Lynx Lake to Whale Cove by Thelon, Dubawnt, Nowleye, Kazan, Ferguson, and Wilson Rivers

CanadaNorthwest TerritoriesHudson
CanadaNunavutHudson
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Brian Johnston
Trip Date : 
2012
Route Author: 
Brian Johnston
Additional Route Information
Distance: 
1000 km
Duration: 
50 days
Loop Trip: 
No
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
0
Total Portage Distance: 
0 m
Longest Portage: 
0 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Advanced
Lake Travel: 
Advanced
Portaging: 
Difficult
Remoteness: 
Advanced
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Unknown
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 

Commerical flights and air charter to Lynx Lake. 

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

East to the Bay—Six Rivers, Six Big Lakes, and Over 600 miles by Canoe 

Across the Sub Arctic, Lynx Lake to Hudson Bay by Six Rivers. Approx. 1000 km in 50 days. The year was 2012. 

The first part included 6 miles of portaging and the second section offered the same, another 6 miles of portaging. Together, the 12 miles of portaging resulted in 60 miles of walking! 

The Six Rivers; Thelon, Dubawnt, Nowleye, Kazan, Ferguson, and Wilson.

But also Six Big Lakes; Carey, Kamilukuak, Nowleye, Angikuni, Yathyed, and Kaminuriak.

For several years, I had been thinking about a trip in the Ferguson River area and this was it. Not one to sit idle, my wanderlust characteristic welded with the reality of the trip—for we started our journey far from the Ferguson River and found ourselves travelling slow into winds and over bushy divides. More than once, my optimism was cast past doubtful ears.

Our trip was a unique trip, encompassing several big rivers as well as some almost unknown gems—the Ferguson and Wilson Rivers. The route was steeped in the history of Tyrrell's epic journeys and followed the edge or dividing line of the subarctic and the barren lands.

If recreational arctic canoe travel is commonplace, our route was not. Little route information was known and there was still uncertainty and guesswork—adventurous!

Several other canoe parties have done similar but different routes. We had signed on for several heights of land crossings. The unnamed smaller lakes and ponds over the divides make it difficult to search published routes. 

A challenging route—we used Google Earth to see waterways but we were unable to canoe some sections. Usually the watercourses were peppered with more rocks than water. The challenging nature of our route and the realities of far north travel on the land reminded me of a statement I once read. The nature of a far north canoe route are “…just part of the daily allotment of minor inconveniences and miseries that seem to help me retain a healthy and humble perspective on life.” p. 91 How to Shit in the Woods, 3rd Edition: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art by Kathleen Meyer.

We used mytopo.com to secure topographical maps, which worked well. Although there were a couple of places were the only maps available were old maps from the 1950s and they were not accurate.

Our journey was a physical challenging route coupled with northern travel (the good—plentiful daylight; the bad—windy).

Long trips can be very simple, float down a river. Our trip was nothing like that. Rather it was a logistically involved canoe trip, with different starting and ending locations as well as partial crew change from yet another locale. It ended in a hamlet that seldom sees canoe parties. Unknowns awaited us such as what to do with our canoes at the end. 

We were a diverse crew; female and male, Canadian and American, first time north to 20th time north, diabetic, epileptic, gluten free, vegetarian, coffee addicts, tea drinkers, oatmeal fans, granola crunchers, and so on. 

dehydrating salads

dehydrating salads

food packing for 50 days

rum ration 

We were a joint Canadian American crew hailing from three provinces and three states. Most of the crewmembers were experienced and could have led the trip. We had to find common ground among our varied and different tripping styles and experiences to pull off a successful expedition. For a 50-day trip of over a 1000 kilometres, there are many (in fact an inordinate number of) decisions to make and a group consensus was our goal no matter how tired or sore, sun baked and burnt, or wet and breathless having the wind knotted out of our chests or when chilled to the bone.  

Any group trip of strangers has the familiar debates—to paddle or not (weather/wind bound), where to camp, when to get up or rise, what to cook, when to stop for lunch, route decisions (vast lakes, open water crossing), portages (RL or RR), rapids (run, line, portage or any combination of thereof), how to portage (carry a load to the end or Voyageur staging style).

We had planned to have a couple of fish meals per menu rotation. Fish dinners included fish fry, fish chowder, and open fire baked whole fish. Fish was also enjoyed for breakfast. It is simple to say, we ate well. 

bannock

Although wildlife sightings did not occur often, when they did it was awe-inspiring. Caribou and muskoxen were the two highlights on Angikuni Lake that made the trip in terms of wildlife. The other exciting wildlife encounter was a wolverine. Otherwise, we only saw one wolf, one hare, and a couple of foxes. 

Our planned rate was 13 miles per day but from the beginning, we were late. First our plane was not ready—no floats. Once on the water, wind kept us moving slow and wind bound. I quickly read my books and our daily rate escalated to 18 miles per day. Another reason for our slow progress was the mostly poor portaging terrain, which we found out is common in divide country. There were also unadvertised portages and preliminary scouting and route finding that was time consuming due to the trees. In general, the rapids were runnable and several featured the common final rock apron. The big lakes were a mixed bag. Some were glass while others were a whipped up frenzy. No ice. The Kazan River held promise of fast current. 

scouting

We never had a layover day. In fact, we never had half a layover day. Weather bound, yes we were and more than once and sometimes for days at a time. Overall we experienced very good camping but bear in mind that my standards are low. We did have all the right gear. We kept our working groups fresh by tenting, paddling, and cooking with different people. The ending was bitter sweet. Whale Cove—very welcoming and helpful. True famous northern hospitality was afforded to us. 

Stolen Canoe. Before the trip happened we arranged for someone to check on our canoes stored at Air Tindi. Unfortunately, two of the three canoes were missing. An Air Tindi employee had taken one canoe and returned it. The other canoe never did surface, even after we made and posted “I’m lost” signs so we purchased a replacement canoe and arranged for shipping to Yellowknife.

The Trip. In the end, we had all the food packed into food packs as well as one bundle of paddles, gun case, bear fence, and so on. Today’s task is to get our food drop to SkyPro in Winnipeg, for shipment to Kasba Lake Lodge.

Wake up was early. At the airport just before 6 a.m. only to discover a very busy new terminal—it is the end of the school year and the start of summer travel for many families and students.

It took a minute to check-in. We each had three checked bags, all near 50 pounds. Of course, we paid extra baggage fees and moved all of our gear to oversized baggage. 

Next was the security line-up. There was some curiosity as to my carryon cheese package but otherwise uneventful—thankfully.

Flights to Calgary, then Edmonton, and finally Yellowknife. For supper we walked over to Bullocks for arctic char, fries, and salad and then finished the evening off with walk up to Pilots Mound. A quiet and peaceful beer at the B&B out back on the deck completed a fine day. 

The next day’s task was addressing the replacement canoe we bought and shipped to Yellowknife—deck installation and canoe outfitting including removing the plastic seats and replacing them with webbed wooden seats, which we had salvaged a few of years ago from a friend’s old canoe left damaged at Bathurst Inlet. Repositioning the seats and thwarts was also done. A lot of hands, too many at times. 

Before I had a chance to pack up, Arctic Sunwest called to state that they had plane issues and that our flight would be delayed. Later we learnt that the twin otter had not yet been switched over to floats! Our flight options progressed from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., to 2 p.m. the next day, to 3 a.m. the following morning! Days later, of course as time progressed the plan was changed. The current plan is to depart at 7 a.m.

We walk over to Arctic Sunwest with packs. The staff and operation appear to be on top of things. After approximately 2 hours we landed on Lynx Lake, on the East side where to pilot backed up to a sand bar. In no time, we unloaded and don on rainy gear while an arctic tern tried to attack us, hitting several of us on the head. It took us some time to find its nest and move our stuff away. We quickly packed up and paddled onward to give the tern even more territory.

landing site

In the afternoon, we paddled hard into the wind, often while it rained. We had several rest breaks. At one site, there was an old shed antler of a caribou. At another site, there was a tent ring, 15 feet in diameter. We also saw two muskoxen at some distance. Lots of birds, terns, sea gulls, sparrows, ducks, and so on.

Some current really helped us mentally and physically as the day worn on. The weather did not improve; it rained lightly most of the afternoon and evening. It was a team effort to put up the tarp for the first time. 10 p.m. and it is still raining. Saw a robin and a jaeger. There were blueberry and cranberries around. The land is damp and moist with the recent rains: squish.

It was still very windy and overcast. For 2 hours, we pulled extremely hard until we pulled over on a tiny island. After a coffee-flavoured Werthers, we departed and struggled against the howling wind to the rapid, which we run and scouted on the fly. We hugged the shoreline and continued to paddle hard into the wind, resting more often. At some point, we decided to get to the next rapid for lunch, which we did with great effort.

After lunch we put up tents, made camp, and did some reading. An Air Tindi Caravan passed overhead and returned shortly thereafter, we assume they dropped off a canoe party downstream of us. We found a lighter, a shell cardboard box, and a plastic shell holder on the hike, along with muskoxen tracks, wolf scat, hare droppings, sik sik skull, caribou droppings, and so on. The area is very pretty with sand, tundra, and few trees, which makes for great exploring. 

Our wind gauge was reading up to 22 mph. There were big breaking waves rolling towards us. Again, we are wind bound. Saw a bald eagle in the water. It swam before taking off. We also saw a sea gull rock nest. I can feel some heat on my face, wind burn and or sun burn. The odd mosquito and black fly are out.

seagull rock nest

Up, unfortunately to wind and rain. Several small floatplanes flew over us. We stayed in camp, reading and resting. Lunch under the tarp, which provided okay shelter, as the wind had clocked around from east to northeast.

With the help of our wind gauge, the wind had lessen to a maximum of 17 mph with an average of 9 mph, compared to yesterday's 22 mph to mid teens mph. Thus it was decided that we should break camp and go. Just before 2 p.m., we run the rapid, that we were camped at and headed out into a lake like environment. In no time, we were shedding clothes and rain gear. Then we were for the first time, looking for, and donning on bug gear.

The wide river was lake like. We stop and stretch. We lined and ran a rapid, with a small island at the top. Some bugs on the water. The wind continues to abate. One larger bird of prey. 

Close to 6 p.m., we ran a long and challenging rapid, RR. Then we camped RL across from the base of the rapid where two Norwegians had camped. They were paddling an Ally canoe with kayak paddles. It’s their first far north Canadian river trip. They caught a jack or northern pike for supper and then joined us in our bug tent. It was the first time for our bug tent. It was them we saw flying in earlier that day.

The river current helped propel us downstream and some cloud cover reduced the heat. We were still hot but it was much more bearable. In a couple of hours, we arrived at rapids, which we portaged RL and camped at the downstream end. It is a beautiful rapid. There are signs of others who used a fire pit. There are also two peregrine falcons. During supper we were all sweating again once the sun was out from behind the clouds.

river scenic

We departed some time around 8:30 a.m., running down some easy class I rapids RR. There was lots of current and easy CI all the way, until the Thelon River emptied into a wide river section where the Elk River joins. There was a bald eagle perched on a river rock. 

It was decided that we should hike up to Granite Falls, so we paddled up the Elk River a tiny bit before leaving the canoes and walking overland. Our route took about an hour, and the temperature on the land was okay, hot but bearable. On the return saw a sea gull nested on a river rock. Back on the river we floated and paddled until a lunch stop. It was hot: many hat plunges. Can you dunk your hat without missing a stroke?

Crossing Jim Lake started with a slight northern wind, just enough to keep the bugs down. About halfway across afternoon thunderclouds were thundering and one cell to the Southeast had active lightning. We followed the eastern shore. There was also rain falling to the Northeast. Smoke appeared and we could smell it in the air. We assume a lightning strike. The temperature fell and the wind increased, until we had finished crossing Jim Lake. It was good to be across the lake.

It was later afternoon and we had planned and hoped to get upstream to Mantic Lake, so upstream we ventured. We tracked RL for at least a couple of hours, arriving at Mantic Lake at 7 p.m., tired and overheating. Tracking up one side a river used one arm more than the other arm.

tracking upstream

The first point became camp, which has Inuit rocks, tipped up as well as several simple cairns. I found flaked quarts. We cooked a massive amount of fish, curry with lemon and dill. Rice, salty snack, rum, and ginger completed the meal. We all quickly washed our bodies and rinsed or washed clothes. It was still overly hot at 10:30 p.m. when we were all in our tents. If this heat continues, we will have to start swimming during the day!

We were up at 7 a.m. to a warm, clear, and still day and on the water at about 8:15 a.m., paddling up the last of the current into Mantic Lake proper. With favourable conditions, we glided across Mantic Lake to a known portage into a pond. After doing the hop of a carry, we had lunch on a nice knoll with few bugs.

We were in a little lake that I called cigar lake, based on the shape. Exiting cigar lake into Sid Lake required more work. First, we scouted around looking for a water route and settled on a water and land route. We dragged loaded canoes from narrow waterway to narrow waterway a couple of times and ended about a third of the way. Then we portaged. 

Once in the Mighty Sid Lake, we bathed on a sand beach. Walking in the cool sandy water was wonderful for my feet. The water in the shallows was warmed and not ice cold. 

Then we paddled a bit to get south and out from land before trying our hand at sailing. It was a great team effort to get and maintain sailing, which we did for some time although our progress and forward speed was slower than paddling. After a nice break and some chit chat we dropped the sail as the wind lessened and it was time to get closer to shore and make faster progress. 

As we canoed the lake, it became calmer and calmer. We stopped to stretch and saw a couple of muskoxen. At 8 p.m., we slide our canoes onto a gravel beach and called it camp. After supper, we spotted more than a dozen muskoxen so we watched and filmed, and photographed. Three calves. The main bull makes lots of loud noise. We were sitting and watching when the herd changed directions and approached us. What do we do? Do not move. Shortly thereafter, the herd moved passed us. It is after 11 p.m. and I am in the tent, tired. It was a great day and it is just starting to cool off. 

musk ox herd

It was another clear, still, and hot morning. We started paddling at about 9 a.m., bound to investigate the area we saw muskoxen yesterday. Sure enough, we watched a dozen prehistoric looking beasts grazing on fresh willow leaves. 

There was an upstream current from Sid Lake into Gravel Hill, followed by a five-mile open crossing, which was calm and hot. Near continuous hat dunking. We paused on the closest point where we fished without success although we could see fish surfacing. There were some lesser golden plovers on the point along with many common redpolls, and a ptarmigan. I know this because of the others. Around the point, we stopped at noon for lunch on a little gravel beach, where we swam.

paddling vast open water

In the afternoon, we tracked up the unnamed river, which was pool and drop. The seven rapids were passed on whatever side looked best. The area is well forested considering our latitude. We saw two moose. I swam off a mid stream river rock to lower my body temperature. Bald eagle sighting. At 4 p.m., there were rain and loud thunderclouds gaining on us but they continued to track more southeast than east, so we only experienced a few light raindrops. 

We swam and had a relaxing evening. Some went for swim number three just before calling it a night. At 10 p.m., we are baking in sauna like tent conditions.

We did a short paddle to the start of our first portage, where dragged mostly loaded canoes to the creek and tracked them upstream. The waterway was just wide enough and deep enough. The footing was solid right to the water so we could walk along the edge tugging and pulling the canoes. The result was okay. At some points, we used more people to hull the canoes past shallows and rocky sections. At other times, we portaged past willow thick sections. After a couple of hours, we were on the unnamed lake. 

The day was hot with a slight west wind, which gained velocity during the day. The sky was clear of clouds all day but there was a haze from morning to night and the smell of smoke in the air. By 4:30 p.m., we were done and looking for a swimming hole and campsite, along the most promising western shoreline. We camped high up at a great site, swam in the colder water. At 9 p.m., we are in the tent after a sociable evening. The wind is dying and we are sweating in the tent! Today was a big day—the height of land portage.

The cooks erected the bug tent and cooked a double batch of pancakes and coffee. It was warm, hazy, with smoke in the air and a very light breeze, which was clocking around from south, to west, to north, to east. Left camp about 9 a.m. or so, and headed to the creek connection, which turned out to be chalked full of boulders with minimum downstream flow. We regrouped and decided to retreat. Instead of the creek, we portaged over floating land and through bush for a short distance before breaking out on to open tundra. Again, at the other end, there was bush and a floating shoreline, although less of it. 

The Google earth images are great in that they show the open and forested area better or differently compared to the topographical maps. Unfortunately, the images also gave us the impression of water passages that were not suitable for canoeing or floating a loaded canoe.

satellite images

At 4:30 p.m., we started to paddle. Some very light rain fell. Thunder could be heard. This area has very poor camping opportunities, like yesterday. Many trees around. Also low land and with the higher water levels, the shorelines have water into the dwarf birch, which makes for awkward entering and exiting. After finding nothing to camp on, we camped on river left after 6 p.m. We bird bath because the shoreline area was not deep enough to swim—surprisingly the water was warm enough! 

It was the same environmental conditions; hot and still. Saw a bull moose. To exit from the lake we did a very short carry into a little pond. It took a minute to find the best place. The shoreline was well treed for a short distance inland. At the other end, we portaged over tundra skirting some trees. It is good to be back on more tundra. After paddling the lake, we had lunch and then scouted the last portage into Carey Lake. Again, we skirted the forest and walked on the open tundra until the final drop into the lake through the forest. 

Again, we saw a moose, this time a cow moose on the island. It walked and swam to shore. We camped on an island just shy of the main land, not wanting to put all our eggs in the same basket. If we crossed to the main land and the camping was poor, then what. I swam, full body swim. The water was surprisingly warm for a big lake. Some groups have found ice on Carey Lake.

I ventured out in the early morning to check on the canoes, as the wind was fierce and the rain had been pouring out of the sky. Later we were all up to secure our tents with rocks, extra pegs, and guidelines. The wind was howling out of the East, we were going nowhere. We were also camped on an island that offered little in terms of wind bound activities. It was windier, rainy, and colder. The moisture, which hit us in the face when returning to our tents, stung like sleet. The wind is clocking slightly more north, slackening in speed (it was 36 mph), the cloud cove is high and moving south, there is even a little sun poking though. It is late. 

wind bound waves and tent

It was a cooler morning. Warm enough when paddling but cool, almost cold if standing around. From lunch, we used the lee of the islands to more towards J. B. Tyrrell Cairn of 1894 on the point across Carey Lake. We stopped on the Southeast side of the hillside and hiked up to view the vista and visit the cairn. Some had previously left notes. They were surprised at the deterioration of the notes so the group decided that we should take the notes and have them scanned and returned before they are not readable. We left our note stating such. 

After hiking, we continued eastward and portaged out of the Dubawnt River into an unnamed lake. Surprisingly we were able to use a tiny drainage creek to float our canoes for part of the portage. There was also an opportunity to sink deep in the mud.

At the first single blue line on the map, the marsh connection between lakes, we lined, dragged, and portaged the lower section. At the next link with the tiny tundra pond, we were actually able to paddle and do the one-foot push, one foot in the canoe. We did something similar at the end of the lake. 

Lunch was at a nice site, with a good breeze, no bugs. The second half of the lake was very shallow. The 'river' or 'creek' section we decided to try, instead of doing a more southern portage, was a lot of work. It started with a drag past and OVER rocks into a little pool. The rocks were more numerous and the water less so we portaged on RL, to the next pool. The final rapid was more of a rock-chocked channel, similar to the others rapids we had just dealt with, so again we portaged, this time RR. 

lack of water

We were now in a shallow lake with rocks abound. They were sharp edged. With the wind over the stern deck, it was difficult to manoeuvre and the final section or channel to the lake of islands was again a challenge—shallow with many rocks. Saw two bald eagles. 

Into the sun, we headed east, past the array of islands and bound for an east exit. There was current at the choke point. Then through a maze to the first rapid. The current and rapids sections were rocky and shallow. Surprisingly, we ran the six bar rapid. There were rocks but also more powerful current. Likewise, at the next five bar set. It was noon and time for lunch at a rapid, which was back to the previous style of shallow and rocky. We tried fishing without success. Saw one bald eagle.

The afternoon bought a slight headwind from the North. It was warm but not hot. Few bugs. The lake like section was slow going.The exit island rapid had more push and power with rocks. We caught a grayling, which almost got away, grabbing it in the air as it flipped flopped around. With effort, we were unable to catch another.

Camped. It is a great site, with an excellent view. Saw a whimbrel, and it reminded us of the 'Up' movie. It is wonderful to be back on more tundra. The over land route, over the divide, was a little too treed for all of us. Slow to scout portages. Slow to walk portages. Less open vista. 

We also named features today. Peanut Island. Mushroom Point, Cormorant Island, Casper point, our campsite. 

Bright eyed and bushy tailed we were up early. The concept was up early before the wind but there was already some wind on the tent as we packed up. We paddled east across the channel and then headed downstream with a SSE wind. The exit rapid was easy, not too much water nor too pushy.

The other day, at the end of the portage, we disturbed a wasp nest and heard the buzz and ran, ran quickly we sure did. The others commented on how fast we travelled when being pursued by a swarm. 

Once on Kamilukuak Lake we saw a fuel drum. Kamilukuak is an enormous lake compared to a being in a little canoe. We followed the shoreline around to the bay and then island hopped across, stopping for lunch and kite flying on an island before finishing the crossing. 

KAP before drones

The afternoon was spent inching our way along the shoreline, with a side or a stern wind. We fished successfully, catching several but only landing one trout. Supper, salad, fish, spuds, dessert, drink, salty snack, plus walnut date slice/cake. It would appear that despite our best effort, we are not going to make it to Angikuni Lake on time. 

We arrived at the isthmus and scouted the route to Nowleye Lake. Several caribou trails. I found one tent ring. The route was upstream. We had to wade some sections. In places, the willow and similar bushes were thick and it was much work to push and pull our canoes upstream through narrow passageways. 

high water upstream travel

The weather is windy, low ceiling, and drizzling. We felt the legendary influence of the massive Dubawnt Lake. Still windy, approximately 30 mph peak wind speed by our wind gauge but the weather is improving, less rain, higher clouds, and some brightness on the western horizon.

We set about organizing our gear for the crew change. We called Kasba Lake Lodge and they said the plane would depart. The plane arrived on time, a piston (rotary) beaver.

Up early and on the water. The cold wind had a strong bite to it. We paddled hard in spite of the big swells and a stiff breeze, which was slightly astern of our beam. No doubt, we were keen to get going after spending several nights in waiting. The vastness of the lake caused us to stop frequently at islands to rest and recover. It was like being a cork adrift at sea, bobbing along. All that wave action was trying. 

It was helpful to exist the lake and find current. We scouted the first larger rapid, which was an unpleasant experience due to the bugs and the water in the tall shoreline willows. These were some of the tallest and gnarliest willows I have walked, crawled, and twisted and turned through. We ran all the rapids after our prudent decision to scout first. 

The high ground was okay for camping, in fact much better than we had seen along the river. The hill also had Inuit tipped up rocks. One bald eagle. Our site is bad for black flies and mosquitoes.  We had a nice view of the river section with hills on river right. 

Again, the black flies and mosquitoes were in full force this morning, and stayed with us on the water for some time. We had a fresh and cool breeze from astern, which aided the bugs, and provided them a lee in our faces. There was current at the island and the last choke point.

bugs

Once on Angikuni Lake, the wind helped blow us along. In no time and less than a couple of kilometres we spotted a lone caribou in the distance. We paddled on. Then we noticed the land was alive with caribou! Once on shore we crouched down and proceeded to move toward the herd. We had an excellent viewing platform from where we watched and photographed the caribou for some time. Twice caribou came over the ridge to the East and joined the main mass. The central mass was rotating, clockwise with the main body staying stationary. At times, the rotation was counter clockwise or even rotating both directions. I only saw one calf, mostly males, and some females. We were all close enough to hear them.

caribou land coverage

Next, we put up the kite rig. The herd surprised us and proceeded to enter the water and swim close by. We got immersed in caribou to the point that had to switch from big camera lens to shoot from our point and shoot. We are not sure how many caribou were in the herd we saw but I counted several hundred on the ridge while the main mass was still intact elsewhere. Over 1000 would be a good estimate. 

KAP caribou crossing

Back on the water with the wind and waves until we stopped around noon for lunch on a nice shoreline shield rock, it was bug free. A couple kilometres later we saw muskoxen on the right side near the lake narrows, far off in the distance. We passed them and headed downstream before getting out. More hiking on the land to view. The herd was 22 strong—impressive, with three calves. You could see their lighter coloured backs, which reflect the hot summer sun—they are well suited to the colder seasons. 

After all the wildlife, it was time to paddle. We did not stop to investigate the inuksuit sites. The wind was very strong as well as gusty. I had a difficult time in the stern. After much work, we camped early, due to the increasing wind and overall a good day—almost 20 miles even with a couple of hours of the wildlife channel. Our site offers elevation and shield rock. The tenting is okay. The view is very nice. Most swam (cold water so bird bath style), washed clothes, and got things organized. I accidentally slipped in up to my knees after bathing with my dry boots and clothes on—oh well. It was an incredible day, the best wildlife in years. It is a cool wind, warm hats are out. 

Our first five miles was with a tailwind, following the shoreline. At the last island before our left turn there were caribou on land, which swam across to the small island. They then swam back to the mainland. We were close, and watched and photographed. Bulls, cows, and several calves. Once we rounded the point, we were in for a tough go of it—in to the wind. We paddled a lot more actual mileage due to following the shoreline, point-to-point, island to island, into the wind. It took a long time to warm up, with mostly clouds in the sky. We stopped for lunch on a shield rock island. The wind kept the bugs at bay. 

In the afternoon the clouds vanished and the temperature increased. I wore my light fleece all day, due to the coolness of the North wind. We rested on what we named pork chop island, which had a dozen fuel drums, a plywood floor, and a stack of 2” by 2” wooden stakes. On the far shore, there was a single drum visible, as well as a single muskox. Shortly thereafter, a single small caribou. We passed snow twice today far off in the distance. 

It was a very long day, in terms of effort. It is great to be at the end of Angikuni Lake. We all understand that we need to catch up and put some miles in the bank. We also saw some tent rings, gravesite, meat caches, and inuksuit as well as caribou near our tenting. No fish were biting tonight but there was a sik sik around. Bad bugs! Mostly black flies. Blueberries, cranberries, also crowberries, and cloudberries. 

cranberries

It was a nice morning, not as cold as the last couple. The wind was nil, the bugs ubiquitous! In fact, we had bugs on the water until 3 p.m.! It was a slow start to paddling, with the bugs and the sun shining off the water. The good news was we run all the rapids today without scouting. In general, they were easy—current, seldom a rock to avoid. 

bugs on the water

We saw one lone caribou. Lunch early on a rock, including coffee. Some fishing here and there. Several hat dippings due to the sun. We looked for a peregrine falcon nest, which two falcons were actively discouraging. There were numerous grayling surfacing all day. We catch a large lake trout (15 pound) at the first cascade. 

I hike around some ridges after supper for an hour, saw a bull caribou, and inuksuit, and tent ring. At times, I was armpit deep in willow, even over my head willows in sections. My little evening stroll turned out to be much more than expected. My meandering in search of easy trekking as well as my desire to avoid backtracking produced uncertainty. I was not lost but I was listening and looking for clues as to where I was and how I was going to find my way back to our camp. 

Overall an incredible day, lots of miles paddled, little wind, hot sun, cool wind, and bad bugs. 

We portage the three cascades. We had a little rain and it was cool and very windy. With no bugs and cool morning temperatures, it was wonderful to portage. We find a film camera at the second cascade, which when turned on worked. Therefore, we took several photographs including a group shot. Imagine the odds of finding lying full exposed to the tundra environment a working film camera in the year 2012! Once home, we found out who the camera belonged to.

At the last cascade, we had lunch and did some fishing. We catch and release a big fish but filleted another lake trout for supper. We saw a fat sik sik at the last cascade. For whatever reason we have not seen many sik siks this year.

All the rapids were runnable, although some were easy while others were much tougher. We run one rapid right through the big waves. The wave action was too big to keep it straight but things work out. One lone male caribou in camp tonight. We cooked up chowder soup, a huge pot, 16 cups, as well as fried fish, with lemon pepper, dill weed, and chives. It was a festive meal along with the salty snack, rum, and chocolate bar. I could hear sandhill cranes overnight.

bigger rapids

There was a little current to help us along, including some current rapids. The odd lone caribou and one muskox sighting challenged our northern vision. In the first 2 hours we did 10 miles. By then the wind had clocked around to the North, which made stern steering a bit of a pain—either continuous drawing or prying. The clouds had also rolled in. 

At same point, we put on rain gear. At one rapid, we did a little line RL after running the top section. That was at an island rapid. However, more interesting was the fact that the land was alive with caribou. The RR hillside was a mass with caribou, as in thousands. The weather conditions were overcast, windy, as well as rainy and that made for poor photos and watching. 

Shortly thereafter, we stopped for lunch RR, on a point, in the rain with fresh caribou droppings abound. Tarp, soup, and hot drinks. We spotted a wolverine but we were not fast enough to get at our cameras. While rolling and folding up the tarp and packing up our kitchen kit one could not help but get the soft fresh caribou droppings on gear and us.

Again, the odd caribou in the afternoon. We decided to camp. There was a break in the rain and cloud so we quickly erected tents before diving into them to wait out the rain shower. 

We made good time, paddling for about 2 hours during which we saw two lone caribou. The morning included a couple of rest breaks as the wind was tiring for the stern paddlers in terms of steering and tiring for bow paddlers in terms of energy. 

Closer to lunch we saw a lone muskoxen, a lone swan, an eagle, and a helicopter. We walked around an island that had a wolf den. Upon crossing the river to get to the lee side, we spotted two muskoxen. On the way back to our canoes I walked over to check out an inuksuit, which led us to other Inuit stone structures—kayak stand, food caches, gravesite, etc.

With about 12 miles in, we left our lunch spot and paddled with a cross wind, following the shoreline. On the last point, we stopped to rest in order to prepare us for the crossing to RR and around the point, to begin our lake travel southeastward. You could see the water survey cabin on the island to the North.

It was 40 minutes to the other side, in large waves. The wind picked up when we were almost across. Even so being broadside to the wave was okay. After rounding the headland, we regrouped and rested. We proceeded to follow the shoreline in the lee with a tailwind for a couple of kilometre before camping. There were on and off again showers. Rainbows. A herd of muskoxen greeted us while we tented. 

Bound for Whale Cove! Not abandoning our originally plan to escape and continue down the mighty Kazan. Few have traveled this overland route to the bay. 

After lunch, we continued past Windy Point and stopped at the last point. The wind had freshened and we agreed that we should not proceed to island hop and continue to begin a crossing. It was not the best place to be wind bound but it was what it is. Thus, wind bound at 2 p.m. 

For hours we walked around, read, slept, solar charged, and cooked supper from sometime after 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. I found a muskox skull. It had beautiful horn tips and grass growing through its eye sockets. At 8:30 p.m., we noticed the wind was slowing dropping in speed and the mosquitoes were out. At 9 p.m., we were back on the water paddling the most direct route about 10 kilometres across, with a slight tailwind. All went well.

paddling late moon

Once across we stopped around the corner or headland and found several old tent rings and a leg trap. The moon was up; the sun was down. We wished to continue due to the calm lake conditions and we all agreed to paddle on. It become dark, not pitch black but dark enough. The horizon light was astern. The moon to our beam became clouded over as dark clouds rolled in from the West. 

paddling late near dark

We watched mostly green northern lights dance in the sky ahead of us. Mostly light green, almost cloud colour. A few mosquitoes continued to stay with us. It was not cold. After supper, I had switched to a toque instead of my sun hat but otherwise added no extra clothes. It was so quiet last night on the water, no wolves howling, no birds, and no sandhill cranes.

darkness and people

Into small wave action and a slight cross wind we ventured, first following the shoreline before crossing to the group of islands in Tyrrell Arm. One lone small caribou. Lunch was just before Weasel Point. Many caribou bones and trails abound. Even a hunting blind. At Weasel Point, there were at least a dozen fuel drums to be seen that we did not investigate. 

By 4 p.m., we were deep into the Tyrrell Arm bay and portaging into an unnamed lake (elevation 142). The creek was not passable. The land was okay for walking, not great but not terrible. Some dwarf birch and hummocks. Even where there were caribou trails crossing. Unfortunately, our route was perpendicular to their trails, which made for slow and careful foot or boot placement. Wolf tracks as well. Caribou hair along the high water mark. Again, lot of bones in the area. 

On the lake, we fished and caught one lake trout, which broke the snap and took the lure just when it landed. We camped after 6 p.m. on an excellent sand beach with tents rings and several old metal objects—lantern top, thermos bottom, tin, and so on. Two sandhill cranes on above us on the hill ridge, continuously calling. 

Out of the wind and in the tent, it is warm. The cool weather was great for today's portage. I layered down and did not break a sweat. Now, after paddling, fishing, and making camp, I am cold enough that I need to seek shelter and warm up. Time to celebrate our beginning height of land crossing. I hiked up to the hill, to see the start of our route. One small inuksuk. We pulled in a lake trout that we filleted it for breakfast. 

It is an awesome site. Nice small gravel beach, tent rings, and old rusty metal stuff from the 1930s. It feels intimate. Almost no wind and no bugs. Cool but there is a warm glow in the westward sky. Two loons are calling and can be seen on the water. The sandhill cranes are quiet. Birdbath, the water is cold. The days are colder and shorter. 

End of Section I

Start of Section II

Today we also hope to cross over the divide from the Kazan watershed to the Ferguson watercourse. We are never in a rush to start portaging early, as we know that we will run out of steam before we run out of daylight. There were approximately 50 caribou on the opposite shoreline towards our direction of travel. 

It was 9 a.m. sharp when we started to paddle towards our first portage. It was an okay portage, and took about 2 hours. On the other side of the pond, we had lunch. There was a cold wind today. It was overcast most of the day. All day we saw caribou; in camp before we left, on the water before we portaged, and while portaging.

portaging packs

The second portage, we started at 1 p.m. and again it took a couple of hours to complete. From 3 to 5 p.m. we completed our third and final portage for the day and camped on some high ground, which is in fact, half way across the fourth portage. All day the caribou trails were in a north-south direction whereas our route is a west-east direction. 

Wolf tracks. The caribou walked between our gear and us several times. Their trails are deep in the tundra, sometimes down to mud. I walked north to the rise and listened to sandhill cranes calling each other from both sides. Their calls were in stereo. 

We are all eating more. Supper tonight included a salty snack, salad, main course, and banana pudding. It was a great day, perfect temperature and wind conditions for portaging. No bugs. We are in good shape for tomorrow, about half way over the divide portage and almost at the top, mostly downhill. 

We left camp only to paddle across the silver dollar pond to start our 2-mile trek. The portage proceeded well. We lunched on top of a rise at about noon, and included hot drinks and soup. The temperature was in the 40 degree F with a fresh north breeze. No bugs until later afternoon, when the temperature rose a bit. Surprisingly, we finished carrying sometime after 4 p.m. and before my estimate 5 p.m. The camping at the portage end was not great so we paddled across the lake to a rock outcrop and camped before 5 p.m. Amazing, our height of land portage was done. 

A short light rain fell. Supper, salty snack with a double hot rum, followed by a rice, raison and apple salad, split pea soup, sweat potato and corn bread, topped off with hot drinks and chocolate with crystallized ginger. The sky improved, even some sun. 

All day we saw caribou wander around, on several occasions walking between our gear and us. We also scared up several ptarmigans. The berries, which we have been sampling, are almost ready. Blueberries are the closest to being ripe. 

It was mostly sunny for the first time in several days. The air temperature and wind have remained the same for some time—cool temperatures with a fresh cold north wind. 

Before leaving camp, we have a target practice session. There was yet another trapper’s leg trap, in the rocks near our camp. Again a small foot trap, most likely for fox or a similar sized animal. 

We headed off into a stiff head wind. We are six lakes high of Ferguson Lake and completed one portage down to the next lake before we had lunch. For lunch, we did not heat up water for hot drinks, which had become our new norm with the colder temperatures.

We are camped on a small gravel beach like area, tenting and cooking at the water's edge. Listening to waves lap softly at the shoreline and sandhill cranes off in the distance calling. All day we witnessed caribou on and off, in the water and on land. Not large numbers but the odd one or small groups were around all day, even close to our camp. Additionally, caribou hair and trails were a common sight, as were muddy trails thick with tracks including a wolf print. Furthermore, on occasion, the smells of a barnyard impregnated our noses. At the portage, again we found signs of trapping—a leg trap and spent casings (30-30, 308, 25-35, and so on). 

caribou canoe

No wind, so the coldness was not noticed but rather seen—ice or a heavy frost on the bug tent dry bag. Blue skies, the first time in days. In fact, at 7 a.m. when we left it was warm in the sun. Shortly after we started paddling, we were down to a shirt and wind shirt—no light fleece. 

One caribou. Compared to the last several days, where the caribou were skirting the big lake, we are seeing less and less of them. The first river connection to the next lake, 135, was too shallow and filled with rocks. We waded and dragged our canoes. That included getting a booter (water over the top of our boot) because the river bottom rocks were very slippery. Being in the upper river reaches means little water, especially in August. 

more rocks than water

At the base of the rapids, we fished. In the end, we kept three fish for supper—all lake trout. There was a little snow to the East at the base of a hill. The next set of rapids down to lake 131 was much better. Still shallow but we did not have to wade and drag most of it. 

Lunch was at an excellent site, which would have made a nice campsite, on the point on lake 131, at about noon. We pushed off and into the unknown, a single river blue line chocked full of rapids. It was a beautiful section, with steep walls, scenic bedrock outcrops, and runnable rapids. Just enough water. 

On lake 124, we paddled into the wind and found a tent ring on the tiny northwest point before the river section. Even though the river connecting to lake 116 indicated no rapids, it was full of shallow rapids. The Southeast part of lake 116 had what appeared to be good sand tundra camping. We canoed across into the wind but the waves were small and without whitecaps. At times, the wind was down, at other times it gusted forcefully. 

Another shallow river section led down into Ferguson Lake. Wow, to be on Ferguson Lake after so much work. We camped on an east point. Some wooden stakes around, I assume from the lodge, which is visible off in the distance. Today was a great day on the water. The weather was near ideal, slight wind, few bugs on the water, mostly sunny, cool temperatures. I used SPF 50 suntan lotion and my sun gloves today. 

Ferguson Lake Lodge. The lodge site on the map was the old site, with little remains left. Some signs of old foundations, fuel tanks, one small building, and a couple of old freighter canoes, and the like. The new lodge was on the island near by. Again, it was in not active and typical of the North, trashed. It appears a mining operation had been using it. Complete with a runway. We could also see the exploration camp to the West as well so there are at least a couple of wheeled plane landing options on Ferguson Lake. 

Two sandhill cranes joined us while we explored the lodge area as well as a hare—our first such sighting. We visited an old trappers cabin site, and then some possible Inuit stone graves.

It was a clear and hot day with a slight west wind. After lunch, the tailwind meant no relative wind. I was hot. Hat dunking several times. Signs of Inuit tipped up stones today. We visited one site, which had tent rings, and kayak stands. 

The river has been kind to us. Although the water levels are low, much lower than the high water on the Kazan system, we ran all the rapids today without the need to get out and push off rocks. A helicopter passed us in the afternoon. 

It was slightly before 4 p.m. when we camped above a sand beach. We all bathed before supper. I fried up three fish and cooked one on an open fire. Many black flies. A windless evening. Clouds to the West. Temperature was in the 80s degrees F. At 7 p.m., it was 82 degrees F. We still see the oversea jets in the sky. 

fish fry

It was a hot night. The evening temperature finally started to drop once a light breeze blew through the tent. I never did zip up the sleeping bag but sometime during the night I woke to the sound of rain, different but very similar to the sound of bugs on the tent, which is what we fell asleep listening to. I zipped up the tent doors. The rain had just ended when I exited the tent and started breakfast preparations. There was a lone caribou calf walking around our camp last night and this morning. 

I do not know when we left, because the bugs were fierce and it had again started to rain. Someone else said it was just after 7 a.m. It was calm so the bugs were with us as well as the rain. Rain suits with head nets! It was too buggy so for the first time on Day 36, I did not brush my teeth this morning. 

In no time, we ran down several miles of river, all easy going rapids and current. It was difficult to see with rain and head nets. The sound of sandhill cranes around. On lake 96, we paddled across without resting. It was a five-mile trek, which ended with a visit to an old cabin. The short river connection to Kaminuriak Lake was again current and rapids. Due to the rain and cloudy day, we lined a short rapid section so that the bow paddlers stated dry. 

Once on Kaminuriak Lake, we canoed along the shore for about 30 minutes before pulling ashore for lunch. It was still muggy and overcast but not raining. The bugs were out in full force so for the first time in 36 days we used the bug tent for lunch. We found an ideal table rock. Even with the tent up the bugs were a bit tiresome. 

The Northeast wind increased and when we left our lunch site, we paddled across the lake arm and followed the northern shore. It was more work canoeing into the wind. We stopped to rest and explore Inuit stone stuff. Of interest because it was unique were a couple of rows of parallel rock pairs set approximately 9” apart and covering 12’ long.

Again, we returned to the water and pulled forward into waves and wind until our next rest stop. It was early but we decided there was no need to push on given the conditions so camp was made. 

We set out to explore the ridges for Inuit stone stuff. One tall inuksuk with several massive tipped up rocks that formed a main structure with short arms spurred us on. Two sandhill cranes are nearby. Some Inuit stones, mostly tipped up rocks. Numerous caribou trails. Some more recent fuel drums and trash. The bugs were noisy while walking down wind but okay when walking into the wind. The sky is clearing a bit. 

The wind was from the Northeast, helping us. We rounded the headland on continued in the lee with a tailwind. At the larger island, we had to walk the canoes, as it was too shallow to paddle.

After lunch we hike over to Keith Sharpe's camp—no one was around. We left a note. Many ptarmigans on the walk, both rock (red eye patch) and willow. 

At the narrows, we fished and cleaned three fish. At the next narrows, we cleaned a fourth fish. Enough for a fish fry and fish chowder. The wind had increased. We started looking for a campsite. We settled for an okay tent and cook site with an outstanding Inuit site. Several large kayak stands (more than I have ever seen in one place and made with larger stones) and couple of large tent rings, as well as numerous tipped up rocks and a couple of excellent inuksuit. 

kayak stand river camp

It was a cooler evening with the wind. After the fabulous fish feed, we hiked around. I wore over pants, fleece and wind jacket and wind shirt, with a hat. We had a wonderful day. Ate blueberries and even ripe cloudberry. There are no bugs tonight, which is a nice change although they were with us a bit on the water because of the tailwind. The colder mornings keep them at bay for a bit.

With a tailwind and therefore bugs in our faces, we began our day on the water. After several kilometres, we came to a short river section with current and rapids—all runnable. Tipped up rocks and a couple of meat caches. We fished and caught grayling and trout. Victory Lake was next. Low lying land. We had lunch RL mostly across Victory Lake. We had to face the wind to eat due to the bugs. Again, there was current flowing out of Victory Lake and into O'Neil Lake. We camped RR on some low lands. Goose flats would be an appropriate name. All day the wind has been lessening so the bugs are surrounding us. 

We are fishing and catching several grayling. I am on for supper duty and I fear we will have too many fish. During the day, they saved three fish, that should be fine but I see three more!

fish image

I helicopter just passed by, low. The same helicopter passed by again, twice. The sound of sandhill cranes once again graced our evening. They were nearby, having landed within sight to the South. I also saw an eagle yesterday.

Last night a small floatplane circled us twice—flying high on both passes.

As it has happened so many times that we are getting tired of it, the helicopter passed by again. This time it tipped a bit.

With tailwind and some small wave action, we made quick work of O'Neil Lake. At one point on the peninsula, there were signs of an old trapper's cabin. Late morning we were on the next river section enjoying current. The wind had increased but with current and our direction, it was not that bothersome. 

Island rapid scouting and lunch was at the island rapid. RR was a large volume rapid—too powerful for us. After lunch and a handful of cloudberries, we ran RL of the island—an easy Class I route. The cloudberries and blueberries are ripe. You know all is well when you pick berries if your fingers and hand gets wet—ripe berries. Saw a bald eagle. 

As we approached the island swift upstream of the 70-metre contour, it was clear we needed to scout. We found a fast and swift RL channel that we ran down to an eddy for the final small falls like drop. From there, we portaged into the back bay of the 6 bar 70 metre rapids. Narrow and powerful. Some of it could be run and lined but it was faster and easier to portage. In addition, we were planning to camp at the same site so portaging was preferred to some complicated run-line combination. 

A couple of tent rings, a kayak stand, and fire pit. Berries to pick. Eddies to fish. I picked blueberries for the dessert. One peregrine falcon. Once again the helicopter passed, the second time it came in close and buzzed us—about time it took us seriously. 

blueberries

One caribou calf wondered by after supper. During the day, you could see the caribou hairline on the shoreline. The water has dropped. In fact, on the land the tundra ponds show signs of drying out. Throughout the river section, it was interesting. Lots of shield rock. Lots of tipped up rocks (people to the caribou). It was a great day. We camped after portaging but it was still early. Mostly it was sunny all day. The wind helped keep the temperature pleasant. Yesterday I was dunking my hat but not today. 

The past couple of weeks have been great weather. We have made mileage every day, mostly with tailwinds. 

At 7:50 a.m., we set sail, so to speak, into the river current. The first 10 miles of our day were river, before we emptied into a western arm of Quartzite Lake. The river is most wonderful to float down—scenic smooth shield. It is very pleasant to have some land elevation after the low laying land of the geese flats. Easier on the eyes as well as on the navigation. Many tipped up rocks. As often is the case, there are tipped up rocks marking the river route. 

All was easy going until the 60-metre contour line. We ran, lined, and portaged the RL side. One could have also done something similar on RR. At the bottom, we fished for our supper. In total, we kept five to fry for supper. We canoed briefly to find a lunch rock. Sandhill cranes were off to the West. It was a hot day. The rest of river was again outstanding for scenery. The last drop we lined RR. 

After a little more than 5 miles on the West arm of Quartzite Lake, we camped on an island. The heat and sun of the day had taken its toil. There happens to be a camp or small lodge nearby on the mainland point. The black flies are out in hordes, on the lee side.

black flies

We walk over to visit the other camp. I was surprised to find out the camp was on the main land but we were in luck, there was a stepping stone land bridge. Some mining camping is renting the camp. The camp is called Arctic Skies Outpost. 

Our low latitude means bugs in August. Less helicopter traffic today. The camp staff gave us an update by saying they have caught arctic char upstream at the rapids, there are seals in Snug Lake, and there was one polar bear in Whale Cove and Rankin this summer. 

We packed up and then slowly paddled around our island site to the lodge were we had been invited for breakfast—English muffin with eggs, ham, and cheese was at the ready. The coffee was enjoyed to the tune of three cups each. I, the no meat eater, enjoyed French toast. There was also toast and a dish of cherry crisp including whip cream (yes a dessert for breakfast).

It was about 8:30 a.m. when we left to start our day of canoeing. It was windless and hot. The sky was hazed on the horizon. I could smell smoke. We saw a fox. The dark clouds to the Southwest looked concerning. It was easy paddling without much wind. The bugs were surprisingly not bad on the water compared to while we packed up camp. 

The navigation was easy enough, even with all the islands. Some current helped guide us along, even though the two lakes were marked at the same elevation. In fact, a Class II/III rapid was unexpected but easy to navigate. 

Once on Snug Lake, we stopped for lunch. Just enough wind to keep the bugs at bay. Again, the afternoon was hot—hat dunking hot. The dark clouds moved on to the north of us, staying to our west. After running the rapids out of Snug Lake, we camped RR on a point. It was early, approximately 2 p.m. We are tented close so that we can try out the bear fence. The guns are loaded. 

All is well, as our daily mileage continues to shrink. At 5 p.m. to sun is poking out and the tent temperature is sweaty. Our bear fence is up and live. The two critter gitters (noise and light activated motion sensors) are active. 

Two loons today on the water and we could hear sandhill cranes. On this trip, we have heard cranes constantly. We found a wolf skull hiking as well as a couple tent rings and possible kayak stands. We collected and made cloudberry jam. We can hear the last rapid. It is also in sight. 

It is still hotter than we like, with no wind. Someone stated it was 90 degrees F in their tent at 6:00 pm. More dark clouds have appeared off in the distance. Down south, we would have a thunderstorm but up here, there is little moisture for such an event. 

It rained over night a couple of times. I cooked up oatmeal before the black flies became bad. Packing up and leaving camp was buggy, both black flies and mosquitoes. 

Loons could be heard today on a couple of occasions. Not forgetting to mention, the now every so common sandhill cranes. There was current on the lake around the islands. Not much current but you could see the water flowing. Lunch before noon. An ever so light wind kept the bugs at bay.

sandhill cranes

At the exit from Munro Lake, back into the Ferguson River, there were more islands and rocks than the map showed. In general, some of the swifts on the map have been full-on rapids. Case in point would be the said rapids where we ran, lined, and ran. It was much more than a swift. 

We camped RL at a long runnable rapid. I emptied dozens of dead black flies out of both shirtsleeves, the only time this trip! Once the overcast skies cleared after lunch is was hot in the sun. Still a little humid. 

After we set camp, we darted off hiking. Great views from the smooth shield rock ridges. There were dark clouds moving in fast so we put up the tundra tarp but it did not rain over supper. Strong winds today. 

camping tents & tarp

We cooked fish over a fire. We were at a good site to source wood because of the rapid. At the high water mark, deep into the boulders behind our tents, surprisingly there was a lot of wood and wood of size—large branches, not tiny twigs. With larger wood we were able to get a hot bed of coals instead of having to continually add small twigs, like the last fish baked on fire coals. We were very impressed and pleased at how well you can fire bake a large fish evenly. It was a tasty breakfast. 

fish fire

It was a good day. There were good elevations to watch, not low lying land. We were on the Ferguson River, with numerous islands and some current here and there. The marked swift rapid we scouted and surprisingly found it was all runnable. This was surprisingly because the drop was from 36 metres to 27 metres over less than one kilometre. 

That put us in Last Lake (Lost Lake on the next topographical map so we are unsure about which name is correct—later some local people confirmed it is called Last Lake). There we headed northward into a powerful wind. The wave size was okay for canoes but the wind velocity made progress slow. Lucky, we did not have far to go before we turned somewhat down wind. 

Next was a short series of portages. We carried out of Last Lake into an unnamed lake, call it Lake 28 due to its elevation. The first portage was into a small V shaped lake. Then we carried into Lake 28. The beginning had an inuksuk and Inuit stone structures—hunting blind, food caches, and so on. Caribou trails abound. We also saw some fuel drums not far away. This is the second pile of drums we passed today. The lower August water levels mean the shoreline put-in was rocky. 

In the middle of the V lake it was too rocky and shallow to paddle so we dragged and waded a short distance. The carry into Lake 28 was uneventful. It ended near some sik sik digging, which revealed seashells—signs that this area was once the Hudson Bay shoreline or sea bottom. We paused for our noon meal. Due to the wind, there were no bugs. Still mostly overcast skies but there is blue sky on the horizon that is ever so slowly moving our way. 

Our intention was to camp on Lake 28. The wind was up and the idea of paddling into it was okay. After half an hour, we started to see higher ground with camping potential. It took a couple of stops before we all agreed on a site. It was about 2 p.m. A short but good rain fell during our windy paddle. I had an upper body wash with no bugs and no sun and washed my shirt. It felt great and not that cold. Water temperature was 57 degrees F. After bathing the sun came out and warmed up the shelter although it’s still cool in the wind even with the sun. 

paddling rain

For days now, we have heard the scheduled aircraft flights overhead, servicing the coastal communities. 

Brrr, it is 8:30 p.m. and the temperature has dropped. Spaghetti with triple mouse dessert—two strawberries and one vanilla. The mouse had outstanding texture. Hot drinks followed. It was an open kitchen with wind and few bugs. The view was wonderful. Across the narrow lake were tall and steep rock hills. 

Bear fence up. The wind is still blowing but it seems to be a little more up and down with lulls and gusts. I brought with me a healthy black fly population when I crawled into the tent. I am not warm with four upper body layers and a fleece hat! The sun was behind a bank of clouds but it just passed below and is low near the hills to the West. Two sandhill cranes can be seen and heard off to the North. 

Time to read J. B. Tyrrell's account of his trip in the area. We have a copy of his Dubawnt Kazan and Ferguson Rivers report that we have been passing from person to person. It is my turn. I think I am the last person. Mr. Munro-Ferguson was with Tyrrell, i.e. Munro Lake and Ferguson River. The year was 1894. On August 30/31, they were at Yathkyed Lake and shortly thereafter hired five Inuit to help with the 12 portages, which took 5 days. From September 5 to 18, they traveled to Hudson Bay.

It was a very overcast sky morning with a fresh northwest wind. Temperatures in the 50s degree F. Shortly after 7:30 a.m. we were at the rock—a huge erratic—for photographs, complete with a bird nest, possibly a rough legged hawk. Also nearby, was an old komatik at the water’s edge. 

The lake narrows was dry so we portaged. On the lake, also named Lake 28, we stopped to rest at an island that was used as a temporary camp for most likely an Inuit family. Abound with garbage. The ice auger, winter mitts, and spark plugs led us to believe it was a spring camp, travelling by snow machine. 

The dark skies motivated us to move eastward. We were ahead of some serious rain. The right side of our path was still smooth shield rock whereas the left side was becoming typical tundra hills, with some sand features. We did in fact stay ahead of the rain clouds. 

Lunch was at the start of the narrow river section. The map indicated no rapids but the elevation drop between the adjoining lakes was 6 metres. We scouted our portaging options. Our best option was to carry past all of the rocks and ponds to the next lake—a long walk of almost 2 kilometres. 

The ground was excellent tundra, the best ground we have portaged over in weeks. Several lone caribou run around the hills and between us as we trotted. The skies continued to clear and after several hours of portaging led to blue skies. The wind stayed out of the Northwest and helped keep the bugs at bay. It was hot and sweaty work portaging but the temperature was a nice cool 54 degrees F. There was one lone swan in one of the ponds we portaged past. 

At 3:30 p.m., after three and a half hours of portaging, we pushed off into Maze Lake, part of the Wilson River system! The camping opportunities were excellent—sand covered tundra. Of course, we paddled for one hour before we camped in poorer but okay conditions on the H shaped Island. On Maze Lake, there were a couple of pairs of tundra swans. We saw a bald eagle and loons. 

Our H Island could be called Cloudberry Island. It was 54 degrees F, overcast, with a cold south wind. Unusual after days of west, north, or northwest winds. Into the wind, we canoed, hopping from point to point until we arrived at the Wilson River proper—what a pleasant surprise. The first rapid was an easy swift. The second rapid was a more powerful Class II. We continued to enjoy the narrow and current river with easy rapids. The drops were at times several feet. One rapid we lined and fished. Some fish were lost, others too small. We kept one. 

easy rapids

Once the river current ended our paddling also ended. It was too windy. We visited a cabin site with two small cabins. It was, in general, a very clean area compared to the usual cabin sites. Across the river we spent the afternoon, wind bound. We hiked, slept, and read. We saw several nests and the odd caribou. 

Earlier in the day, we saw an arctic fox, and then our first wolf. There were caribou around the wolf, running around. We also saw swans, loons, bald eagle, and sandhill cranes.

We all wore extra clothes, to fend off the cold wind. Sometime shortly after 6 p.m. we pushed off into the South wind. The wind had slackened a bit and we were able to make headway. 

At the end of a lake section, we stopped to visit with Louis Voley, from Whale Cove. He was born in Tavani (south of Whale Cove and Mistake Bay), which is now abandoned. He told us the tide distance from shore is not bad. And that there is a road from the last rapid to town. Unfortunately, Louis also mentioned that the weather forecast is not in our favour—strong southeast winds tomorrow. We saw several sik siks today, more of them in one day than the entire rest of the trip!

sik sik

It rained a little overnight. At 5:30 a.m. it was still raining lightly. By 7:30 a.m., the rain had increased. Shortly thereafter, the wind started to build and continued to gain strength. By 9 a.m., it was wet and windy. I am wearing long underwear bottoms for the first time in weeks. I am still in the tent but I get the feeling we are not going anywhere fast today. It would be helpful to finish off the last couple of kilometres to the river mouth. There might be locals from Whale Cove camped there. There is also a road to the hamlet from that location. Lastly, it would be the best place to assess the bay and take advantage of the high tide, if the weather and sea state was favourable. Time will tell. 

Some of the crew add additional guidelines to their tent. The howling wind is out of the North. Solidly overcast sky but you can see some cloud movement—a good sign. Time to read and rest. Some of the others dig out warm clothes.

It is 2:30 p.m. The rain ended. The wind is still strong, but the river is narrow, our distance short, and we can find a lee on the opposite bank—the northern shoreline—from the wind. Additionally, the wind is from the Northwest so it is not a head wind. The gusts are less often. Still white caps in the couple hundred metre wide river channel. We are packing up.

We paddled hard to keep the canoes pointed downwind and downriver. The river current helped us motor along in some places. There was the odd little rapid, shallow with rocks. Each canoed managed well, navigating the river in spite of the wind. It never did warm up, even with the sun (it stayed partly cloudy). Before the final rapid, we stopped to scout and I put on more clothes to fend off a chill. 

inukshuk river ww

After running the top of the last rapid, we eddied out and lined the last drop RL. From there, we only canoed a short distance before again eddying out to camp. Our site is up on the ridge, with a nice view. There are several cabins around in the distance. 

We tried fishing because someone almost caught an arctic char with their hands after eddying out—grabbed it and tossed it onto the canoe deck but it flip-flopped back into the water. Unfortunately, no one was able to catch any char, nor any other fish. 

Some of us walked over to meet Robert, one of four guys on the road crew who are staying in a cabin. He drove over in his half ton to greet us. We quizzed him similar to Louis, weather, tides, drinking water, camping, polar bears, and so on. He mentioned that school started already. That the beluga whales are late this year and that the caribou were only around for a very short time this year, not as long as other years. 

Our plan is to rise early and hope for calm winds. It is a cold night, our coldest so far. The odd caribou, calf or cow, was around today including in our camp this morning but no bulls around the last few days. To say nothing of, of course, more sandhill cranes today and tonight. Also a sik sik in our camp tonight. We filled our vast collection of Platypus bottles with water—in preparation for salt water paddling. 

Up early—hopefully sans wind and ample time to reach Whale Cove. We had a hot meal on a very chilly morning. It was 38 degrees F. A double round of hot drinks was a great way to hydrate on a cold morning. 

We started canoeing the finale rapid or current section. With current and an ebbing tide, we raced down and out to sea although the wind was enough to send a cold chill though our clothing. We made quick time, paddling hard and with current and a stern quarter wind. We paused about every hour for a break. In part to pee but also to warm up our cold feet. Most of us had on tons of clothing. While loading the canoe, I packed a pack into the canoe this morning and commented on how light it was. We are wearing it all! 

I moved the pack filled with Platypus water bottles to behind the rear seat to help keep the canoe pointed downwind. It much improved the canoe’s trim and steering control. We tried to hug the shoreline. At one point, we paddled against a strong running tide or current. At about 11:00 a.m. we stopped for lunch of hot soup and hot drinks. After lunch, we stayed inside a big island but had to wait for the tide to rise a bit to paddle onward. I slept. Some read. Other picked mussels. 

Once we arrived at the end of our bay like section, we portaged over the ocean floor instead of waiting for the tide to come in. Surprisingly, the wind did not increase in the afternoon but lessened a bit and before we knew it we were approaching the backside of Whale Cove. We were not on the beach long enough to pull up our canoes before community members arrived, all saying, “Welcome to Whale Cove.” The mayor (Percy Kabloona), the COA (Brock), the CO (Steve), the student RCMP, school kids, various works, elders, and so on all visited. This hamlet is very welcoming. 

We sold one canoe. Kids tried out paddles, throat sang, asked questions, and so on. 

The community open gym last night was noisy on two accounts. First, there was the sound of the activity—floor hockey. Then there was the loud music. Both are now foreign noises to us. Even after only one night back in civilianization, I am already yearning for the tundra.

open gym night

We got down to business of selecting photos for our school kid presentations. We spent quite a bit of time, selecting and ordering the images and fine tuning our work. In the end, we had PowerPoint presentations ready. 

After lunch, we presented three times. Elementary, middle years, and high school, from 1:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., with two of us presenting each session followed by questions. Many oohs and aahs. 

Most of us also walked around the community a bit. We did some canoe selling promotion, including a spot on the local radio. We purchased the odd item at the co-op. We found beluga whales and skulls along the shoreline. Some group gear was dried out. Some email was checked. Flights confirmed. Airport transportation organized. Airport pickup in Winnipeg confirmed. Many other similar logistics and business taken care of. 

All and all is was a good day. We feel that we have given back to the community, in particular the school. Thanks to the school, Debra the principle, Percy the mayor, Brock the COA, Steve the CO, the two RCMP members, and the hamlet in general. 

We all walked around with kids in tow. Some on bikes, some with slingshots, some peddling cravings, or mukluk boot crafts. There was another open gym night in the school. Not as noisy as last night and no air raid siren at 10 p.m. for the kids curfew. We walked up to the whale tail statue for our group photo. 

We learnt that the airport, similar to Chesterfield Inlet, had been built by the military 18 years ago. Before that planes landing on the bay (ice) at the community. 

The First Air check in person was out looking for us in the community in case we needed a ride (a nice gesture). Once in Rankin, there was a lot of activity with all the turbo prop planes landing before the jet. Then all the turbo prop flights leave before the jet. 

The jet flight home was mostly cargo, with seating for 34 and about two dozen passengers. The food, wine, and tea service was excellent. Again, we left late but with a tailwind arrived early in Winnipeg. 

portaging canoe and packs

In summary, even after years north, canoe tripping never gets old!

To quote a fellow trip mate, “I miss the tundra. It was a great trip. Great food, great wildlife, amazing fish meals, fun paddling, and good exercise everyday. I miss it all!”

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Post date: Thu, 01/27/2022 - 22:25

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Brian Great report!