalph dump? D 254 km.

602/283 (approx): Ran CI- on R.

604/282 (approx): Ran CI- on L.

[Back], 16 July: The course of the river became afterwards more tortuous.
This looks like a reference to the bends starting near 600/284.
We glided quickly along with the strong current, passing by peaked sand-hills ...

Route note: We took the L channel around the island at 627/267; the R side is likely also OK.

Route note: Starting about here, the river is sandy for many km downstream. Sand bars lurk just below the surface; keep your eyes open, stand up to scout and be prepared to get out and wade. The 1:50k topos are useful in some cases for they suggest clean routes through the sand bars. Navigation is especially difficult in high water. And it is especially difficult for kayakers; HH lost many hours due to sitting so close to the water.

Enter map 76H3 (NAD27); D 271 km.

Campsites N10 & N11. 790/215. Class C site (good tent sites but far from water). Necessity site (looming storm which however missed us); the wind was up a bit the next day and we stayed put, with some dissent. 14 & 15 July. D 274 km.

Campsite DB12. ~919/159. lovely. D 289 km.

Campsite. 963/153. Class B site. We had lunch there. D 294 km.

Enter map 76H2 (NAD27); D 299 km.

088/173: Fast water only.
DB says swifts.

103/184: Scout! CIV in centre. We scouted on the R and decided that the rapid was nowhere runnable. We spent much effort lining and dragging down the R, the last bit over a gravel bar.
DB ran R.

112/186: Scout! Started R, then followed CWT. CI+.
DB says swift.

135/194: Scout! CIV in centre. We scouted on the R for a long time; after much discussion, we all decided to run it. All four boats backferried hard R, turned sharp R at the corner, then pulled into quieter water on the R. CIII-.
DB says run middle of the L tongue (not an option for us) or run hard R.

[Back], 16 July: After crossing a small lake ... the stream again contracted to about three hundred yards, and precipitated itself over a bed of rocks, forming rapids and cascades, which compelled us to carry the principal baggage ... Three detached and lofty hills of gneiss, with obtuse conical tops quite bare, here formed conspicuous objects.
The rapids and cascades are likely 088/173 to 135/194.

139/200: Scout! CIV in centre. We scouted on the R for a long time; there was a chancey route on the R but we decided to line R. It was really nasty; DD unloaded packs from their Pakboat and others should have (some Pakboat tubes got bent).
DB sneaked R.

[Back], 16 July: The river ... now gradually contracted to about fifty yards, and this narrow space had projecting rocks which compressed the passage still more. In the language of the voyageurs, this form is denominated a spout ... We ran this one, and were lifted considerably higher than the side water, as we shot down with fearful velocity.
This one looks like 139/200; in confirmation, Back mentions no more rapids until the mouth of the Baillie: The stream after these agitations settled into a calm though not very gentle current ....

[Anderson], 18 July: The canoes were lightened at the 2nd cascade and portages made at the 1st Cascade and the 'dalles' previous to arriving at Baillie's R.
I guess that the 1st is 103/184, that the 2nd is 135/194 and that the dalles is 139/200.

[Back], 16 July: ... a magnificent river, as broad as the Thames at Westminster, joining ... from the eastward ... received the name of Baillie's River. ... Not a great way from this we encamped.

[Anderson], 18 July, of the Baillie: ... that stream is now only few yards in width, tho when the water is high it is evidently an imposing stream.

Route note: We saw no good campsites on either side for several km below the Baillie. I vaguely recall a promising site a few km above the Baillie.

Campsites DB13 & DB14. ~191/226. We saw nothing suitable anywhere on this stretch (and disagree with DB's comment that this area has good campsites; recall though that we had much higher water). D 320 km.

Campsite N12. 204/250. Class D site, verging on E (damp, grass, bad access to water). We camped there, beside HH, because it was getting late, we had had a tough day, and we hadn't seen a decent site for a long time. 16 July. D 323 km.

Enter map 76H1 (NAD27); D 327 km.

[Back], 17 July: Sand-banks and islands were constantly met with; and from our ignorance of the channels between them, we were repeatedly aground. In these cases, the people had to wade until the boat again floated freely, with the chance of being thrown into the same situation ten minutes afterward.
To this I can say only Right on George!

Route note: Go R around the island at 389/290; the L channel is likely dry in low water.

Route note: Go L around the island at 457/318; we Ded down the R channel even in high water.

Enter map 66E4 (NAD27); D 354 km.

Campsite N13. 515/341. Class C (?) site. Same as DB15 or close to it. The sides of the river are little but sand flats for many km upstream and downstream. 17 July. D 360 km.

Enter map 66E5 (NAD27); D 365 km.

Campsite DB16. ~694/485. D 386 km.

Enter map 66E6 (NAD27); D 387 km.

Route note: Go R around the island at 745/515; we Ded down the L channel even in high water.

Route note: The hill at 746/532 is worth a stop; DD say the view is good and there's a cairn with notes.

[Back], 17 July, on passing the mouth of the Warren River:
The banks here were higher, sometimes rising into cliffs, but of the same dry and sandy character, barren and cheerless.

[Anderson], 19 July: Passed the Warren and the Jervoise (sp?).

Campsite N14. 780/548. Class C site (grassy). 18 July. D 399 km.

Campsite N15. 802/568. Class C site (sandy, little shelter). Necessity site (wind). 19 July. D 404 km.

812/633: Ran swift. Better start L; BG went too far R and had to work through a gravel bar.
DB says swift but Scout!

813/637: Ran swift.

820/643: Ran swift.

Enter map 66E11 (NAD27); D 415 km.

[Back], 17 July: ... we passed Jervoise River ... and then came to low sandy opening, which seemed to be completely shut in, until at the northern limit a rapid channel led us among some rocks.

832/712: Part 1 of Hawk Rapids. We ran R; maybe we should have scouted it. I suggest that you approach it slowly; it was a CI- for us, but maybe it's harder in lower water. DB ran R.

836/712: Part 2 of Hawk Rapids. Scout! We scouted from the R shore. The main obstacle was a big pillow on the R of C; some of us ran R of it, others L. We all then cut to the R to miss some big waves. CII+. DB ran R.

832/712: Part 3 of Hawk Rapids. Scout! High water had opened up a channel on the R. We ran down the C of the R channel (steep but easy, CI-), avoiding really big stuff in the L channel; then we went R to avoid big eddies and whirlpools. DB ran R, I think down the R side of what for us was the L channel.

[Back], 18 July, on running Hawk Rapids:
... the threatening appearance of the curling waves, and the roar and gloom of a defile ...
frowning rocks ...
the boat was whirled about in whirlpools ... and but for the amazing strength of McKay ... it must inevitably have been crushed against the faces of the protruding rocks....
craggy, broken and overhanging, towered in stratified and many-coloured masses far above the chafing torrent....
a deep and unsettled gloom in the abyss ...
I felt relieved as if from a load when we once more burst forth into the bright sunshine of day...
whirlpools and eddies, which strangely buffeted her about

[Anderson], 20 July: The rapids were run safely; at this stage of the water though strong they are not dangerous.
On both 19 and 20 July his party was very much incommoded by sand and banks.

Campsite DB17. ~868/717. D 426 km.

881/719: Ran CII-.

895/737: Go R of the island; the L channel ended in a gravel bar even in high water. But the R channel had bad eddies and BG dumped major-league (long swim).

Campsite N16. 904/754. Class C site (good view and good tent sites, but up hill and far from water). Necessity site (dump). 20 July. D 433 km.

Enter map 66E10 (NAD27); D 435 km.

958/756: Ran CI+ with bad whirlpool.
DB says swift.

985/756: Ran CI+ with big waves.
DB says swift.

055/768: Ran CI+; started L, then swung to the R.
DB says swift.

Campsite DB18. ~073/770. D 450 km.

078/764: Nothing at the constriction.

Enter map 66E9 (NAD27); D 460 km.

Route note: We went L of the island at 165/779; this passage may be draggy or even dry in low water.

[Back], 18 July: Still widening, the river rolled on without obstruction, being here large enough to remind me of the McKenzie.
... a large river, nearly as broad as that which we were descending, came through a low country to the right ... It was named after Rear-Admiral McKinley.
Later the same day he passed another wide tributary, called, after his Majesty's Consul at New York, Buchanan's River.
Here Back saw many Inuit fences and blinds.
The breadth of the river now varied from a quarter to a mile and a half; and ... made a bend to the north. The country became decidedly hilly, with an odd mixture of ravines, conical sand-hills with black mossy tops, and isolated rocks. which rose like sombre fortresses ....
a broad river ... has been named after ... Sir Charles Bullen ...

Campsite N17. 225/789. Class C (?) site. 21 July. D 468 km.

Campsite DB19. ~323/865. so so site. D 484 km.

Campsite N18. 342/895. Class D site (grassy). 22 July. D 490 km.

Enter map 66E16 (NAD27); D 495 km.

Enter map 66F13 (NAD27); D 515 km.

Back entered Pelly Lake (a large lake, full of deep bays) on 19 July; one bay was choked with ice. Anderson entered Pelly on 22 July.

Campsite DB20. ~647/121. D 519 km.

Campsite N19. 728/158. Class C site. 23 July. D 529 km.

Route note: The high water and a stiff north wind made navigation difficult through the sand flats. BG found a passage at 775/190 through the peninsula.

Route note: We went L around the island at 858/178 to get out of the wind, have lunch and look for Inuit sites.

Campsites DB21 & DB22. ~857/183. D 542 km.

Enter map 66F14 (NAD27); D 542 km.

Campsite. 890/151. Class C site, near Pelly cairn [Pelly]. Inuit site to west, as mentioned by [Perkins]. D 546 km.

Campsite N20. 916/135. Class D site. On island. The tent sites were OK, but the approach was through shoals, making for bad landing and loading. Necessity site (north wind down channel). 24 July. D 549 km.

Campsite DB23. ~055/093. We had lunch there and looked at the cabins. D 565 km.

[Back], 19 July: Having ... passed two openings of about fifteen and twenty miles in extent, we landed on an island ... . From this point I got cross bearings, and a view of another opening ... ; a piece of an old kieyak, blanched with age, and other remnants of Esquimaux workmanship, showed that the place was frequented by them some part of the year. ... Leaving the island, a slight current piloted us to a rapid ....
Likely the island is the one at 056/082, 1 km south of the present-day cabins; if so, there is an obvious connection between those who hunted there in Back's time and those who built the cabins. And there is likely also a connection, chilling to me, with the Garry Lake famine of 1958, as described in [Tammarniit (Mistakes)]. The rapid has to be 089/089.

Enter map 66F15 (NAD27); D 569 km.

089/089: Between Pelly and Upper Garry Lakes. Like other parties, we took the L channel around the island. We ran just R of the ledge sticking out from the L shore, then cut L to miss huge waves. CII-.
DB says easy run on L.
HH started on the R, then worked to C.

[Anderson], 22 July: Saw 2 Lodges of Esquimaux at the Rapids between L. Pelly and Garry ... ; they evidently have intercourse with the Churchill Esquimaux ....
It is unclear whether he means at the Rapids literally or whether he is referring to the site seen by Back (the site of the present-day cabins?); I favour the former interpretation.

[Back], 19 July: The strong current from the rapid gave us some expectation that ... the lake was at an end; but to our chagrin and annoyance, we soon again found ourselves in a wide, indefinable space, studded with islands of sand-hills, with, occasionally, a clear horizon to the S. and N. W..
The rapid is 089/089; the islands are mission island and the other sandy islands in Upper Garry.

Campsites N21 & N22. 198/099. Mission island. Class A site. Good walking, major historical interest, beach, good landing and loading. Our float-plane pilot found the water near the campsite too shallow and used instead the beach upstream. 25 & 26 July. DB24 looks to be about 1 km east. D 581 km.


A literal mind is a little mind. If it's not worth doing to excess, it's not worth doing at all. Good enough isn't.  None are so blind as those who choose not to see. (AJ)

PostPosted: October 24th, 2008, 8:04 pm 

Joined: January 22nd, 2005, 12:16 pm
Posts: 3930
Location: Toronto
Post 2, of 7.

Part 2 of 2 on rapids, route notes and campsites

Lower Back

Route note: After leaving mission island, we stayed close to the L shore until well into Garry Lake. The topo shows a 2 m difference in elevations between Upper Garry and Garry Lake proper but we saw no fast water.

Enter map 66F16 (NAD27); D 594 km.

Route note: We had no wind and so went pretty well straight across to the east shore of Garry.

Campsite DB25. ~424/048. D 605 km.

Campsite N23. 437/069. Class B site. Inuit site. 27 July. D 607 km.

[Back], 19 July: .. our hopes were again blighted by the startling sight of extensive and unbroken fields of ice, stretching to the extremest point of vision.
They camped on an island with tent rings.
It was with indescribable sorrow that I beheld ... a firm field of old ice, which had not yet been distrubed from its winter station.

[Back], 20 July: ... we ascended the highest hill near; but only to see one wide and dazzling field of ice extending far away in every direction...
... we continued to creep slowly to the south, sometimes wedged in the ice, at others cutting through it with axes ...
... lifting her with fenders ...
... wade and carry pieces to lighten the boat ...
... portage ...
... she was absolutely lifted ...
... benumbed as they were from being so long in the water ...
... in sixteen hours we had only come fourteen miles

Route note: We went L around the island at 490/120.

Route note: We went L around the island at 520/125, into Lower Garry. The topo shows a 3 m difference in elevations between Garry and Lower Garry but we saw no fast water.

Campsite DB26. ~535/126. Class A site (we had lunch there). D 621 km.

Enter map 66G13 (NAD27); D 622 km.

Route note: We went pretty well due east, close to the north shore.

Campsite N24. 679/123. Class D site. 28 July. D 636 km.

Route note. We threaded our way between islands, going L of the one at 715/100.

Campsite DB27. ~723/105. D 640 km.

Campsite. 728/095. Good, esker. D 641 km.

Campsite. 761/108. Excellent site in small bay, 1 or 2 tents. D 646 km.

Campsite DB28. Not marked on DB maps.

Enter map 66G14 (NAD27); D 647 km.

[Anderson], 23 July, on Garry Lake: We were ... retarded by cutting through ice 2 feet thick ... Either we are very stupid or the map in Back's work is very incorrect.
At times, Anderson gets quite annoyed with Back's maps; more of such is to come.

[Back], 21 July: ... the main body of ice commenced again, and stretched to an undefinable distance ...
... in four hours we were lucky enough to have advanced eight miles ...
... a portage was immediately made, and the boat lifted over into the water ...
... we were again stopped by ice, so thick that all our endeavours to cut a passage with the axes ... were utterly in vain ...
... landed and made a second portage across the rocks, which brought us to a sheet of water terminating in a rapid; and this, though seldom a pleasing object to those who have to go down it, was now joyfully hailed by us as the end of a lake which had occasioned us so much trouble and delay
And so finally they came to the rapids between what are now Lower Garry Lake and Buliard Lake.

[Anderson], 24 July: It was near midnight before the men were laid down last night. I therefore allowed them to sleep until 5 1/2 a.m.
... we were ... much retarded by cutting our way through the ice ... from 2 to 3 feet thick ...
We at last reached the rapid at the end of L. Garry to which we joyfully ... bid adieu. ... This rapid was easily run

Route note: The DB route, as planned, follows the L shore for wind shelter. Having no wind, we headed straight for the point at 855/145 (D 659 km).

858/162: Exit from Lower Garry Lake to Buliard Lake. CI+. We took the leftmost of the three channels, as did DB. LA started R, got swept to C, worked way back R; MH started R, went over to L.
DB says easy, ran R.
Comments: From the bottom, the middle channel looked bad and the rightmost (barely discernible) looked to have little water. [Anderson] notes that there are three rapids, so he must have looked carefully. Back descended this rapid on 21 July, Anderson on 24 July.

Enter map 66J3 (NAD27); D 665 km.

Campsite N25. 892/205. Class A site (great views, good walking). 29 July. Same as DB29 & DB30 (windbound). D 678 km.

[Back], 21 July, on Buliard Lake: Long ranges of conical and cliff-broken sand-hills extended irregulary nearly round the compass ...
... gigantic boulders were strewed in every direction, and in two instances were seen on the summits of ... sand-hills ...
... One of these was very conspicuous ... thus forming an excellent mark for the rapid in any direction
That hill is easily visible from Lower Garry.

[Back], 22 July, on the rapids below Buliard Lake:
... a swift current ... brought us to a strong rapid, the descent of which looked exceedingly like going down-hill ...
... plunged into the midst of curling waves and large rocks ...
... one towering wave threw us on a rock, and something crashed ...
... we escaped from this without other damage than a broken keel plate ...
... but rapid still followed rapid in disagreeably quick succession, and I was not a little rejoiced when we were again fairly in smooth water

[Anderson], 24 July, on the same rapids:
The rapids ... --5 in number--are all strong and dangerous with the exception of the last one, a little below which we encamped at 8 1/4 p.m.; 2 decharges were made--at most of these rapids there are several channels. Capt. Back's map ... is on so small a scale as to be utterly useless in these large bodies of water.

Route note: We took the R channel around the island at 925/235. If you are thinking of going down the L side of the island, better scout it. Water flowing down the L side of the island splits; part flows to the R and so to the rapid at 933/236, and part flows dead ahead to the L channel around the island at 937/240; DB says that the latter channel is CV. If you go L around 925/235, you will certainly have a tough time at the junction of the channels, near 952/258, and perhaps also above that junction.

933/236: Scout! High water had cut through the point at 933/235, generating a new channel and exposing a big rock. We stayed R (close to shore and to the R of the exposed rock), dodged boulders, joined the main flow and dodged more boulders. CII- on our route but with opportunity to go wrong.
DB, who had lower water, ran L; DB says CIII, technical, big boulders, nasty.

946/237: CIII. Big, bad, long rapids with large boulders at the bottom. It is difficult to scout from shore because you are out in the flow from 933/236; and it is difficult to portage. Both LA & MH started on the R; LA stayed R, MH went L.
DB says large rapid with boulders at bottom.

949/250: Ran swift. Not on the 1:50k topo, not noted by DB.

949/253: Ran CI+.
DB says easy.

952/258: Stop! CIV. We couldn't run it or line it so we Ped R about 50 m. Both channels coming in from the L were unrunnable.
DB says CIV; Led R.

956/283: Ran CI+ between islands; not noted on the 1:50k topo.
DB says easy swift.

977/306: Ran swift. Not on the 1:50k too, not noted by DB.

Route note: We went L around the island at 995/325 and entered a shallow lakey area with however a good current. The current tends to sweep you to the L; if you want to go R around the island, you have to stay hard R before the point at 990/324. I don't know which side is better in either high or low water.

Enter map 66J2 (NAD27); D 686 km.

Campsite DB31. ~022/290. D 691 km.

026/283: Ran swift on R channel around island at 028/285; DB says easy swift. The L channel was almost dry, as noted by DB.

[Back], 22 July: The islands were also numerous; and having passed between two where there was a rapid ....
Tentative identification of rapid is 031/285, though I don't understand the between two.

031/285: Ran CI+. DB says easy swift.

[Anderson], 25 July: ... we reached an easy rapid, ...
... this led into an extensive sheet of water where the current became imperceptible; it ran on either hand N. and S. in deep bays. Land was seen in every quarter ... Tho distant
The easy rapid must be 026/283; the extensive sheet of water must be Upper MacDougall.

Campsite N26. 049/273. Class C site. 30 July. D 694 km.

Route note: We had good current from 043/280 to the entrance to Upper MacDougall Lake.

074/203: Ran swift.
DB did the same.

Route note: The channel between Upper and Lower MacDougall Lakes had good current.

Enter map 66G15 (NAD27); D 719 km.

Campsite N27. 155/147. Class D site. OK tent sites, but bad landing and loading; it was buggy when we landed but they vanished when it cooled off; there might be a better site at the point 100 m or so downstream. 31 July. D 723 km.

Campsite DB32. Very roughly 161/114. D 726 km.

[Back], 22 July, on Lower MacDougall Lake: Still keeping south, we threaded a zigzag path through a barrier of ice, and were then led by the increasing noice [sic] to the end of the lake.

[Anderson], 25 July: ... we struck due south to the end of L. McDougall ... The map is perfectly useless.

[Back], 22 July, on the start of Rock Rapids, which was choked with ice when he arrived: ... in a comparatively contracted channel, the whole force of the water glided smoothly but irresistibly towards two stupendous gneiss rocks, from five to eight hundred feet high, rising like islands on either side.
... succession of falls and cascades and whatever else is horrible...
... impetuous and deadly fury ...
... the remaining keel plate was entirely stripped away
The latitude of Back's campsite that night (22 July) is given as 65d 54', which is just below the second part of Rock on present maps. The next day he ran three rapids, apparently going down (as we did) the L channel around the island at 185/065; he might have gone R of the island at 192/074 (we went L). He Ped the cargo at part 3 of Rock. He seems to have camped (on 23 July) just below part 3 or Rock. BTW, I was surprised to read Back's reference to atoms, the existence of which had been firmly established only 24 years before I believe.

Comment: Rock Rapids is plain dangerous. If you dump, you will likely have a long cold swim and you may well lose your boat. Allow two days to do the 10 km or so from the start of Rock to below Sinclair Falls; it makes sense to start Rock in the morning.

165/126: Part 1 of Rock. Use your judgement on the upper bit, but be sure to pull over to the R well above the point (at 173/106) and Scout! We ran R, through over 1 km of CII-, passing the two canoes and the packs abandoned on the L shore by the Widgi group (who cost the Canadian taxpayer $70,000 or so by activating their EPIRB). We pulled out on the R several 100 m above the point at 173/106; after a long scout, we ran past the point to calmer water where the bay opens up on the R and then ferried over to the top of the island at 175/095. This was CIII with huge waves and many big, bad boulders, about the worst stuff we ran on the whole river, though not as bad as what LA did at the bottom of part 2.

174/098: Part 2 of Rock. Scout! From the island, we checked out the L channel first; after deciding that neither drop was runnable, we climbed to the top of the hill (great views; if you go this way, don't do as we did and forget the cameras).
We debated portaging across the island to below the second drop on the L channel, as other parties had done (from the cairns); later we much regretted not having done so.
We decided that the upper part of the R channel would have to be Led but that the lower part could be run; BAD decision.
We ferried over to the R side of the R channel, Led for a while, Ped about 50 m (very bad), and Led some more. MH Led all the way to the bottom. LA got tired of lining and ran the rest down the C channel through monster waves (biggest either of us has ever run, wet or dry), getting enough water in the boat that we didn't dare do an eddy turn; we made a U-turn, front ferried in behind a rock and bailed for a while.
DB Led the R side of the R channel, then sneaked R through the rest.

[Back], 23 July: He ascended the highest of the rocks, which had a smooth table of quartz ... The Esquimaux had here erected a small obelisk of slabs.

182/080: Ran ledgey CI+. DB ran small chute on R. (??, L??).

Route note: We went L of the island at 192/074 and camped.

Campsite N28. 196/076. Class C site. On caribou migration path; ruts, silty water. 1 August. Same as DB33. D 732 km.

192/083: Part 3 of Rock. Scout! We broke camp, paddled a bit, then got out and scouted on the L. There was no way we could run or line it so we Ped about 800 m to the second bay on the L; it was much easier over the tundra than near the river. We debated ferrying out from the bay and running the rest; I wimped out so we Led down the L side to the point, hopped in and carried on. A portage route is marked with cairns all the way from calm water just below our campsite to calm water below where we put in.
DB says scout all; ran most on the L, ferried over to the R, ran R and Led the rest.

[Back], 23 July, on the third part of Rock: Scarcely had we pushed from the shore, when we were in the midst of rapids. Two were run; but the third was too dangerous to allow the attempt ... The opposite shore was then discovered to be an island, round the western extremity of which another branch of the river cut a broad channel, and joined the one we had selected by a fall of ten feet.
The other branch is evidently the one going R around the island at 185/065.

210/058: Ran CI+, notes bad.
DB says easy, ran R.

214/065: Ran CI+, notes bad; there might be another CI+ before the island at 215/070.
DB says easy, ran R.

214/072: Ran CI+, notes bad.
DB says easy, ran R.

219/078: Sinclair Falls. After some discussion, we went to the extreme L and got out at the lip. We Ped about 100 m over the tundra, not the rocks; loose boulders make for very bad footing at the bottom.
DB took a small channel on the R before the falls and didn't have to portage; maybe they missed the great view we had of the falls.

[Back], 24 July: ... having followed the turn to the north, and got down the rapids, we made a portage at Sinclair's Falls.

[Anderson], 25 July: We ran part of the Rock Rapids (3) but a decharge was made at the last one, after which we ran 3 Rapids and carried over the cascades and falls. We encamped at the foot of the latter (Sinclair's Falls). All these rapids are strong and hazardous.

224/080: Ran CI+ through big waves.

Enter map 66G16 (NAD27); D 738 km.

Campsite DB34. ~229/082. We saw nothing there but rocks. D 738 km.

245/080: Saw only fast water at the rapid marked on the topo.

[Back], 24 July, on the stretch below Sinclair: The river was now near a mile broad, full of small rocky islands, with falls between each.

Campsites N29 & N30. 250/079. Class D site. The ground, which would have been damp even in good weather, was wet in the rain. We were windbound the second day. 2 & 3 August. D 740 km.

Route note: On the stretch north from our campsite, we stayed R around the two islands to get shelter from the north wind.

Campsite N31. 371/159. Class C site. 4 August. Same as DB35. D 762 km.

Enter map 66J1 (NAD27); D 768 km.

422/223: Escape Rapids: Scout everything! Nasty, brutish and long. Allow most of a day for this one. There's a portage route, marked with cairns, down the R side; we didn't see the start of it, but it goes right to the bottom of the rapids.

Part 1 of Escape: We Led about 1 km on the R side (tiring), then paddled a bit to the bay on the R, through nasty whirlpools and eddy lines. We got out and scouted down the R side. We decided that the R side was unrunnable and that the L side, though with unrunnable pieces, was easier. But to get over there required a tough ferry.

Part 2 of Escape: MH ferried across to the L side, Led, Ped and paddled their way down, and camped near 445/019 (location uncertain). LA Led up the R side to get more space for the ferry, decided that the ferry was too risky, ran back to the bay, Ped about 1.5 km on the R side and camped near 433/205 (location uncertain). In the morning, LA spent 2+1/2 hours carrying stuff down the slope and loading the boat (one had to hold it off the rocks while the other loaded); there's an easier route down about 100 m farther downstream. LA ran some, got out and scouted, ran a CII- on the R to the bottom and rejoined MH.

DB ran the top part of Escape on the R, ferried to the L, ran R to the smooth rock island, suitcased 50 m, ran from L to R and ran the bottom on the R.
Comment: we didn't see the smooth rock island mentioned by George; likely the high water flooded it out.

[Back], 25 July, describing Escape: ... a mile of heavy and dangerous rapids ...
... in the most imminent danger or perishing by being plunged into one of the gulfs formed in the rocks and hollows of the rapid ...
... singular and dangerous spots, which partake of the triple character of a fall, rapid, and eddy in the short space of a few yards ...
The power of the water so far exceeded whatever had been witnessed in any of the other rivers ... that the same precautions successfully used elsewhere were weak and unavailing here.

Back's boat was almost lost here:
... it seemed uncertain whether the boat and all in her were to be hurled into the hollow of the fall, or dashed stern foremost on the sunken rocks ...
The crew, one of whom began to cry aloud to Heaven for aid, just missed being buried in the frightful abyss, good enough reason for the name Escape.
Back quotes McKay as exclaiming, in response to the cry for help from above, Is this a time for praying? Pull your starboard oar.

[Anderson], 26 July: Made a decharge at the Escape Rapid and at two of the Sandhill Rapids, but ran the others with whole ladings; all these rapids are strong and long.
I don't understand the reference to two of the Sandhill Rapids. His party encamped above Wolfe Rapids.

Campsites N32. We got separated and camped at two different sites (rough UTMs 445/019 and 433/205). Class C sites. 5 August. ~D 774 km.

Campsite DB36. ~453/198. D 775 km.

Enter map 66I4 (NAD83); D 775 km.

[Back], 25 July: They ... were urged by a strong current considerably to the eastward, the river now taking that direction through a range of cliffy sand-hills ....
The sand-hills are the eskers between 500/255 and 530/230.

Campsites DB37 & DB38. ~504/261. Windbound 1.5 days. D 783 km.

523/237: Both we and DB saw nothing at the marked rapids.

533/231: Ran easy swift, as did DB.

560/224: Scout! Marked on 1:250k topos, not on 1:50k set. Ran hard R through 1.5 km of nearly continuous CII-; scouted several times and waded around one point.
DB ran hard R except at ledge.

[Back], 25 July: a line of heavy rapids, which more than once made me tremble for our poor boat.
... we ... flew past rocks and other dangers with a velocity that seemed to forbode some desperate termination
... we escaped; though only to begin another series
The line looks like the rapids starting at 560/224. I tentatively identify the second series as Sandhill; I must say though that Sandhill lies about 10 km below the end of 560/224, whereas [Back] can be read as saying that the series follows close by the line.

Enter map 66H13 (NAD27); D 793 km.

Campsite N33. 614/153. Class C site (silty water). 6 August. D 799 km.

624/140: Sandhill Rapids. Scout! After scouting on the L, we ran hard L all the way, through big waves, dodging boulders.
DB did the same.

651/154: Precursor to Wolf. Scout! About 1 km of continuous CII-. We ran hard R to near the island above and to the R of Wolf, scouting several times.

661/158: Wolf Rapids. Scout! After scouting on the R to the hill above the island, we ran hard R, entered the R channel around the island, moved to the C and ran down the tongue. CII- as run. The L side of the island has a huge ledge where some say, incorrectly, that Bromley and Calder died.

665/160: Ran big waves at the confluence of the channels. CII-.

[Back], evening of 25 July, above Wolf: a detached mountainous rock dipping to the eastern shore of the river, in which quarter the descent, now manifest, as well as the hollow roar, plainly indicated something which at that late hour it was prudent to avoid.

[Anderson], 27 July: The Wolfe and 9 other rapids were run with whole cargoes; they are all strong, some with whirlpools which must be dangerous in high water. ... We encamped late about 3 miles below the Rapid with whirlpools and Esq. marks.
His party went the wrong way, over to the mouth of the Meadowbank; the Rapid with whirlpools can be only 841/233.

Enter map 66H14 (NAD27); D 809 km.

Campsite DB39. ~698/172. D 810 km.

700/167: First of about 12 swifts with the last at 806/184. Both 782/162 and 787/167 are marked as rapids on the 1:50k topos but we saw only swifts.

[Back], 26 July: Several other rapids (for there was no end of them) ....
These must be the swifts between 700/167 and 787/167.
He then refers to high rocks on the east side of the river; these must be the hills near the mouth of the Meadowbank.

Route note: We went L of the island at 725/160 and Ded through a shallow, rocky section; I suggest that you go R.

Campsite N34. 817/193. Necessity site (wind). Class C site (OK tent sites but exposed). 7 August. D 824 km.

Enter map 66I3 (NAD83); D 826 km.

Route note: Take the channel at 826/217; the channel at 842/232 had a ledge when we passed it and may be dry in low water.

Route note: We went R of the island at 829/224; this route may be dry in lower water.

841/233: Long continuous rapids to about 843/240. CII+ at the top, CI+ below. Both boats went down the C, BAD idea; we ran into big whirlpools and a giant eddy on the R, from the confluence with the channel at 842/232.
LA went around the eddy 3 times before breaking through at the top, into the whirlpools again; the eddy line was bad and we were very cautious in crossing it.
I suggest scouting from the L shore, then powering through L of C.
DB says Scout, ran L; wish we had followed George's advice.

847/247: Ran swift in L channel around island at 850/247, as did DB.

856/252: Ran big swift.

864/320: Ran L channel around the island. CII- with whirlpools and big eddy on the R; LA 360ed (vertical axis).
DB says swift. DB says that there's a ledge (at 872/323) in the channel on the R side of the island; the ledge sure looked bad to us, from below.
Postscript: The above was written before I learned that the ledge on the R is where Bromley and Calder died. viewtopic.php?f=13&t=12422

[Back], 26 July: Some more rapids led farther to the north...
... a picturesque and commanding mountain ... the most conspicuous eminence we had seen ... and I called the hill Mount Meadowbank
His latitude of 66d 6.5' is 2' less than the map's 66d 8.5'.

879/343: The constriction was pretty dry even in high water; we went R.

Enter map 66I2 (NAD83); D 846 km.

Campsites DB40 & DB41. ~907/396. The DB 2003 trip started here, across the river from Mount Meadowbank. D 847 km.

Campsite N35. 976/366. Class E site (slant city). We camped here after a discussion; I maintain that we should have continued to the end of the lakey section and camped near 045/300. 8 August. D 855 km.

Campsite of DB 2003. ~043/297. D 864 km.

050/304: Scout! Marked on the 1:250k topos, not on the 1:50k ones.
This is about 3 km of rapids, CII+ on the easiest route, with the most difficult part at the start.
We started R; MH got swept into an eddy and fought hard to get out; LA, following, cut L through a small passage.
We bashed down, cut to the R across bad whirlpools to avoid the rough stuff, got swept into a strong eddy and landed to scout. The upstream eddy line was too tough (too much chance of dumping on crossing it) so we Ded the boats about 50 m to near the point on the R, jumped in and rode out the rest.
MH stayed R; LA went to the C and bounced through big waves.
DB says scout, keep R all the way; they got into an eddy (must be the one we got into) and got out only by dragging.

[Back], 26 July: After a course of six miles to the south-east, the river again veered northerly, rushing with fearful impetuosity among rocks and large stones, which raised such whirlpools in the rapids as would have put the strength of a canoe in jeopardy.
After 050/304, he passed more rapids (205/386 and maybe also 322/540), and encamped under the lee of a high rock ... It was opposite to a solitary bank of sand, that formed the western entrance to a small river.

[Anderson], 28 July: 4 rapids were run, 3 of them very strong. The eddies or whirlpools strain the canoes very much.
The three are likely 864/320, 050/304 and 205/386, and the fourth 322/540.
Anderson encamped late a little above Montresor River.

Enter map 66I1 (NAD83); D 873 km.

Campsite of DB 2003. ~137/303. D873 km.

Campsite N36. 199/391. Class C site. In bay. 9 August. Same as or near DB 2003. D 883 km.

205/386: Marked on 1:250k topos, not on 1:50k ones. We stayed R of C through about 1.5 km of CI+ with eddies on the R and big stuff on the L.
DB says Scout, run R of C. This is the last rapid run by DB in 2003.

Campsite of DB 2003. ~286/483. D 896 km.

Campsite of DB 2003. ~291/489. DB party went no farther in 2003. D 897 km.

304/506: Marked on the 1:250k topos, not on the 1:50k ones. We saw fast water only; rapids were washed out by high water?

Enter map 66I8 (NAD83); D 900 km.

322/540: Marked on the 1:250k topos, not on the 1:50k ones. CI-. Ran CWT through boils and whirlpools.

Enter map 56L5 (NAD83); D 910 km.

Campsite N37. 712/683. Class C site. 10 August. D 921 km.

738/715: Scout! Nasty start past the R turn followed by rapids continuing about 1 km to 745/723. The top is likely not runnable except in high water; some parties portage (I assume by the shore rather than on top) or line.
For us, it was a CII+ with the opportunity to go horribly wrong by getting swept into the ledge/keeper.
After scouting above from the R (passing several tent circles and picking up some muskox fur), we started R of C, then went R to cross the eddy line below the rocky point and pass above the ledge/keeper on the L.
MH went slowly and came close to the keeper. LA went down fast, crossed at speed and braced hard at the eddy line; MH waited for us, in case we dumped.
The rest was just big waves with the occasional boulder to dodge. A small herd of muskoxen stood on top of the hill, right above and staring dumbly at us, as we bashed through.

[Back], 27 July: ... on the right bank of a second one, more intricate than the first, we observed the marks and traces of three circular encampments, the inner portions of which were divided into sections ...
Identification of the second one with 738/715 is certain.

[Anderson], 29 July: Ran a bad rapid above Montresor River, in which Mr. Stewart's canoe was completely ungummed.
Identification of the bad rapid with 738/715 is certain.

Enter map 56L12 (NAD83); D 933 km.

Campsite N38. 787/926. Class C site (bad landing and loading). 11 August. D 949 km.

[Back], 27 July: There was a rocky hill, so remarkably formed as to have attracted the attention of all of us for some time.
... The base ... was one enormous mass of round grey rock, surmounted by a large cone of the same substance.
... we christened it McKay's Peak

787/984: Whirlpool Rapids. We scouted from the L; we saw nothing but fast water with big but weak whirlpools in the C, and some rocks on the L. We did an easy run down the C; it was not even a swift.

[Back], 27 July: ... I shall never forget the moment of the first descent down what cannot be more fitly described than as a steep hill. There was not, it is true, as single break in the smoothness of the surface; but with such wild swiftness were we borne along, that it required our extremest efforts, the very tug of life, to keep the boat clear of the gigantic waves below; and we succeeded at last only to be tossed about in the Charybdis of its almost irresistible whirlpools.

[Anderson], 29 July: The rapid at McKay's Peak was little more than a strong current. In the rapid below it, my canoe was nearly broken.
It is unclear whether the rapid below was immediately below Whirlpool or the one at 756/090.

Enter map 56L13 (NAD83); D 962 km.

Route note: We found good current in the 1-km wide part of Franklin Lake, with big waves in a head wind.

Campsite N39. 766/074. Necessity site (wind). Class D site. 12 August. D 964 km.

756/090: We saw at most a swift at the constriction.

[Back], 27 July: Six miles below Whirlpool, a sandy bluff from the left seemed to bar the river; but ... it proved, as expected, the beginning of another rapid; which however was more civil than the last.
I identifiy the rapid with 756/090.

[Back], 28 July: Guided by inuksuit, he followed the east shore of Franklin Lake.

Enter map 66I16 (NAD83); D 978 km.

Route note: Paddlers headed for Gjoa Haven may be interested in reading about the sneak routes discussed in Appendix B (Access and egress).

Campsite. 280/260. Inuit site. D 986 km.

309/298: Exit from Franklin Lake. We ran the R side of the R channel, dodging a few rocks. CI-.

[Back], 28 July. He turned right and followed the stream, which, as usual, soon broke into a rapid; this was safely passed; but the next, close to it, demanded more caution.
I identify the rapid with 309/298, the next as Franklin Falls.

Enter map 56L13 (NAD83); D 991 km.

715/307: Franklin Falls. Some parties line/drag/run it, I gather on the L. But it was impressive even from our campsite 1 km below the bottom, a toboggan slide through boulder fields.
Marilyn and Hendrik spotted a sneak portage route on the R that we decided to take because we thought it likely to save time and effort. We entered the bay starting at 703/300 on the R, paddled through with no trouble to about 710/294, Ped about 800 m to 713/290 at the pond, paddled through (the passage is likely OK even in low water) to 721/293, and Ped about 100 m to the river; the put-in was bad though. It's unclear to me that this is the better route.

[Back], 28 July: ... white spray which was rising at the vanishing line
... a rapidly inclined descent of twenty feet
... The entire space of the rapid was shoal, and encumbered with stones, which threw up a continuous sheet of foam

[Anderson], 30 July: The rapids at the outlet of L. Franklin were partly passed by a portage and partly run. At their foot we saw 3 Esq. Lodges ...
... We ran the last falls--they were only an easy rapid at this stage of the water
I expect that the easy rapid is 782/286 (rather than the one I've only heard of, at the narrows below the Hayes).

Campsite N40. 724/288. Necessity site (getting dark). Class C site (mud at shore). 13 August. Before setting up, we checked out the site 100 m or so downstream but found it inferior to what we had. D 997 km.

737/285: We ran the upper part (CI+) on the R, then landed near 736/284 to scout the lower part, which was clearly a serious piece of water. We found a CII- route on the far R but decided to go down the spring channel starting at 736/284. We Ded over rocks at the start (this part may be dry in lower water), then did an easy clean run to rejoin the river.

Comment: After describing the running of the falls, Back mentions a fine open reach terminating at the end of three miles in almost meeting rocks of considerable altitude.
The constriction is clearly the lower part of 782/286. Strangely, he doesn't mention 737/285, whose top end is about one mile below the bottom of Franklin Falls.

782/286: Rapid in two parts.
First part: MH ran R of C, LA ran hard R and punched through the eddy line; both routes CII+. Both boats pulled into the bay on the R and scouted.
Second part: Both boats ran hard R through big waves, dodging rocks; CI+.
And that for us was the last rapid on the Back; here or not far downstream you can see the tide at work.

On 28 July at the rapids starting at 782/286, [Back]'s party first met the Inuit, who helped his party in carrying the boat below the fall; so that, in reality, I was indebted to them for getting to the sea at all.
Then too the Inuit used this spot to fish; then too the hills were crowned with inuksuit.

Route note: We went L around the big island at 840/290.

Enter map 56L14 (map is supposedly NAD83 but GPS gave strange reading; checked that GPS was set to NAD83); D 1016 km.

Campsite N41. 992?/324? (question marks because of conflict between GPS and topo). Class C site. Necessity site (north wind). 14 August. D 1028 km.

Enter map 56M3 (NAD27); D 1029 km.

Campsite N42. 013/391. Class C site (sand, exposed to north wind, water silty). Necessity site (wind, but OK since we figured the float plane could get in). We knew about it from the DB maps. There's good float-plane access at the point between the sandy and muddy areas; the pilot said that access is likely better about 1 km downstream. Noticeable tide. Night of 15 August. D 1035 km.

Back mentions several rapids near latitude 67d 7.5'; on today's maps, this is the narrows at the cabins, 2 km above the Hayes. On 29 July 1834, he reached the mouth, for which he gives latitude 67d 11'; on today's maps, this lies at D 1050 km, 5 km below the Hayes and 10 km above the last narrows before Cockburn Bay. Anderson reached Victoria Headland in the morning of 31 July 1855.


A literal mind is a little mind. If it's not worth doing to excess, it's not worth doing at all. Good enough isn't.  None are so blind as those who choose not to see. (AJ)

 Post subject: Re: Back River, 2005
PostPosted: October 26th, 2008, 9:17 am 

Joined: September 19th, 2003, 8:46 am
Posts: 568
One-sentence overview: The Back, with four letters, is well described by the four-letter words sand, rain, wind, cold, bugs, oxen, deer (caribou).

i would have thought the four letter word "bear" would have been included. or perhaps "bruin".

 Post subject: Re: Back River, 2005
PostPosted: October 26th, 2008, 11:38 am 

Joined: January 22nd, 2005, 12:16 pm
Posts: 3930
Location: Toronto
Forgot wolf too.
More stuff coming. Allan


A literal mind is a little mind. If it's not worth doing to excess, it's not worth doing at all. Good enough isn't.  None are so blind as those who choose not to see. (AJ)

 Post subject: Re: Back River, 2005
PostPosted: October 27th, 2008, 12:16 pm 

Joined: January 11th, 2005, 4:58 pm
Posts: 1726
Location: Manitoba
wait, as in wait for the wind to drop.



 Post subject: Re: Back River, 2005
PostPosted: October 27th, 2008, 1:30 pm 

Joined: January 22nd, 2005, 12:16 pm
Posts: 3930
Location: Toronto
Post 3, of 7.

Day by day report

Trip participants:
Doug Bell (Dwight, ON), Bob Bignell (Flamborough, ON), Stephen Catlin (Mississauga), Gene Chorostecki (Georgetown, TX), Linda Gordon (Mississauga), Hendrik Herfst (Winnipeg), Allan Jacobs (Toronto), Daniela Kosch (Dwight, ON) and Marilyn Sprissler (Picton, ON); all but Hendrik are WCA members.

Daniela’s trip report for the upper Back (Jim Magrum to Mission Island):
Nastwagan, Volume 33, Number 4, Winter 2006, pp 8-16; ... LID=183085

3 July, 2005:
Bob, Gene, Stephen and I arrived in Yellowknife. Bob & Gene stayed at Ptartan Ptarmigan B&B; Stephen & I stayed at Joan Hiron's Island B&B where we met an Aussi couple (surname Lawrence), fellow paddlers.

4 July:
We bought the NU fishing licence, fresh food and supplies; Bob had reserved some of these items at the Canadian Tire store. Thanks to Levi Waldron for getting bangers, bear spray, stoves, etc up to Yellowknife for us. I notified the RCMP of our travel plans. We spent a large part of the afternoon repacking and marking packs for the resupply flight.
Daniela, Doug, Hendrik and Marilyn arrived; they too stayed at Ptartan Ptarmigan. The eight of us had supper at the Wild Cat; we had hoped to meet Rob Perkins there but he had already left for the Back. As arranged, we met John Marshall's group and passed on information for their Burnside trip leaving the next day; I gave them all I had on the Burnside below the Mara confluence and Gene told them about the rapids on the Burnside. The Aussies were also there.

5 July:
Our group got to the Air Tindi base by 7 am, on time. Two other parties also there waiting for their flights, a couple (surname Gunstock?) from Idaho (going to the Back), and John Marshall's Burnside party. John took a group photo of us; he very kindly mailed me a king-size copy of it and also 2 CDs, one of the group photo and one of his Burnside photos. It was John's first trip in the barrens and he saw (and got good photos of) two wolverines; and his grizzlies photos are the best I've seen. Some guys!
The other groups got off, but there were reports of fog in the Sussex Lake area and so our flights were delayed. The delay may have saved our trip, for, at Daniela's suggestion, we checked out the folding boat we had reserved. We found that several tubes were split; it seems the boat had been exposed to winter weather with water in the tubes. It was replaced with an Esquif Canyon, which turned out to be unsuited for the Back.
The Cessna 185 carrying Daniela and Doug (our two lightest paddlers) plus the rental hardshell left first, then the Twin Otter with the rest of us and the gear a few minutes later, at 10:10. For the latter flight, the ceiling was about 200' so we saw almost nothing; toward the end, we dropped down and flew over a lodge (outpost of Aylmer Lake Lodge?), over what was likely Sussex Lake, over Muskox Lake (about half full of ice) and down the ice choked Muskox Rapids (looked bony) to Jim Magrum Lake, passing the Contwoyto River en route. After circling a bit (we saw only a few ice patches), we landed at 11:40 and unloaded. The 185 landed at 12:25; while looking for us, they had passed over Rob Perkins' camp and he had tried to wave them in our direction. Daniela and Doug got out into the hardshell and paddled to the campsite. We set up camp and assembled the three PakCanoes. The weather was cold and damp. D 51 km.

6 July:
After an elaborate breakfast, we put on the spray covers in sunny warm weather and started downstream at 11:30. Almost right off, Bob and Gene paddled past the exit and the rest followed; now I know why there are no famous Polish navigators. Out of earshot with the others, two boats recognized the error, turned back to the exit and waited for the others to turn around; this was just one of several occasions when the group separated, something that should not happen in such country.
Then it was my turn to mess up by taking us past the left channel recommended by George Drought. Lunch, lining, scouting and sweaty portaging over big awkward rocks consumed three hours. We then ran two swifts, paddled a bit more and camped on an island in Gold Lake.
We advanced 18 km, to D 69 km.

7 July:
We started out late into a strong quartering headwind. The Esquif Canyon was almost impossible to control but the three PakCanoes handled very well. We inspected a cairn (with emergency gear) left by a survey crew. We got some shelter after exiting the lake.
Then we passed evidence of the environmental ethics of the Canadian mining industry, namely fuel drums, a dock, tent platforms, etc strewn along both sides of the river. In fact, much of the upper Back is littered with rusting fuel drums. We collected some wood (never used it) from the abandoned camp at 726/980 and passed 4 musk oxen.
After lunch, we saw Loon and Robert Perkins' camp; we stopped and said hello, waking him up. On entering the lakey section, we encountered a very strong headwind and big waves; we gave up, pulled in and camped at an ugly site. The whole day was very windy (headwind or close to it), with mist or a light rain.
We advanced 14 km, to D 83 km.

8 July:
We got up to a strong headwind with mist and decided to stay put, a good idea since a medium heavy rain started around noon. We slept and read in the afternoon, did some walking too. I seem to recall someone spotting Rob sneaking down the other shore; in any case, he passed us.
We advanced 0 km.

9 July:
We were off at 8:30 into a stiff but manageable headwind. We ran several rapids; Rob Perkins had set up a lemonade stand at the bottom of 76G3 884/177 and invited us over. We continued into a stiff headwind for a few km but gave up at 4 pm.
Bob caught a lake trout; Marilyn caught a rock; I dozed.
We had trout supper and resumed paddling at 7:30 when the wind dropped. We camped at 9 above Malley Rapids (so called) and scouted the rapids for the next day. It was a good day, considering that we had a headwind, had stopped and were running rapids.
We advanced 33 km, to D 116 km.

10 July:
We ran “Malley”; the PakCanoes flexed as we went over the ledge, giving us a dry run. Rob met us below "Malley" and paddled with us all day. We did several serious rapids, then many swifts. It was getting on, so we pulled in and camped at an ugly spot in a small bay about 15 km above Beechey Lake. The land was soggy; camping was like sleeping on an incontinent waterbed. Another good day, considering, one that deserved a better end.
We advanced 36 km, to D 152 km.

11 July:
We did more rapids. BG dumped at the first, minor-league. We kept behind the islands for shelter at the head of Beechey Lake and had lunch there. Rob dropped back after to paddle solo again. For a change we had a tail wind; it was not strong enough though to sail with advantage. We kept close to the right shore, looking for a campsite. We finally found one (with tent rings) and pulled in. A bad rain squall passed through around suppertime, the only heavy rain on the trip. Both [Back] and [Anderson] remark that the weather can be dicey in this region due to the proximity of Bathurst Inlet. Another good day.
We advanced 39 km, to D 191 km.

12 July:
I forgot my Hammerhead paddle on the shore. We paddled down Beechey with a stiff tailwind and big waves, sometimes quartering. It was a warm, sunny day so Daniela and Doug pulled into a bay on the R and cleaned up. After lunch at a great site on the left shore (sheltered from the wind), we continued down the left shore, passing good campsites and six muskoxen; Daniela and Doug got some good shots of the latter. We arrived at the campsite at the start of the Beechey portage, carried some stuff over, looked at the cascades, had supper and turned in.
We advanced 27 km, to D 218 km.

13 July:
After breakfast we started carrying again. Rob joined us on the portage; he had gone down the left side of Beechey (he says that the sites are better over there) and gotten windbound. He helped us carry stuff over, then set up camp in the grass at the end of the portage. We didn't see him again on the trip; by email later, he said that, farther down, he had shared a small island for two tense days with a grizzly.
We finished the portage and headed downstream. The river is beautiful here. We had lunch at one of the islands at the head of the easterly stretch. Daniela and Doug saw a grizzly on the left shore not far from Rob's camp. Farther down they tried sailing but clobbered a rock. A headwind came up so we pulled over and rested a bit. We got back in, paddled down the lakey section, passed a water survey site (no cabin) at the left turn, and then pulled in on the right to scout. After running both the rapids, we pulled in at tern island to camp. We didn't like disturbing them, but we had seen no reasonable site for some time.
We advanced 24 km, to D 242 km.

14 July:
A long series of rapids, maybe six, started just below our campsite. Bob and Gene half-swamped at one of them. We had lunch on the left side of the island at 630/265. The river got wider and developed shallow sand flats, and we had to watch for the current; the 1:50k topos were helpful since they show the path through the flats. Here and everywhere else on the river, Doug was by far the best of us in spotting the flow. We pulled over due to a looming storm (thunder, lightning, black clouds) which however missed us.
We advanced 32 km, to D 274 km.

15 July:
The wind was up and we stayed put, with some dissent; the idea was that we had enough trouble getting through the sand flats without getting blown around. In retrospect, we should have paddled. I used the occasion to wash up.
Hans Schneller and Hans Baumgartner, world-class kayakers from Germany in solo Prijons, pulled in and joined us; we already knew about them from Rob Perkins, who had seen their tent on Beechey. They had started from Muskox Lake, where the Arctic Sunwest pilot had made them get off into chest-deep, icy (literally) water; they much regretted not having flown in with Air Tindi. They told us of some of their kayak trips to Canada; they used to fly into Yellowknife and ask to be flown to a river that hadn't been previously paddled. Hans S and Tony Prijon had made the first known recreational descent of the Horton, this in 1979. He spoke at the WCA symposium several years before, about his kayak trip from Greenland to Baffin Island. Hans B had paddled the Back in 1976; he told us to expect sand; he was right!
The Hansen decided to stay with us; they were in kayaks (and so travelling light) and appreciated our shelter, both here and later at Mission Island. Four of our group also speak German (Daniela was born there, Marilyn and I learned later, and Hendrik, from the Netherlands, is multilingual) so we chattered away in that language.
Postscript: [Hodgins-Hoyle] lists the first known recreational Horton trip as having made in 1974 (Larry Osgood, Don Scott and Maria Scott).
We advanced 0 km.

16 July:
We took off through the sand flats, turning this way and that. We had lunch on the right shore at a very good campsite (963/153). After another 15 km, we started some nasty rapids. We scouted, lined, portaged and debated for what must have been several hours before getting clear of them. We saw what looked like an OK site on the right, but decided to carry on to the Drought-Burton site just past the Baillie. Alas, there was nothing there but rocks; neither was there anything on either side of the river for several km downstream of it. We spotted the Hans-Hans tent on the left, pulled over and joined them on a grass-covered mud flat. This was the best day of the trip mileage wise, especially since we spent a lot of time scouting; we deserved a better site.
We advanced 49 km, to D 323 km.

17 July:
Hans & Hans headed out before us; we didn't expect to see them again. We continued through the sand flats, having to get out and wade once; the rapids section suggests routes through the flats. It was an uneventful day.
We advanced 37 km, to D 360 km.

18 July:
We spent another uneventful day working through the sand flats, occasionally missing the better route. The topo can be unhelpful on this part of the river. Doug and Daniela got out on the left shore and climbed the hill, finding a cairn and some messages. The wind was coming up so we pulled over and camped. We advanced 39 km, to D 399 km.

19 July:
We got up to a stiff headwind. We started downstream but gave up after 5 km and pulled in at a sand flat. The wind didn't go down so we set up the tundra tunnel. Stephen happened to look out and saw that the Canyon had blown away; it was stuck on the other shore. He and Hendrik paddled over and towed it back, a really tough job. We set up one tent in the dunes and four in the lee of the tundra tunnel, mother and four ducklings; Stephen slept inside the tunnel, not well though.
We advanced 5 km, to D 404 km.

20 July:
We set off into a bad headwind. It was a blessed relief to reach the turn near 805/625 and get shelter; we didn't have much trouble with the wind for the rest of the day. We ran the 3 swifts, having lunch after the 2nd or 3rd. We did Hawk Rapids; what a beautiful place! After Hawk, BG dumped in the eddy near 896/737 and had a long (maybe 15 minutes) cold swim before the rest of us wised up to their predicament. MH rescued Gene, got him to shore and warmed him up (he was hypothermic, shivering badly). DD rescued Bob and gear; Bob was wearing a wet suit and was in much better shape. SA went after the BG boat, almost dumping in the process, and lined it back upstream.
Getting separated like that was a very bad move on the part of the other boats so I figure I have to explain why it happened, in the hope that other parties will learn from our blunder. It will look like I’m making excuses, and maybe that’s a fair assessment, but here goes anyway. Bob and Gene were by far the fastest and had gotten well ahead of the pack several times, partly because they are both strong and partly because the others were in PakCanoes (slower than hardshells in flat water). After Hawk, they decided to stop and fish for a while so the others took off, figuring that the bad stuff was over with and they would catch up pdq. We should have stayed with them.
After maybe an hour, Gene had warmed up enough that we could take off; we camped ASAP, up a hill on the L. Gene kept to the schedule and cooked, figuring this a good way to warm up.
We advanced 29 km, to D 433 km.

21 July:
We paddled through three CI+ rapids, one with a bad whirlpool and another with big waves; otherwise the day was uneventful. After some discussion, we pulled over on the left and camped. I cooked supper, kneeling.
We advanced 35 km, to D 468 km.

22 July:
Pain in my feet woke me up during the night; in the morning, the left foot was too swollen to fit into my boot. I had a spare bum pad that the others cut up and shaped, and also a spare garbage bag to keep the foot dry. Gene gave me a bottle of Motrin to reduce the swelling, and I had souped-up Tylenol 3 and an antibiotic. From then until Mission Island the others carried me into and out of the boat; glad that we didn't have to do any lining those days. We continued downstream through immense and hard-to-spot-until-too-late sand flats. MH pulled over to pick up a conspicuous muskox skull and got well behind; looking back at it, the others should have stopped too. The wind came up again so we pulled over and camped at 5 pm, to some dissent.
We advanced 22 km, to D 490 km.

23 July:
After leaving camp, we wandered around looking for channels. The topos were a pretty good guide for a path through the sand flats, provided that we could determine where we were; the dotted areas on the topos were almost entirely under water. The island at 320/960 was identifiable, once one realized that there was a channel also on its left. The GPS came in rather handy at times. After entering Pelly Lake, we dropped in for a chat at the campsite of Jan & Bill Gunstock (sp?) from Couer D'Alene, Idaho; they had placed the muskox skull out in the open. Starting I think about 30 miles east of Moraine Lake, they had paddled the Baillie/Back and were to be picked up in five days at the Pelly cairn. Seeing nothing promising as a campsite on the topo for a while thereafter, we pulled in at 728/158 and camped.
We advanced 39 km, to D 529 km.

24 July:
The high water and a stiff north wind made navigation difficult through the sand flats. BG in the Esquif Canyon had a rough time; they had to head almost straight upwind and then down. We lost contact with them for a few moments when they found a passage at 775/190 through the peninsula. We were able to stay fairly close to the north shore, cutting over sand flats that would be impassable in lower water. We went left of the island at 858/178 to get out of the wind, have lunch and look for Inuit sites.
We continued down the left shore for a few km and pulled in by the Pelly cairn (visible from the water, an eyesore to some). Hendrik and I inspected the Inuit site a little upstream. We carried on, hugging the left shore, passed the point and made a short traverse to the island; the wind was way too strong though to attempt the 3 km traverse across the bay to our left and so we pulled in. Fortunately we found good places to pitch our tents; but the approach was very rocky, and the landing difficult. We phoned Air Tindi and gave them our location.
We advanced 20 km, to D 549 km.

25 July:
The wind was still up when we got up. The water near shore was shallow and rocky, and most of us were convinced that a float plane could not land there safely. We discussed vigourously the possibility of heading back 3 km to the campsite just above the Pelly cairn (where we were sure the plane could land). But then the wind let up and we took off. After stopping for lunch at the cabins near 055/093, we ran the rapids (more demanding than expected) at the end of Pelly Lake. [Anderson]: Saw 2 lodges of Esquimaux at the Rapids between L. Pelly and Garry, but the inhabitants ran away on perceiving us. They evidently have intercourse with the Churchill Esquimaux ... .
We arrived at Mission Island to find Hans and Hans there to welcome us with delicious tea; they had seen us about an hour before as we rounded the point and headed for the island. They had lost several days to wind and lots more time in the sand flats (they were in kayaks and found it hard to see the channel) and had decided to terminate their trip; they figured they could have gotten to Chantrey Inlet but not to Gjoa Haven in the time remaining.
A few days earlier, Bob and Gene, both fit and experienved paddlers, had decided not to continue to Chantrey for two reasons: they were wiped from trying to control their boat in the wind and they were concerned that the 165 PakCanoe was too small for them and their gear.
We phoned Air Tindi again and arranged for the pick-up next day. My foot had recovered enough that I could put on hiking boots again; we decided however to have some fun with Linda.
Postscript: I ran into [Tammarniit (Mistakes)] only after leaving the Back. In 1958, Inuit had starved to death on or near Mission Island, and maybe also at the Pelly Lake site where we had lunch and at the site (mentioned by [Anderson]) at the rapids. I expect that my feelings would have been quite different had I known.
We advanced 32 km, to D 581 km.

26 July:
Linda flew in from Yellowknife bearing food, supplies and a message not to be concerned if the lower group ran into abandoned canoes and packs near Sinclair; these belong to a Widgi group whose evacuation about 10 days earlier cost Canadian taxpayers $80,000 or so. I used paddles as crutches and wrapped my left boot in a plastic bag; I turned down the suggestion to wear an eye patch, figuring that such was overkill, sure to tip her off.
We sorted through the food that Linda had brought in, keeping lots of Gene's Backpacker Pantry stuff for the lower half. She had brought in also Rob Perkins' food resupply, which we placed in Buliard's cabin. I believe we left some books there also, a contribution to Rob's library.
After Daniela, Doug, Bob, Gene and Stephen left for Yellowknife, I asked Hans Schneller to look at my right foot; it had a pressure lesion and he gave me a tube of Heparin from his first-aid kit.
Hans and Hans left on the second flight, leaving the four of us in very quiet surroundings. We knew that we had a tough trip ahead and would have to be very careful.
We advanced 0 km.
Note: The bay below the cabin was too shallow for the float-plane pilot; he used instead the bay on the other side of the spit, near 194/096.
Note: The flight from Yellowknife to mission island lasts about 3 hours; better not drink much before (Linda was in distress when she arrived).

27 July:
Linda, Marilyn, Hendrik and I headed downstream in a light wind; we kept L though, figuring that it might come up. It stayed down so we headed pretty well straight across Garry (due east) before reaching the other shore. We pulled in, camped at an Inuit site and thanked the wind god for sparing us.
We advanced 26 km, to D 607 km.

28 July:
We headed north-east through the gap at 66F16 481/128, turned east, then north, then east again to the esker at 535/126 (great site) where we had lunch; the others went for a short hike but I was still grounded. The wind was up, so we stayed close to the north shore as we continued for another 15 km.
We advanced 29 km, to D 636 km.

29 July:
We set out with almost no wind. Lower Garry stayed almost dead calm, so we made the big traverse, straight for the point at 855/146. On the way, we passed rafts of dead bugs, heaven for the many fish feasting on them. We learned later from Levi Waldron that Lower Garry was iced up maybe a week before we got there; the ice was heavily laden with dead bugs when it melted and so rafts were formed. We ran the exit rapid, entered Buliard Lake and pulled in at the esker to camp (great spot). The others went for a hike; I went up the hill a bit.
We advanced 42 km (in Drought locations; the true travel distance was smaller because we went straight for the point), to D 678 km.

30 July:
We stayed R after breaking camp, went R of the island at 66J3 925/240, got out and made a lengthy scout. We ran a serious rapid through a high-water channel; it was followed right away by a bad rapid (fast water through a boulder field). A swift and a CI+ were followed by an unrunnable rapid that we portaged, and then by another CI+ (between the islands, not marked on the topo). All this took a lot of time.
I had thought of going R around the island at 995/325, figuring that this route would be shorter; but the other boat got ahead and went past the turnoff. The current is significant here and so we were committed to going L around the island. This got us into a shallow lakey area with however a good current, fascinating wave patterns in the sand and zillions of big lake trout. And the L side may indeed have been the better route. It's your guess as to which way to go.
We continued, ran a swift and a CI+ on the R side of the island at 66J2 027/290, pulled over and camped.
We advanced 16 km, to D 694 km.

31 July:
We paddled down the channel in a good current and ran a swift at the entrance to Upper MacDougall. Marilyn and Hendrik pulled over and tried to photograph a large herd of muskoxen on the L, to no avail. We had lunch at the island at 113/212, out of the wind. We made the sharp bend, ran down the channel, went R of the island and stayed close to the L shore for shelter. Since the DB site at the head of Rock is not so good, we pulled over at a point. By this time the wind had dropped and we had a lot of bugs; but it cooled off and they disappeared.
We advanced 29 km, to D 723 km.

1 August:
The bad part of the day, working through Rock, is described in the Rapids, etc Section. I recommend stopping on the island and climbing the hill at 174/094; don't forget cameras, for the views are great in all directions.
We saw the abandoned Widgi boats and packs on the left (other) shore partway down the first part of Rock. We heard later that all the gear had been recovered.
Our experience on going through the tail end of the second part of Rock likely influenced my later decisions (third part of Rock and second part of Escape); but Linda, my paddling partner on so many trips, is imperturbable.
After getting through the first two of the three parts of Rock, we saw a herd of 300-400 caribou on the L shore; then we turned L into the bay and camped. The water at the site was badly silted from caribou passing through. The herd of 300-400 came through and was followed by another herd of 3000-4000 that took about half an hour to pass our campsite. We all agreed with Hendrik, who said that that sight was worth the expense of the trip. Then a wolf walked through on the same trail.
We advanced 9 km, to D 732 km.

2 August:
A muskox herd of 25 or so walked past on the trail used by the caribou the previous day. We portaged much of the third part of Rock and lined the rest; the others were game to run the last bit, but I chickened out. It was a real relief to get back into the boats and paddle again.
After more rapids, we portaged Sinclair on the left. The only ice we saw on the entire trip, apart from that on the flight in, was on the bank (river left) below the falls. We didn't see the Widgi boat found by Levi Waldron's group; we learned later that it was on the R passage around Sinclair. We did another rapid and pulled out on the right, before the turn to the left.
We advanced 8 km, to D 740 km.

3 August:
The north wind was up and it was raining lightly; we decided to stay put and rest from the effort of the previous two days.
We advanced 0 km.

4 August:
The north wind was still up, just as strong as on the day before. We took off anyway, going R around the two islands for shelter before turning right. We had lunch at one of the islands on the L, inadvertently explored the bay to the north a bit and then sailed down the channel; the trouble with sailing is that you don't get as long to rest before heading back into the wind. We soldiered on to the north, passing two wolves that appeared to be chasing supper, and pulled over to camp.
We advanced 22 km, to D 762 km.

5 August:
We took off again into a headwind, did the traverse to the R shore, rounded the corner, had lunch and scouted the upper part of Escape. The rest of a hard day is described in the Rapids Section.
It was not good that Linda and I got separated from the others. It was my decision not to try the ferry and if is anyone to blame for the separation then I’m the one. I was not sure that we could make it; Marilyn and Hendrik, a stronger crew, had had to push hard to get across. If we hadn’t made it, we would have been in serious trouble; check out Post 6 of this report, which contains a photo of lower Escape. Looking back on things, I’ve realized that it was only gradually that my doubts of our chances developed to the point where I made the decision; it's clear to me now that I should have spoken up and expressed my concern before Marilyn and Hendrik started across.
We advanced about 12 km, to about D 774 km.

6 August:
Linda and I got up at 6, had a quick breakfast and started taking stuff down the hill. Hendrik came over and helped with the boat; he had found a paddle in the bay below us, likely from the Widgies. Linda and I finished loading at 10:30 and headed downstream to rejoin Marilyn and Hendrik, stopping to scout another rapid.
After joining up, we rounded the corner and headed north into a very stiff wind, making almost no progress. After advancing 4 km, we had lunch at the island, at 464/240. We found the exit bay (not so obvious in high water and a big wind), turned the corner and headed east, out of the wind. There's a really nice spot where the esker crosses; we saw no rapid there (though one is marked on the 1:50k topo). We did more rapids, scouting a lot, then turned south and camped in a bay (silty water) on the L.
We advanced about 25 km, to D 799 km.

7 August:
We paddled to the head of Sandhill and pulled in on river left; the others got out to scout while I stayed in the boat out of concern for my feet. I was rewarded by a head of about 50 caribou that came down the hill and crossed to the south shore. The others returned and we ran Sandhill on the far L, through big waves, dodging boulders to the bay below. We did more rapids, scouting everything but especially Wolf. After it, we pulled over to the gravel bed on the L shore and had lunch. I wish we had had more time so that we could have climbed the hill at Wolf; it is impressive.
After lunch, we headed east and paddled through maybe a dozen swifts, the north wind blowing us off course the entire way. For some reason our boat was much slower that day and the others got well ahead, out of sight. We tried to catch up but couldn't. When we reached the lakey area by the mouth of the Meadowbank, we were exposed to full force of the wind and pulled over on the right, expected the others to come back when we didn't show. They joined us after about 20 minutes, but from upstream. It seems they had pulled over to wait for us, but on a channel different from the one we took.
The wind was almost impossible to paddle in; after some discussion, we pulled in at a small island and camped; shelter was poor but the tent sites OK.
We advanced 25 km, to D 824 km.

8 August:
The north wind had dropped markedly, but paddling into it was still difficult. We did more rapids, turned north, did another rapid and entered the lakey area above Mount Meadowbank. We stopped in at the cabins on the L, had lunch and did some sightseeing; there are tent rings on the hill above the cabins. Again it would have been nice to have had more time, here to climb Mount Meadowbank.
We sailed a bit down the lakey section; the wind wasn't much though and Marilyn's GPS (where would she be without it?) showed that sailing was about as fast as paddling. Of course sailing is easier than paddling, BUT, blinded by the sail, Linda and I ran aground on a gravel bar just below the surface.
After some discussion (I wanted to continue to the end of the lakey section and camp at the sandy area there), we pulled over to the L shore and camped at a bad site (slant city!).
We advanced 31 km, to D 855 km.

9 August:
We paddled to the end of the lakey section in a moderate tail wind, then pulled in on the R to scout. After running the rapids, we continued east and pulled in to look around the water survey cabin, which was locked. The north wind had blown all day and it kept up as we headed north-east. Seeing that we were near a DB campsite, we pulled off and camped there.
We advanced 28 km, to D 883 km.

10 August:
Some of us were worried about our recent progress and the prospect of more battling against the wind. With some dissent, we got up at 5 am; we got up at the same time for the next five days too.
The north wind came up again; we ran another rapid, turned the corner to the north-east and struggled to a sandy area above the Hermann. We went R of the island at the mouth and continued to the north-east, then north. Marilyn and Hendrik stayed L to get shelter. Linda and I stayed R to take the shorter path; we continued to the shore near 340/597 where we had lunch. The four of us met up after lunch and struggled some more. Knowing that a difficult rapid was just ahead, we pulled in and camped above it.
We advanced 38 km, to D 921 km.

11 August:
The north wind was up again; we stayed L for shelter before crossing to the R before the point. After a lengthy and careful scout, we ran 56L5 739/715; a herd of muskoxen watched, stupidly, from above as we made the left turn midway down. We stopped for lunch at the island 3 km above the Montresor. BTW, the Montresor watershed includes Bromley and Ian Calder Lakes; the place where Bromley and Calder died is identified in another part of the report. The wind came up hard again so we gave up and camped.
We advanced 28 km, to D 949 km.

12 August:
We started downstream in a headwind, staying L to get shelter. After stopping to rest at the island at 790/960, we went around the L side of it and stayed L again before Whirlpool Rapids. After another scout, we ran it, a non-event (even the whirlpools below weren't much). The wind continued to strengthen; we tried both getting shelter on the R and also riding the big waves in the C where there was a good current, both to no avail. Then my seat broke; the aluminum tubing that Stephen and I had used was strong enough for him and Linda but not for me. We pulled over and make a quick fix. But I couldn't paddle much and we were making little headway so we pulled over again; Marilyn did a good job in fixing it. By then though the wind was really bad, so we pulled over to a bad site and camped, expecting the wind to be up again in the morrow and dreading having to paddle against it on the wide part of Franklin Lake and so much concerned that we would miss the pickup.
We advanced 15 km, to D 964 km.

13 August:
We got up to no wind and made over 20 km before stopping for lunch at the peninsula where the river turns R toward the falls. With no wind and warm weather, black flies swarmed us so we ate on top, finding that the Inuit had camped there many times. We paddled through the first rapid and headed toward the falls.
We had heard conflicting stories about the difficulty of the falls; Hans Baumgartner sledded it, but others reported that it involved a lot of lining and portaging. Marilyn spotted an alternate route, involving a portage; it started at 703/300 and went along what appears to be a spring channel. We decided to go this way, expecting hours of hard work but maybe saving yet more. At least one other party had had the same idea and had marked the first portage route with cairns. My feet were still numb; I had no balance and fell into the water on the second portage.
Marilyn and Hendrik walked up to view the falls; it was getting late so Linda and I went ahead to find a campsite. We had a small supper in the dark.
We advanced 33 km, to D 997 km.

14 August:
We ran the first rapid in two stages, passed between the two small islands and then ran the second rapid (and last of the trip) also in two stages. We stopped halfway through the second to look at the impressive line of stones on the hill to the R; I had to stay behind, but I expect that they formed a fence for guiding the caribou. We didn't go over to the L side to look at the cabins.
The wind was not up, but we went around the L side of the big island anyway, running into shallow water at its end; we continued close to the L side as the wind rose; we thought that the high water might have made a passage through the peninsula (955/280) but decided to go around it, a good idea it turned out. We made the traverse to the point at 983/296 and turned north into the wind.
After threading our way between rocks, we came out into the open, gave up and pulled in. I called Boris's number (got his son I think), gave our present coordinates and requested landing coordinates for the pickup by the tundra-tire plane. After another call or two, I was told that plans had changed and that we would be picked up by float plane; I was told to pick a site where the float plane could land and then phone in coordinates. This was great news, for George Drought had marked a pickup point on the R shore about 7 km downstream.
We advanced 31 km, to D 1028 km.

15 August:
After paddling north about 2 km into a stiff headwind, we crossed to the R side and worked our way through small islands and rocks. We inspected one of the islands, figuring that we might have to camp there, but decided to bite the bullet and continue against the wind to the Drought site. We pulled in at the beach but found it to be wet clay, unsuitable for camping. Unable to round the point and paddle against the wind, we dragged the boats about 100 m downstream to a sandy area and set up camp. I put my tent behind a big rock to get some shelter. As arranged, I phoned Boris's place and gave our coordinates. We took the PakCanoes apart and settled in. The tide was about 1 ft. I phoned again in the evening.
We advanced 7 km, to D 1035 km.

16 August:
The wind was very strong in the morning. The big waves stirred up the water and made it very silty; the coffee filters that I had brought along precisely for this purpose failed miserably in removing the silt and we had to use the pump filters.
I phoned Boris around 9 am. He asked if we were at the cabins 11 km downstream and said that there might be difficulty in getting the float plane in that day. This was not great news. He asked if we could paddle downstream to near the Hayes; I replied that the wind was way too strong to paddle against, that the boats had been taken apart, that the satellite phone batteries were running low and that Marilyn had a bad arm. We arranged to speak again later.
While the others went for a hike downstream, I scouted the flat area on the tundra above our campsite, to assess its suitability for tundra-tire plane landing; it looked OK, except that there was some cotton grass. As I was waiting for the others to come back, a large wolf popped out of the brush and trotted past, giving me a quick glance but otherwise ignoring me, not so much as breaking stride.
I called Boris again around noon; he said that the tundra-tire plane could not land there (due to the cotton grass) and that the float plane could not get us out that day. We phoned Marilyn's mother and asked her to cancel our flights out of Baker the next day. This may have been a blunder, for I don't know what the local airline policy is when passengers don't show up.
We figured that we would be there another night and started to make supper; of course the wind had gone down by then. When supper was almost ready, Aklak Air's Twin Otter arrived. This is when we learned that George and Barbara had been burned in the explosion and evacuated; we learned also that a party had been attacked by a bear on the Thelon and also evacuated. We scurried around, threw things together, got on and arrived in Baker Lake at 10:30 pm. Elizabeth had supper waiting for us at Baker Lake Lodge (nice place, highly recommended) where we stayed the night.

17 August:
The four of us had breakfast at Baker Lake Lodge. Marilyn spent a lot of time on the phone trying to get her flights rescheduled. I paid for the Twin Otter flight and notified the RCMP of our return (on our own). I then hoofed it to the nursing station at the other end of town to get my foot (the spot had since turned blue) looked at; I was told that it was not necrotic and was given some strong Ibuprofen and an antibiotic. The others walked around and shopped. I gave our leftover fuel, the slugs and the bangers to Boris. And I got rid of a lot of no-longer-any-good gear.
In the afternoon, the Baker Lake Lodge people drove us to the airport; the runway is on quite a slant. We flew to Rankin Inlet on a Saab 340 with I think 6 seats of about 30 occupied; but our baggage had to go on flight(s) the next day or two. John Hickes and Page Burt picked us up and drove us to their Nanuq Lodge (great place) where we had a good supper with them and Martha (John's sister ?); she had flown out with Barbara Burton (arm burned rather badly in the explosion) earlier in the month.

18 August:
Marilyn left for Iqaluit and Ottawa. While the others went for a walk, I took advantage of my immobility to look at some of Page's books. It was then that I encountered Tammarniit (Mistakes). I had known already about the Ennadai Lake famine but not about the one on Pelly and Garry; had I done so, I expect that I would have felt differently when we passed by those places. Martha's mother (and also her aunt ?) were the last to be evacuated from Garry Lake in 1958; I think they had been given up for dead. In the afternoon, Page drove Linda, Hendrik and me to the Thule site outside town.
I spoke at length with Martha, trying to interest her into coming down to speak at the Wilderness and Canoeing Symposium; she eventually gave up on me and explained that it would be out of place for her to do so, that such talks may be given only by the elders.

19 August:
In the morning, Page took us sightseeing around Rankin Inlet. Linda and I left for Winnipeg; Hendrik stayed another night, then left for Churchill and his polar bear project.
Linda and I arrived in Winnipeg to learn that our flight to Toronto had been cancelled; the aircraft didn't get out of Toronto due to the bad storm there. She spoke to Air Canada about getting to Toronto the next day and was offered an afternoon flight to Vancouver followed by a flight to Toronto arriving in the late evening. She asked for another look and got the flights we took the next day, via Calgary. The Air Canada baggage agent very kindly sent our 8 big packs to Toronto on the early morning flight the next day. He was not at all concerned with the shotgun, except to make sure it was in a locked case; he didn't ask about cartridges and didn't react when I said there were none. Hmmm. The hotel at the airport was full so we took a taxi to Greenwood Inn.

20 August:
We caught the 6:30 am flight to Calgary, and then a non-stop flight to Toronto, arriving at about 3 pm. Back home, my first priority was to get a haircut.


A literal mind is a little mind. If it's not worth doing to excess, it's not worth doing at all. Good enough isn't.  None are so blind as those who choose not to see. (AJ)

 Post subject: Re: Back River, 2005
PostPosted: October 28th, 2008, 11:32 am 
User avatar

Joined: June 26th, 2006, 8:56 am
Posts: 1285
Location: Brantford, Ontario
this is mind-blowing stuff for a wee park paddler like me. love the rough scattered text with #'s and shorthands, comparitives. like reading engineer or architect language. the intro was so descriptive of the adventure - just fabulous!

Midway 'twixt earth and heaven....
Above, below
Drift with my drifting, dim and slow,
As twilight drifts to even.
- Pauline Johnson -

 Post subject: Re: Back River, 2005
PostPosted: October 28th, 2008, 1:09 pm 

Joined: September 29th, 2005, 5:57 pm
Posts: 571
Lots of good information there, Allan.

Thanks for all your work.


 Post subject: Re: Back River, 2005
PostPosted: October 28th, 2008, 3:04 pm 
User avatar

Joined: June 22nd, 2004, 4:45 pm
Posts: 1209
Location: Canmore AB
Paddle Power wrote:
wait, as in wait for the wind to drop.

Or, Crap, as in not another rapid not marked.


"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

 Post subject: Re: Back River, 2005
PostPosted: October 28th, 2008, 4:29 pm 

Joined: January 22nd, 2005, 12:16 pm
Posts: 3930
Location: Toronto
Post 4, of 7.

Bibliography (short version)
Appendix B: Access and egress

Regrets that the report is so disorganized but I don’t have the time/interest/energy to put things together better.


Jim Magrum Lake to Chantrey Inlet (almost), 5 July to 16 August 2005

The upper Back demonstrates very well the environmental ethics of the Canadian mining industry. I'll be very surprised if you see more muskoxen than rusting fuel drums; and you'll see lots of other junk too.

Daniela Kosch and Doug Bell (Dorset, Ontario), Bob Bignell (Flamborough, Ontario), Stephen Catlin and Linda Gordon (Mississauga, Ontario), Gene Chorostecki (Georgetown, Texas), Hendrik Herfst (Winnipeg), Allan Jacobs (Toronto), and Marilyn Sprissler (Picton, Ontario); all but Hendrik belong to the Wilderness Canoe Association:

Paddling overview:
On 5 July, eight of us (Allan, Bob, Daniela, Doug, Gene, Hendrik, Marilyn and Stephen) flew from Yellowknife to Jim Magrum Lake in a Twin Otter and a 185 (both on floats), both from Air Tindi. We had three personal PakCanoes and a rental hardshell (Esquif Canyon from Boyd Warner in Yellowknife).
We finished the first half of the trip at mission island on Upper Garry Lake on 25 July. Linda flew in on 26 July (baby Caravan on floats from Yellowknife) bringing our food for the lower Back. Bob, Daniela, Doug, Gene and Stephen flew back the same day taking one PakCanoe and the hardshell.
On 27 July, four of us (Allan, Hendrik, Linda and Marilyn) started downstream in two PakCanoes. We finished 11 km above the mouth of the Hayes River (25 km above the last narrows before Cockburn Bay in Chantrey Inlet) on 15 August. We were picked up by Twin Otter (Aklak Air) on 16 August and flown to Baker Lake.

George Drought (loaned us his topos and his Mk II or III tundra tunnel and was exceptionally generous with his advice and time),
George Luste (river and logistics information),
Brian Johnston (put us in touch with Hendrik and provided route information),
Freda and Theodor Mellenthin (Freda's trip report, copies of [Gaskin] and [Struzik], and river and logistics information),
Levi Waldron and Drew Gulyas (took our bear spray, bangers, etc up to Yellowknife and gave us information on their Baillie/Back trip),
Will Lange and Gary Coleman (information on their Hayes trips),
John McInnes (information on Anderson's Mountain Portage),
Emily Stirr (logistics information on her Borealis trip),
Martha McPheeters (information on her Baillie/Back trip),
Orin Durey (route information),
David DeMello (route information and DVDs),
Hans Schneller (medical assistance and river information),
Hans Baumgartner (route information),
Robert Perkins (lemonade and companionship),
the fellow paddlers who posted our "Companions wanted" notices at
Wilderness Canoe Association ( ),
Canadian Canoe Routes ( ),
Canadian Recreational Canoeing Association ( ),
Adventure Exchange ( ), and
Minnesota Canoe Association ( ),
AND, most of all, my companions.

Highly demanding with respect to whitewater, wind, rain, cold, sand, bugs, etc.
NOT suitable for a first barrenlands trip.
Highly rewarding with respect to great scenery (in parts), best wildlife on any of my trips (largest caribou herd, so many wolves we didn’t bother pointing more out to our companions, lots of muskoxen).

At least 11 groups paddled the Back in 2005; five are known not to have finished the trip as planned.
1. Our group: Bob and Gene had boat problems and decided to cut the trip short at mission island.
2. Robert Perkins started at Jim Magrum Lake a few days ahead of us; we caught up to him (thanks for the lemonade) and paddled with him for a few days. We left him at the end of the Beechey portage. He had intended to paddle to near the mouth but lost so much time to the wind that he left at mission island. He had the added pleasure of sharing a small island for two days with a grizzly.
3. George Drought, Barbara Burton and four others started at the Hermann. A fuel tank exploded below Franklin Falls, burning George and Barbara so badly that they had to be evacuated. The others paddled to the Hayes as planned.
4. Drew Gulyas, Levi Waldron and others: Baillie-Back (start on upper Baillie, maybe Moraine Lake, on 25 June; finish at Gjoa Haven on 14 August).
5. Alex Hall and group: Baillie-Back, 2 weeks.
6. Brian Johnston and others: Meadowbank-Back to Hayes.
7. YWCA Madison Wisc group of five women (inc Emily Stirr), Borealis: Fond du Lac, Dubawnt, Thelon, Meadowbank, Back, Gjoa Haven.
8. Jan and Bill Gunstock (sp?): Baillie to Pelly Lake.
9. Another group: Baillie to Pelly Lake; saw their message at a cairn and heard a plane from Pelly on about the right day.
10. Widgi group of 7 paddlers in 3 boats. One boat dumped at the start of Rock; they got to shore, on the opposite side of the river from the others though. They lost their boat with the satellite phone (Levi Waldon's group found the boat below Sinclair Falls). No one was injured and there were two more groups upstream, but they activated their EPIRB, setting off a search and rescue operation that cost the Canadian taxpayer about $70,000 [Bill Layman's article in Kanawa, Fall 2005, page 19]. Thanks guys.
11. Hans Schneller and Hans Baumgartner, world-class kayakers in Prijon boats, started at Muskox Lake a few days before us. They had planned to finish at Gjoa Haven but stopped at mission island after losing too much time to the wind and the sand.


Nearly all the following entries were made in early 2005, in preparation for our trip. I have not done any work on Back sources since then, so what follows is outdated.
Some sources are of no or only peripheral interest to Back paddlers; they are included solely to make points somewhere in the many kB of text I’ve written.
Annotated versions of these sources have been prepared and may be posted later.
And I may fancy up the presentation.
I'm checking Google Books.

[Anderson] James Anderson. Copies of his Journal (Back River expedition of 1855) are published in [Barr] and [Clarke].

[Back] George Back. Narrative of the Arctic land expedition to the mouth of the Great Fish River, and along the shores of the Arctic Ocean, in the years 1833, 1834 and 1835, A and W Calignani, Paris, 1836; a CD version is available at .
Individual page images, and the entire (I think) book (15.1 MB), are available at Google books: ... iyMPqrwJ4F

[Barr] William Barr (editor). Searching for Franklin; The Land Arctic Searching Expedition: James Anderson's and James Stewart's expedition via the Back River, 1855, Hakluyt Society (London), 1999.
It's listed at Google Books, but I don't see that page images are available or that it can be downloaded. ... OEI&pgis=1

[Beattie-Geiger] Owen Beattie and John Geiger. Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition, Greystone Books, Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver/Toronto/Berkeley, 2004, , , , ISBN 1-55365-060-3.

[CCR] Canadian Canoe Routes :
Here are the Back-related links I found at CCR; many are outdated though and I may have missed some.

Back River: viewtopic.php?f=13&t=7742

Back River info:

Back River Summer 2006:

Baillie River: viewtopic.php?f=13&t=11334

Baillie/Ellice route summer 05: viewtopic.php?f=13&t=14614

Baker Lake Air Charters:

Baker Lake lodging: viewtopic.php?f=13&t=9217

Falls shown on page 40 of [McCreadie]:

Hayes River, Nunavut: viewtopic.php?f=13&t=14748

Leaving hardshells at Chantrey Inlet for later pickup:

Returning from Chantrey Inlet:

Site of the Bromley-Calder tragedy: viewtopic.php?f=13&t=12422

[Clarke] C H D Clarke. Chief Factor James Anderson's Back River Journal of 1855. The Canadian Field-Naturalist. Vol LIV; pp 63-67, 84-89, 107-109, 125-126 and 134-136 (Sep-Dec 1940). Vol LV; pp 9-11, 21-26 and 38-44 (Jan-Mar 1941).

[Coleman] Gary Coleman, email exchanges.

[Cundy] Robert Cundy. Beacon Six, Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, 1970.

[DeMello] David DeMello. Posts at CCR, DVDs and personal messages.

[Drought] George Drought, conversations and email exchanges.

[Drought maps] Complete sets (Sussex Lake to Chantrey Inlet) of 1:50k and 1:250k topos loaned to us by George Drought; they are annotated from Jim Magrum Lake down to the Hermann.

[Drought-Burton] George Drought and Barbara Burton, VHS 42 Days ... Back River 2000,

[Fels] Mark Fels. email exchanges.

[Hodgins-Hoyle] Bruce W Hodgins and Gwyneth Hoyle. Canoeing North into the Unknown, Natural Heritage / Natural History, 1994, ISBN 0-920474-93-4.
The entry, taken from [Polar], on the location of the Bromley-Calder tragedy is incorrect: viewtopic.php?f=13&t=12422
Hodgins-Hoyle is listed at Google Books: ... WcMs2vwJ4F
You can scroll through and you can search, but I don't see that it is possible to download the book.

[Gaskin] Fred Gaskin, unpublished trip report.

[Gulyas] Drew Gulyas, email exchanges.

[Jacobs] Allan Jacobs, unpublished comment on the Bromley-Calder site. Now available at viewtopic.php?f=13&t=12422

[Klein] Clayton Klein. Cold Summer Wind, Wilderness Adventure Books, 1983, ISBN 0-9611596-0-X.

[Lange] Will Lange. Conversation at WCA symposium.

[Lentz] John Lentz. Articles in Che-Mun,, Outfits 100 and 101 (Spring and Summer 2000 issues, pages 6, 7, 8 & 11 in both).

[Lodge] Andrew Lodge. viewtopic.php?f=13&t=11334

[Luste] George Luste, conversations and email exchanges.

[McCreadie] Mary McCreadie (editor). Canoeing Canada's Northwest Territories: A Paddler's Guide, Canadian Recreational Canoeing Association, 1995, pp 36-42, ISBN 1-895465-09-5.
It's listed at Google Books but I don't see that any of it can be accessed. ... iyMPqrwJ4F

[McGoogan] Kenneth McGoogan, Fatal Passage, Harper Perennial Canada, 2001, , ISBN 0-00-638659-8.

[McInnes] John McInnes, Mr. Anderson's Portage Between Great Slave Lake and the Barrens, Nastawgan, Summer 2000, Vol 27, No 2, pp 1-11.
I'll post the link when I learn that the issue has been scanned and is available.

[McPheeters] Martha McPheeters, email exchanges.

[Mellenthin] Freda Mellenthin. Wind on the Back River, unpublished report of 2002 trip. Now available at ... outeid=791

[Pelly] David F Pelly. Expedition: an Arctic journey through history on George Back's River, Betelgeuse Books, 1981, ISBN 0-9690783-0-7.
Listed at Google Books but material not accessible. ... fiMpTunYwI

[Pelly 2005] David F Pelly. The Disappearance of Father Buliard, Above & Beyond, July/August 2005, pp 29-34:

[Perkins] Robert F Perkins. Telephone conversations and email exchanges.

[Perkins book] Robert F Perkins. Into the great solitude: an Arctic journey, H Holt & Company, New York, c1991; Fitzhenry & Whiteside Ltd, Markham, Ontario.

[Perkins video] Robert F Perkins. Into the great solitude, New Film Company, .

[Polar] Polar Record, Vol 14, No 90, September 1968, p 361.

[Simpson] Thomas Simpson. Narrative of the discoveries of the north coast of America; effected by the officers of the Hudson's Bay Company during the years 1836-39, Richard Bentley, London, 1843.

[Steele] David Steele. The man who mapped the Arctic: the intrepid life of
George Back
, Raincoast Books, Vancouver, , 2003,
ISBN 1-55192-648-2.

[Struzik] Ed Struzik. Canoeing in the Northwest Territories; the Back River; unpublished report of 1993 trip.

[Templeman] Bill Templeman. Captain Back's Route, in Canoe Journal
(special issue of Canoe and Kayak, , 2004, pp 40-43.

[Tester-Kulchyski] Frank James Tester and Peter Kulchyski. Tammarniit (Mistakes); Inuit Relocation in the Eastern Arctic, 1939-63, University of British Columbia Press, Vancouver, 1994.

[Thelon] Several posts at viewforum.php?f=13 , including

[van Peenan] Paul van Peenan. Che-Mun, Outfit 100 (Spring 2000), p 9.

[Waldon] Levi Waldon. Conversations and email exchanges.

Appendix B: Access and egress

This Appendix describes various options to access the Back and to return. Some of them have not been tested to my knowledge, which is however highly limited (one trip!). Constraints are imposed by many factors, including boats (Appendix A) and the depth of your pockets (Appendix C provides information on charter flights).

Accessing the Back:

1. Masochists paddle from Yellowknife to Sandhill Bay of Aylmer Lake and cross the height of land to Sussex Lake. To get to Alymer, some take Pike's Portage and others go through MacKay Lake [Luste]. Genuine masochists, the hair-shirt crowd, take Anderson's Mountain Portage [McInnes].
However you get to it, the stretch from Sussex Lake to Jim Magrum Lake is a draggy slog ([Luste], [Drought], [Mellentin], [Perkins] and others).
But by starting below Sussex, say at Muskox or Jim Magrum, you miss standing on the hill from which George Back saw the river that now bears his name heading to the north.

2. Charter from Yellowknife to Fort Reliance ([van Peenan]), Artillery Lake ([Perkins book]), MacKay Lake ([Mellenthin]), Back Lake, Margaret Lake or Outram Lake ([Mellenthin]), paddle to Aylmer and slog.

3. Charter from Yellowknife to Aylmer or Sussex and slog.

4. Charter from Yellowknife to Glow Worm[Klein] and paddle down the Icy River to join the Back at D 18 km, above the lakey section before Muskox Lake; slog Muskox Rapids.

5. Charter from Yellowknife to Muskox Lake (Templeman], [Schneller]) and slog.

6. Likely it has been done, but I haven't heard or read of anyone paddling what looks like an interesting route down the Contwoyto River to join the Back at D 45 km, 3 km above the end of Muskox Rapids; even with the extra water from the Contwoyto though, the rapids look bad down to Jim Magrum [Drought]).

7. Charter from Yellowknife to Jim Magrum Lake at D 50 km (Drought-Burton 2000, our group) or farther down: Beechey ([Cundy]), Pelly or a Garry Lake.

8. Paddle down the Baillie to reach the Back at D 320 km.
In 1999, George [Luste] paddled from Yellowknife to Sifton Lake, did many nasty, brutish and short (& medium) portages over to Moraine Lake (headwaters of the Baillie) and then dragged some.
Andrew [Lodge] seems to have followed [Luste]'s route through Moraine Lake.
Martha [McPheeters]'s party accessed the Baillie from Healey Lake.
The [Gulyas]-[Waldron] party of 2005 maybe started from Healey Lake.
Other parties use the Baillie to access the Ellice (see below).

9. Paddle down the Meadowbank to reach the Back near D 826 km (Drought-Burton 2003, Brian Johnston 2005). To reach the Meadowbank, some parties charter from Baker Lake to the mine(?) site at the height of land. Hardier souls slog up from the Thelon to the lake at the headwaters of the Meadowbank.
To reach the Thelon-Back portage from Baker Lake, some hire a motorboat and some paddle/pole up; see the exchange gdrought-Thelon at viewtopic.php?f=13&t=1245 .

Middle Back:

Some parties recharge in mid-trip with fresh paddlers and fresh food from Yellowknife, and also ship out people who want to paddle only the upper river. Transfer points used include the bay near the cairn at Pelly Lake and mission island on Upper Garry Lake. Since Pelly and the lower lakes are much closer to Baker Lake than to Yellowknife, accessing the middle Back from Baker Lake looks attractive. But this was not possible in early 2005; there was no known landing place anywhere in the area for the only aircraft available, one with tundra tires. And I should add that both the Baker Lake->Rankin Inlet and the Rankin Inlet->Winnipeg flights are expensive. BUT, later in 2005, Aklak Air operated a twin Otter, with floats, out of Baker.

Exiting the Back:

Most parties exit via Yellowknife, Baker Lake or Gjoa Haven, though Bathurst Inlet, Cambridge Bay and maybe others have also been used.

1. Yellowknife exit:
The advantage of this one is that you can get hardshells home easily if you drive up. Scheduled flights connect Yellowknife to Edmonton and points south.
Float-plane pickup points include Pelly Lake ([Pelly], Drought-Burton 2000), Mount Meadowbank (Drought-Burton 2000), mission island on Upper Garry Lake (many groups), Chantrey Inlet (Lentz], [Templeman]) and no doubt many others; the price increases substantially the farther you go downstream.
Perkins [Perkins book] made some arrangement with the fisherfolk at the mouth but I gather that this option is no longer open.

2. Baker Lake exit:
Baker Lake can be reached from the Back by tundra-tire plane, by paddling or by float plane. From Baker Lake, both scheduled and charter flights go to Rankin Inlet; from there, scheduled flights serve Yellowknife, Winnipeg and Iqaluit/Ottawa.
Expect considerable difficulty and expense in getting hardshells home from Baker Lake. George Drought did it though.
Have a look at viewtopic.php?f=13&t=30903
I may have more stuff on this, in my boats section.

(a) Tundra-tire plane to Baker Lake. The only aircraft available in early-mid 2005 was a single Otter; it cannot carry hardshells either internally or externally and they will have to be left at the Back for later pickup and transport to Baker Lake.
In 2005, the operator (Boris Kotelewetz) had only two pickup points, the mouths of the Hermann (D 898 km; Drought-Burton 2003) and the Hayes (D 1044 km; Drought-Burton 2005 and Brian Johnston 2005). You will have to try getting more precise information from Boris; I gather though that the Hermann pickup point is not at the Back but rather about 2 km up the Hermann (not easy to ascend [Drought]).

(b) Paddle to Baker Lake.
All the routes I know of require working up the Meadowbank River.
The [Klein] party struggled hard to reach the lake that's the source of the Meadowbank (where I gather, there's a mine); they were delighted to catch a flight to Baker Lake.
Paraphase of [Luste]'s comments: The Meadowbank is a long, slow slog; it is not a pool-and-drop river but rather almost continuous fast water requiring lining and wading, with one or two portages up to the height of land.

Once on the upper Meadowbank, you have several options for getting to Baker Lake, none of them easy.

(i) [Luste] did a long portage over to the Thelon watershed and entered the Thelon just below Schultz Lake. I expect that his route ran about 30 km almost due south from lake 129, passed through lake 94 and reached the Thelon about 10 km below Aleksektok Rapids, 67 km above Baker Lake town. Some parties go the other direction in order to access the lower Back. The route was much used by the native people and has many traces of their former presence on these lands. [Thelon]

(ii) Portage to Tehek Lake and the Quoich [Thelon]. From the mouth of the Quoich on Chesterfield Inlet, paddle either 140 km west to Baker Lake town or 167 km east to Chesterfield Inlet town (which is also served by scheduled flights). The stretch from Baker Lake to Chesterfield Inlet town was paddled by a woman (forgot her name) who spoke at the WCA symposium 5 to 10 years ago; she carried a rifle.

(iii) Perhaps some prefer to cross from the Quoich to the Ketyet, paddle to its mouth on Baker Lake and go west 70 km to town. But I don't know that this route is feasible.

(iv) After getting somehow to Whitehills Lake, take the Prince to its mouth on Baker Lake and paddle 17 km west to town. [Thelon].

(c) Float-plane to Baker Lake: Ptarmigan used to offer this but no more. Just before leaving, we learned that Aklak Air, based in Rankin Inlet, has a Twin Otter that might be available to pick up paddlers and fly them to Baker; rumour has it that Aklak has a single Otter too. We had arranged for pickup by tundra-tire plane (Boris) but actually flew out with Aklak's Twin Otter. I expect there would be no difficulty in getting hardshells to Baker Lake, but better check.

3. Gjoa Haven exit:
Gjoa Haven can be reached from Chantrey Inlet by motorboat or by paddling.
Flights out of Gjoa Haven (information current in 2005): First Air does the only scheduled flights. The route map shows no direct flight to either Rankin Inlet or Iqaluit; the flight to Yellowknife ($844 as of early 2005, one way, adult) looks like the only one of interest to paddlers, unless you take the opportunity to see more of our north country and its communities. BTW, [McPheeters]' party was grounded by snow and ice in Gjoa Haven for five days.

(a) As with the Baker Lake exit, expect difficulty and expense in getting hardshells home.

(b) Route note: Chantrey Inlet is usually accessed by exiting Franklin Lake east toward Franklin Falls. Hans Baumgartner pointed out to me that his old 1:250k topo showed another branch of the Back (marked "Back River") flowing out of the north end of Franklin Lake; the distance from there to Chantrey is about 20 km. The recent 1:50k topo (66P1) shows no such branch however. But the route looks interesting nonetheless; it is shorter (I got 57 km, assuming that paddlers exiting from the mouth would go to the west side of Chantrey Inlet as early as possible) and only about 4 km of the 20 km requires portaging. Brian at / Forums / Nunavut Canoe Routes comments that the Japanese gentleman (Akitoshi Nishimura [Thelon]), who paddled solo in the barrenlands, went this way. The 2005 Back party of Levi Waldron and Drew Gulyas considered this sneak route but decided to carry on to the mouth; Levi says that they made the right decision, for Chantrey Inlet is "spectacular".

(c) Route note: Another shortcut: Exit Franklin Lake to the east, but don't turn south-east toward the falls; instead, paddle north into the bay. From there you can get to Tariunnuaq Bay with what looks like at most 5 km of portaging. This route is about 30 km shorter than going to the mouth. I haven't heard of anyone going this way, likely for good reason (it has no real advantage over the others).
The exchange of posts on this topic is at

(d) Motorboat pickup from Chantrey Inlet (or Ogle Point): If I were to paddle the Back again (I won’t), I would look into this possibility.
Contacts suggested by Ted Mellenthin and Emily Stirr (of Camp Manito-wish YWCA in Madison Wisconsin) are
George Konana (#105 Box 165, Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, X0B 1J0) and
Charlie Cahill ( , replace # by @) respectively.
The Gjoa Haven Co-Op (867 360 7271) can help with pickup logistics; rumour says that the Co-Op cashes cheques (check first) and has an ATM [Gulyas].
But motorboats can be delayed or even stopped cold by storms and ice. The one hired by [Templeman]'s party couldn't get through and they had to charter a float plane from Yellowknife.
The [Gulyas]-[Waldron] party was windbound for 6 straight days on an island near the mouth, spent 2 days getting to Montreal Island and had to wait 6 more days for the ice to clear before getting picked up on 16 August.
Those with Pakboats might consider carrying a satellite phone and the phone numbers of Boris and Aklak.

(e) Paddle to Gjoa Haven: This has been done but can't be recommended. Apart from saving money and having the thrill of a near-death experience, this option offers the chance to visit Franklin sites like Montreal Island. [Anderson], [Back], [Simpson] (all of whom had boats much larger than ours), and [Cundy] describe the conditions to be expected out there in the open. Survival questions aside, you can easily be stopped for days by wind or ice.
Both the [Coleman] and [McPheeters] parties tried to paddle over but got windbound (the latter for 10 days) and had to phone Gjoa Haven for a pickup.

(f) Gjoa Haven via the Kaleet River and Sherman Basin: David [DeMello] and his wife Juanita travelled from Lower MacDougall Lake to Barrow Inlet via Joe Lake, the Kaleet River, Sherman Basin, Weir Creek and the Squirrel River. I don't know whether they paddled over to Gjoa Haven or were picked up by motorboat (it's over 15 km from Richardson Point at the west end of Barrow Inlet to the south coast of King William Island).
Summary: Another strong candidate for the hair-shirt award. Silty water and lots of dragging.

4. Western River exit:
In 1986, the Pritchetts headed up the unnamed river that flows into the west end of Beechey Lake (my 1:250k topo has the notation "Winter Water Reach", for some reason I'm sure), portaged over the height of land and descended the Western to Bathurst Inlet. [Hodgins-Hoyle]. I assume that they paddled over to the lodge.
BTW, the Western River was named Back's River by Franklin and is called such in Back's journal. Likely it was renamed the Western when the Great Fish River (Back used Thlew-ee-choh) became the Back, but why “Western”?

5. Ellice River exit (and Hiutkitat River exit):

1972 [Hodgins-Hoyle]: John Lentz, Bob Schaefer, Bob Goulding and Lewis B. descended the Baillie, continued down the Back River for part of a day, then continued up an unnamed creek for three days of up-hill struggle, portaged across the height of land to the headwaters of the Ellice River and followed it to the waters of Queen Maud Gulf. The creek might be the one that enters the Back 5 km downstream from the Baillie (76H2 213/267), or less likely the one that enters 14 km farther downstream (76H1 325/282). I don’t know how they got out. EDIT: Otter Mel kindly asked Bob Schaefer about the exit. Bob's full reply is given in Mel's post below but I figure I can say here that they flew out to Cambridge Bay.

1979 The Baillie-Back-Ellice route was travelled by the Pritchetts [Hodgins-Hoyle]. Again I don’t know how they got out.

1982 Friends of Steve Grant [Thread Back River: short route to Chantrey Inlet? viewtopic.php?f=13&t=14048 portaged from the Back and descended the Ellice to the ocean. They paddled over to Cambridge Bay, nearly perishing en route.

1986 The Dannert group turned north after Beechey Cascades, reached the west branch of the Ellice and paddled to the ocean [Hodgins-Hoyle]. I don’t know how they got out.

1987 The Pritchetts paddled down the Ellice, portaged over to the Hiukitat and followed it to Bathurst Inlet [Hodgins-Hoyle]. I assume they paddled over to the lodge.

2005 The thread Baillie/Ellice route summer 05 viewtopic.php?f=13&t=14614 has contributions from markrhamlin and david demello.
Hamlin's group (2005) started near Healey Lake, reached the Baillie and paddled 5 miles on the Back before turning north toward the Ellice; they were picked up at Queen Maud Gulf. Even with a very early start, they still dragged a lot at the top of the Ellice.
Both Hamlin and DeMello refer to earlier trips, especially that of Jim Abel (1979).

2007 In the thread Ellice River viewtopic.php?f=13&t=24868 , Doug Flint says that he was picked up at the mouth by float plane from Yellowknife.

My conclusion: The Ellice exit from the Back, and the Ellice itself for that matter, is a strong candidate for the hair-shirt award, whether you start early (drag over and through ice) or late (walk for days, and with silty water).
Not to my taste!


A literal mind is a little mind. If it's not worth doing to excess, it's not worth doing at all. Good enough isn't.  None are so blind as those who choose not to see. (AJ)

 Post subject: Re: TR:Back River, 2005
PostPosted: October 28th, 2008, 5:18 pm 
User avatar

Joined: October 18th, 2006, 9:39 am
Posts: 334
Location: Vermont
Wow! What a river.



 Post subject: Re: TR:Back River, 2005
PostPosted: October 28th, 2008, 10:59 pm 
User avatar

Joined: July 17th, 2002, 7:00 pm
Posts: 1591
Location: Toronto, Ontario Canada
If it makes any difference now, I could ask Bob Schaefer (hopefully he would remember) how they got out in 1972 from the Ellice R. variant.

When a new source of taxation is found it never means, in practice, that the old source is abandoned. It merely means that the politicians have two ways of milking the taxpayer where they had one before.
H. L. Mencken

 Post subject: Re: TR:Back River, 2005
PostPosted: October 29th, 2008, 7:35 am 

Joined: January 22nd, 2005, 12:16 pm
Posts: 3930
Location: Toronto
Hi Mel:
Yes, please ask.
In the editing / deleting posts thread, I offered to help members get past the 10-minute time limit and so I consider that I may edit my own posts, at least those posts of benefit to the members.
More stuff on the way: gear, charter flights, boats & addenda.
Regards and thanks, Allan


A literal mind is a little mind. If it's not worth doing to excess, it's not worth doing at all. Good enough isn't.  None are so blind as those who choose not to see. (AJ)

 Post subject: Re: TR:Back River, 2005
PostPosted: October 29th, 2008, 11:45 am 
User avatar

Joined: July 17th, 2002, 7:00 pm
Posts: 1591
Location: Toronto, Ontario Canada
OK, I'll ask when he gets back (he is on vacation until Nov.13.2008.)

When a new source of taxation is found it never means, in practice, that the old source is abandoned. It merely means that the politicians have two ways of milking the taxpayer where they had one before.
H. L. Mencken

 Post subject: Re: TR:Back River, 2005
PostPosted: October 29th, 2008, 12:47 pm 

Joined: January 11th, 2005, 4:58 pm
Posts: 1726
Location: Manitoba
Regrets that the report is so disorganized but I don’t have the time/interest/energy to put things together better.

If only more people had the time/interest/energy that you have already demonstrated by posting your Trip Report. Thanks.



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