|Canadian Canoe Routes
|Journal of Moffatt-party participant Lanouette. Post 2
|Page 1 of 1|
|Author:||Allan Jacobs [ March 2nd, 2018, 2:25 pm ]|
|Post subject:||Journal of Moffatt-party participant Lanouette. Post 2|
Journal of Moffatt-party participant Lanouette.
Post 2. 2 July to 16 July.
Copyright to all the following belongs to the Lanouette family.
Saturday, July 2. Camp #2. Black Lake; west shore, middle.
The power-boat we saw never got within hailing distance—but we could see that it was from Camp Grayling. We got back to Camp #1 pretty late—there was still a glow on the western horizon, however; enough for Bruce to be able to gut his fish—the mosquitos were out thicker than ever in the damp, still, cold air, and I wasted no time scrambling into the tent.
At breakfast the thermometer registered 47 degrees F. Despite this, George went for a dip in the lake. We finished eating, and by about 9:30 we had loaded our canoes. It was a tough job because a brisk wind had begun to whip up waves and because our loads were awkward and heavy. We could not see the sun at all because of the all-engulfing smoke from the east.
When Art and I set out, in our gray canoe, we realized that it was slightly bow heavy, but we didn’t do much about it because of the difficulty in shifting our equipment around. By the time we finally got rolling, we could see whitecaps frothing along the crests of the waves—the wind velocity had picked up quite a bit in the last half hour or so, and, as it was quartering off our starboard bow, steering became almost impossible.
By the time we had gone about a quarter of a mile up the coast, we were being slammed with the full effect of wind and wave. I was drenched with flying spray and every few minutes or so we would dig too deeply into a wave and ship water over the gunwale. Most of the water was coming in between myself and the bow thwart, and what little the spray had not soaked was soon taken care of by the waves. It is an eerie feeling to sit in the bow of a canoe in rough weather—I had the feeling that the rest of the craft, astern of where I sat, didn’t exist at all. The water looked deep and deadly, and most of my attention soon turned to keeping us from broadsiding the waves. We made very little headway, and, finally, when Art decided we had shipped enough water to make further progress risky, we did a quick turn and headed back to a small, sheltered cove a few yards west of the old campsite.
Once there, Art and mine, as well as Pete and George’s canoes, had to unloaded, hauled up on the thickly shrubbed shore, and bailed. With nothing to do until the wind died, we all occupied ourselves with drying our clothes and some of the food that had gotten wet.
The sun came out near noon and stayed out until mid-afternoon—but the wind didn’t let up a whit. By dinnertime it began to look as though we might have to spend another night at Camp #1, a prospect none of us relished because all the tents, etc. had been packed away, and so every few minutes one of us would walk around the point to see if the waves were diminishing. Finally, by about 6:30 there were only a few whitecaps, and by 7:30 the red and gray canoes had been re-loaded and we were under way. The water was still rough, and we all took in a little water, but at least we could make some headway. About a mile or so up the coast, we found shelter in the lee of a small island, and those of us who smoked did so, while the rest relaxed and waited to push onward.
The evening was again grey and unpleasantly colored. We had a fairly rough time in the open water between the small island and Fir Island, a large body of land near the northern shore of the lake. Once behind here, however, we had pretty smooth going. At one point, about 4 ½ miles up the coast from Camp #1, we passed some abandoned shacks—the remains of an old uranium mine we were told. These buildings are still in good shape—so-much-so, that the overflow of people from Camp Grayling are put up there.
At about 10:30 that night, we left the shelter of Fir Island and were once again on open water. There wasn’t much wind, but the momentum of the waves was still enough to cause uneasiness. At this time we were quite far out from shore and, at about eleven, we decided to put in at the nearest likely spot. As the light faded, we spotted a rock beach and headed for it before it got too dark to land safely. The waves were directly onshore, and, as soon as the canoe ground onto the rocks, I jumped into the surf and pulled it a few feet farther up on shore. All hell now broke loose—three-foot waves began breaking over the sterns of the heavily-laden canoes (500 pounds apiece). Everyone began shouting and bellowing orders and swearing. Art, fearing that the surf would carry us broadside, stayed in the stern and held the stern into the waves—our packs and boxes (in the grey canoe) were pretty damned heavy, and, besides, they had been crammed and jammed amidships and under seats, so they could not be easily budged. The more Art hollered for me to hurry, the slower I seemed to be able to move—the more I tried to wrestle with the packs, the tighter they seemed to jam. Meanwhile, wave after wave was pouring into the stern and the canoe was rapidly being swamped.
Finally, deciding to say to hell with staying dry, I galloped into the waves up to my knees and began unloading from the side—finally, Skip and Bruce, who had had better luck in unloading their canoe, ran over to help us. I strained the living crud out of my lower back—it was all I could do to keep the rest of my body erect.
Somehow, we managed to pile our supplies on the steep, rocky shore above the tiny beach, as well as our canoes. Inspection of our supplies subsequently showed that we had lost only one 5-lb bag of oatmeal. By some miracle, most of our gear was fairly dry—even the stuff that had been floating around in the bottom of the canoe before we hoisted it out of the water.
Soon it was midnight and Skip had a good fire blazing in a sheltered spot on the rocky cliff side—we had tea, pilot biscuits and cheese. Our tents were widely spread out that night, owing to the difficulty in finding level places large enough to hold a tent.
Art and I picked a beautiful spot on top of the cliff. We were sheltered by a few jack-pine and, when a nearly full moon finally broke through the thinning clouds, it glowed through the tops of tall trees below us, and glistened all silver on the lake—a stunning sight. The only thing that marred this spot were the millions of blackflies we damn near sucked into our lungs with every breath. We finally got to bed around 2:00 A.M.
Sunday, July 3. Camp #3. Chipman portage, south end.
Sunday dawned bright and clear. At around eight o’clock when we were enjoying breakfast, the surface of the lake was as calm and unsullied by ripples as a looking glass. We took our time loading the canoes and were ready to pull out at around 11:15. By then the sun kept ducking behind puffy cumulus clouds, and a very faint breeze began to blow. We paddled onward over the calm surface, stopping every hour or so to relax and have a smoke. We were heading in a north-easterly direction, along the shore of the lake heavily wooded with jack-pine. A couple of hours later we came to some bare rock grayish-red cliffs—Art estimated their height at around 300 feet. Having expected nothing but flat country by looking at maps, I was pleased to see the interesting relief in the countryside. Once, while stopped for a smoke, we heard a weird jungle-like bird call from somewhere in the hills behind the cliff. It sounded almost like the self-starter on a plane engine the way it wound up—about all we are sure of was that it was made by some animal, possibly a hawk or an eagle of some sort.
After more paddling we came to the mouth of Chipman River—we saw a couple of abandoned trapper’s cabins, but did not put in to inspect them, because the beginning of the portage trail was still more than a mile up the coast. We finally found the Black Lake end of the portage—the shores were heavily wooded with tall bushes, and the only indication that this was the trail, was a small rock cairn partially hidden by dense foliage. While still on the lake, Art filmed the red and green canoes. Also, to his disgust, Bruce saw that the sole of one of his L.L. Bean boots had unstitched and had come loose—he was mentally composing a scathing letter to L.L. Bean & Co. A few yards in back of the willowy shrubs rose a ridge about 20 feet in height, and, disappearing over this ridge, was the famous Chipman canoe portage, a trail long to be remembered and cursed by those who use it.
We ate our hardtack lunch right in the canoes as they lay grounded on the beach. The sun had come out and it was a rather warm day. After lunch, George followed the trail for some distance, to make sure it was the right one, and, at around four o’clock we were ready to take the first loads across its 2 ½ miles. Art carried the canoe, and I tumped a yellow box weighing about 80 lbs, and filled with sugar, pudding, and other foodstuffs. The load nearly broke my neck many times before I was through with it. The first part of the trail rose slowly through pine and jumbled rocks. It was hard following some parts of the trail because of all the rocks, and soon I was drenched with sweat, and my neck, back, and legs felt as though they were being slowly pulled apart. After this, the trail descended to a muskeg swamp—then, more ridges, more swamps, more ridges and much torture. The greatest concern of the day became how long before reaching the next place where a log or rock was big enough to allow one to rest. Many times I swore that each step would be the last. As soon as one stopped, he would be immediately covered by clouds of blackflies, mosquitos, deerflies, and “bulldog” horseflies. I spent most of my rest-stops dousing myself with bug repellents. I was strongly reminded of war pictures taken in New Guinea and the tropics—one swamp in particular was especially bastardly. There was so much water in it that lily pads were growing—one slip off the pathway of rotten and slimy small trees and you were in black, gooey water up to your knees. Naturally, lugging a none too steady tump load, I spent most of my time off the logs and in the sucking, clutching mud.
George, being fresh from the army, was by far the best packer. Next came Pete, who doesn’t smoke and who has spent much time hiking in the mountains; then came Skip, who is also an outdoorsman from way back, followed by Art. Bruce and I were probably the two lousiest packers ever to hit what J.B. Tyrrell calls the Wolverine Portage—we were also in the lousiest shape and did much puffing, stopping, and gasping for breaths of hot, humid air. We were all soon so bushed that we were glad for a chance to rest, even along the muddy, swampy trails, and, after awhile, we hardly even bothered to brush away the flies. Resting with a tump-load is fairly tricky. If you can’t find a place high enough to rest whatever you are carrying, you may not be able to get up again without someone to help you—and because we were all spread out along the trail, this might take quite some time. I, whose neck muscles had never been called on to support more than a hat, had one hell of a job keeping going. After awhile, I decided to bring the tump down around my neck and support the load with my shoulders and arms, but the weight of the box on the tump line nearly strangled me more than once. My feet were soaked with water most of the day, and the rest of me was soaked from sweat and bug repellent.
At last, about a quarter of a mile from the end of the portage, we came to a little brook, and this soon became my idea of heaven, even though the area was infested with bugs—the water was cold and tasted mighty good. From here on into a unnamed puddle-like lake, the trek was largely uphill. We passed several old Indian campgrounds and, at one point, we came upon traces of caribou fur and a magnificent set of horns bleached white in the sun. This trail has been used for centuries by the Indians—Tyrrell and his party used it during his exploratory trek in 1893, and, for the most part, except where the rocks are too abundant, or the swamps are too boggy, the path is well worn. The trail heads almost due north, and at the high end comes to a small pond with steep and heavily wooded sides.
It was getting late by the time Bruce and I reached this lake, and the two of us, plus Art, dragged our feet wearily back to camp. The others had gotten back in time to go swimming and dinner was almost ready. Our camp was situated on the ridge at the beginning of the portage in a small clearing. Art’s and my tent was pitched near the fire, and the others found sites farther back in the bush.
I could just barely move enough to chew the “glop” dinner, and within a couple of hours after eating, I sacked out. Each of us had made one trip that afternoon and we were not looking forward to the other three we would have to make before finishing with this part of the Chipman Portage—god damn its buggy, bloody existence!
Monday, July 4. Camp #3. Chipman portage, south end.
I was overjoyed to wake up hearing the patter of rain on the tent, signifying that we could rest at least for the morning. Soon it was raining fairly hard and the tent began to leak along the seams, sending driblets of water onto my already quasi-wet clothes. Dressing in the damp and cold was misery and no one was brimming with cheer and goodwill as we ate our oatmeal, although we were glad we could rest for the remainder of the morning. After breakfast Art and I went back into the tent—I had not slept well the night before because of extreme fatigue and the heat, and I was soon fast asleep. When I awoke, it was steaming hot inside the tent—the sun had come out and we were unprotected from its rays.
We ate lunch and, at around two o’clock, we loaded up for another trip. This time I figure I carried over about 100 lbs, but the going was a little easier, as the grub was in packsacks and a duffle bag, and shoulder straps made the sack much more stable than just the tump. In addition, the packsacks had their own built-in tump lines. My backbone was quite sore from yesterday’s trip, and today’s trudge through wet and steaming swampland and woods didn’t help matters at all. Art was tumping his 86 lb box of camera gear and even Bruce and I left him far behind. We arrived at the north end of the portage, tired and sweating as hard as ever, when lo and behold, George and Pete came walking by with their second load of the afternoon—I almost dropped in my tracks.
It was early enough for a swim as we started back to camp, and I was really looking forward to a swim, when we met up with Art, who was just halfway to the end of the trail—I decided to help him out—he really needed it. Back at camp, we were treated to a dinner of canned roast beef and dehydrated mashed potatoes. We all gorged—after, we sat around until I remembered that it was the fourth of July—Bruce, George, and I got our guns (George bought himself a .22 at Stony)—Bruce and I each fired 2 rounds at a point about a mile away, and then we fooled around with the .22, having target practice.
Tuesday, July 5. Camp #4; north end of 2.5 mile portage.
The day started out well enough, but soon a thick smoke had settled down from forest fires to the south and northeast.
I made another back breaker in the morning and the last one started at around four in the afternoon. By making two trips apiece, Art and I managed to lug the last of our equipment over.
Today I noticed that the back of my right hand is greatly swollen—although there is no pain or itching and the hand works as well as ever—must be some sort of insect bite. My feet have been damp or wet for almost three days now and a painful blister has developed on my right foot. Art’s feet were bleeding last night and he decided to wear wool, rather than nylon socks today. Bruce has a cold, as does Pete—Skip is over his—other than this there is an almost amazing lack of aches, pains, or strains. Toward the end of the last day, I found that I could do the trip with fewer “poop stops.”
As I got near the camp, which was up on a ridge in a rather mossy spot overlooking the little unnamed lake, I could smell smoke, and saw white cinders drifting to earth from the fires to the northeast. The sun was a blood-colored red disk at which one could look without blinking. Art and the rest of us began to wonder how dangerous a spot we were in, and we were rather uneasy until the wind fell off after dinner. The bugs were rather bad, especially down by the lake—but I threw my sweat-encrusted shirt, underwear, and socks into the drink to let them soak overnight. The campsite was not too great, but we didn’t much care.
Wednesday, July 6. Camp #5. Middle Chipman trail.
We got up fairly early (nine o’clock) and made ready to paddle the few hundred yards across the lake. It was a miserable job loading the canoes and hardly seemed worthwhile. The day was sunny, at least in the morning, and we paddled about 20 minutes—then we had to unload the canoes again (I getting my feet wet all over again) and make a 45 chain portage (1 chain=66 feet). Most of the portage was over flat ground and although it was damp and squishy in spots, it was not too bad. An esker near the end of this trail afforded the only appreciable rise in the landscape. On top of the esker we found a beautiful, small campsite, open except for a broad leafed tree or two. A brief shower during lunch hour at this site dampened us, but we were soon dry. By early afternoon we had carried all our supplies over and were ready to shove off once again.
Art and Skip have devised a stretcher-like device into which they load Art’s camera box and 10 gallons of gas (for cooking in case we run out of wood). He and Skip both carry this and look like Chinese peasants oozing down the trails.
This lake is quite beautiful and blue. It lies in a valley and reminds me of the Scottish lochs one sees in travelogues. The wooded hills running into it are steep and covered with dark green jack-pine—I would like to name this lake after someone I know, but I am in no position to do so at the moment, so I will keep the name to myself. As we were unloading the canoes for the 150-foot portage to the next lake it began to rain. Soon the moss covered rocks were almost suicidally slippery, and as I almost fell several times, my shouted curses could be heard for miles. Soon the trees and shrubs were drenched, and we were all soaking, damned cold and uncomfortable. We did find a passable campsite high on a hillside east of the lake, but the level spots for our tents were mossy and rather damp—we were also in a forest of fairly tall pine, larch and birch trees. We spent the night here—again there was a lot of caribou fur around.
Thursday, July 7. Camp #6. South Chipman Lake.
At long last we are on Chipman Lake and are through with our ill-remembered portage.
We got up around nine, loaded the canoes, paddled, unloaded, portaged, loaded, paddled, etc. over three more portages—most of these were manageably short; 21 chains, 2 chains, 17 chains, and 23 chains. Were we ever tickled to see the south end of Chipman Lake shining in the sun!
The day was windy and cold, but a bright sun allowed Art to get some movies in.
The final portage to Chipman was the worst, being over many fallen trees and the bottom of a dried up, rocky brook. Loading and unloading canoes to cross the small “puddles” enroute to Chipman proved to be the most back-breaking job of the day. Pete and George didn’t even bother to load or unload their red canoe for the last little lake—they just carried the whole loaded canoe right over to Chipman!
After a celebration supper of canned ham and mashed potatoes, I decided to scramble up a hill east of the campsite for the sheer fun of it. Climbing was easy, because footholds were cushioned by moss and muskeg. From the top of this hill, which is about 200 feet high, I could see the valley and one of the lakes from which we have come. We are in one of the south bays of Chipman Lake and its main body can barely be seen in the far distance. A lone jack-pine stands on top of this hill, and a small, grassy clearing circles the tree—it really makes for a fine view. I took some colored pictures, but I’m afraid they won’t show much depth. I also found a “chimney” cave on the slopes of this hill, almost in a line with the tree and our campsite (on a huge rock jutting out into the lake), and in the cave (which measures about four feet in diameter at the mouth) lies a floor made of ice. Art and rest of the guys came up and saw the cave afterwards. Tomorrow, if the sun is right, Art may take movies of us chopping ice to put in lemonade.
Most of the guys went back to camp shortly after, but I stayed up on the hill, thrashing through a thick growth of trees and clambered up a cliff that can be seen along the portage trail to camp. I came back to the campfire long after sunset, and George, Bruce, and I, and Art, stayed up until around one o’clock. It was colder than hell; a wind had come up and the temperature registered 47 degrees F. As Bruce and I were shivering with the cold, before going to bed, we saw the first stars (three or four) that I had seen so far this summer and a faint but grandiose display of northern lights—the sunsets are getting darker—they are blood-red now, instead of yellowish, as they were at Stony.
Friday, July 8. Camp #6.
Cold as hell during the night—I woke up a couple of times and burrowed deeper into the sleeping bag, trying to keep warm. Had a very long and involved dream involving Molly and a Model T Ford which was continually being chased by highway police—don’t remember much else, except that another guy was involved and I wasn’t too happy with him (or his model T), as he, too, was chasing Molly.
We had decided the previous night to stop here an extra day if the weather wasn’t too hot, so we could rest and so that Art could take movies of the cave. As it turned out, the day was raw and very windy and we had to stay whether we wanted to or not. I spent most of the morning in the tent, writing up last week’s events log.
The swelling in my right hand (which also spread to my lower arm the day before) has gone down in good shape, although, taking its place is a sore Achilles tendon in my right leg—hurts like the devil when I walk!
In the afternoon the sun kept coming in and out through cobble-stone shaped clouds, and I hobbled up a hill directly across (to the West) from the one on which I had found the cave. It was about 75 feet higher than the other hill and from its top I could see several fires on a hillside south of where we were (these were the fires that had worried us at the end of the 2 ½ mile portage). Coming down this hill—to the west—I found a little pond and saw many moose or caribou hoof prints along its boggy shore. I also scared up a spruce grouse—Art had chased one through camp in the morning and had startled the crud out of George, who was reading.
I got back in time for glop—it was still cold, but some of the wind had died out and we could see the edge of the front. When the clouds finally left, the sun was still fairly high in the sky, and Art, Skip, and I went back to the cave to make movies. I chopped out a good-sized piece of ice—when the ice cracked it slipped into water—I lifted the block out and plumbed the floor with Skip’s axe—no bottom.
At around eleven o’clock we sacked out. The air was perfectly calm and the surface of the lake was clear and still. Bruce’s thermometer registered 35 degrees F—damn cold—even the bugs had crawled off into the bush. The water was so warm—62 degree F—that it gave off fine, mysterious wisps of “steam.” This, plus the reddish-purple waning rays of the sun, combined to give a weird and very beautiful effect—I was reminded of the lake on which King Arthur’s body was taken when he died—in the distance rose three misty isles.
Saturday, July 9. Camp #7. North Chipman Lake.
The day dawned clear and sunny, if somewhat cool. We started off up Chipman at around 10:30 or eleven. This lake is very beautiful—there are many interesting cliffs and rounded hills sprinkled along its length and breadth. A couple of miles from camp, George and Pete found a cache on an island—one dark green canoe and a box, into which they didn’t look. We paddled most of the day—several times strong winds came up, but these gusts didn’t last long enough to build up any kind of waves.
At noon we stopped on a sandy little spit of land—while tromping around barefoot (I am trying to favor my tendon) I found part of what may be an old Indian scraper. It is made of quartz and very crude—I gave it to George, and Art has tagged it and put it in one of the specimen bags provided by the National Museum at Ottawa. The whole day was a very enjoyable paddle—many interesting roches moutonées and a jagged shoreline made the trip very interesting. Right now we are camped on a great little site right at the foot of a small but noisy white-water rapid—sounds like a falls—there is a pebbly beach and the water, which has been personally tested by George, is warm and good for swimming. To the east and about 500 feet away is a steep hill about 150 feet high. It is covered mostly with jack-pine, but in places, it is so steep that bare-rock cliffs are exposed. I climbed up on one of these ledges and got a great aerial view of the camp. I took a couple of pictures of the park-like grounds surrounding our camp and one of the lake valleys to the south. On the ledge from which I took the pictures, I found a piece of birch bark with some figures marked on it—we think it must be a topographer’s longitude and latitude marking.
Right now the sun has gone down behind the hill and it is getting cool. I had hoped to get a few minutes’ swimming time—but now I don’t know—maybe tomorrow morning (if I can get up early enough.) I was really famished tonight—four helpings of glop, tapioca pudding, and, from my own supplies, a quarter pound of cheese and a couple of large chunks of chocolate.
Art just left camp to go climb the hill—the rest of us are sitting around the camp fire, guzzling tea. And oh yes,--there are two man-made cairns on a couple of the exposed rocks of the rapids (which is only about 25 or 30 feet long).
Sunday, July 10. Camp #8. South Bompas Lake.
After writing up last night’s log, Art came back into camp from his hike up where I had taken pictures of the camp. He too had seen the birchbark, and, upon close inspection, found that it was not a topographer’s measurements, but a note written in Syllabic (an international Indian language devised by the missionaries) by our old “friend,” the one-eyed Indian, Fred Toussaint. Not being acquainted with this language, he could not decipher it.
The thermometer dropped into the middle forties, and, finally, when the coals of the camp fire were beginning to peter out, I crawled into our tent. I woke up feeling very stiff and lazy; a bad way to feel when there is a tough day’s grind ahead. We ate breakfast and finally got the show on the road at around eleven.
The day started off very beautiful, but a wind from the south soon turned it into another reddish-gray day. We drifted a quarter mile or so to the first of 2 portages (44 chains) and unloaded.
My Achilles tendon really bothered me and I swore and sweated while lugging our gear over an especially rocky portage. At times, while creeping painfully along the trail with 80 lbs. or so hanging from my head on a trump line, I could hear the sound of the rapids coming through the woods to the left. But I was in too foul a mood to enjoy the surroundings. On the first trip over, I got lost in a muskeg bog, and also managed to trip over a root. This really pissed me off and I hardly said another word to anyone for the rest of the morning.
I think I may have found an old Indian campsite on the first hill at the beginning of the portage—at least I found a couple of chips, one of which I gave to Art. I carried the last load over and had a hell of a time with it, as it was broken up into three parts—a packsack, a wooden box (which rested on top of the sack and bit into my neck), and a paddle and pole that kept getting in the way. It took me quite a while to get to the end of the portage, and by the time I finally made it, the others had finished lunch and were resting. As soon as I had eaten, we loaded and shoved off for the very short paddle to the next portage (we could see it in the not too distant distance). The second portage was only 12 chains long, and although it too was in places boggy and rocky, I was more in the swing of things by then and had a better time of it.
By the time we were loaded, around 6 o’clock, the lake was millpond smooth. This was Bompas Lake, and at first it was rather ugly and forbidding—however, as we paddled over the perfectly still waters, the smoke from above slowly began to settle down, creating a misty and romantic effect. The lake soon became more interesting, and we then stopped paddling very hard and just coasted off into the misty and mysterious distance. Bompas is about as long as Chipman—15 or so miles—we paddled lazily along and, at about the halfway point, we found a good campsite on a rocky point and pulled in for the night.
I was rather bushed and went to bed early.
Note – ever since leaving the Chipman portage the bug situation has not been too bad! We are, of course, still bitten by them, but I have not used any bug repellant since that time.
Bruce went out fishing in the canoe and caught a 7 pound, 28-inch lake trout. It was a beautiful fish and it has been gutted in preparation for breakfast—after he came in he and Pete went out again, but they had no more luck.
Monday, July 11. Camp #9. North Bompas Lake.
Art and Skip got up fairly early on this beautiful but quite windy morning to take movies of breakfast procedures. Skip was photogenic as hell as he stirred up the oatmeal mush and made steaks from Bruce’s fish. Although most of us had crawled out of our tents at around 8:15, it was not until 11:30 that the last bite of breakfast was swallowed (movies and frying the fish took up most of the time).
I shaved, and at around 12:30, we loaded up and took off. The wind blew from the south, so we were not bothered by it—to the contrary, it was a direct tail wind, so I rigged up a “sail” using my T-shirt and a paddle and we just coasted along—Bruce too rigged a crude sail. No one paddled until “lunch” time (around 3 o’clock).
As we sailed past a very tiny island, an Arctic tern came out to look us over. We thought nothing of it, until we caught up to Pete (who was way ahead of us, as he had started his drift earlier). He said that he and George had been attacked by the critter. This rang a bell in Art’s head, and he and I paddled back up against the heavy wind to take movies of their roost. As we approached the islet, the male came out and began diving at us. Soon the female was on hand and we had to dodge madly as they swooped and dove at us.
Finally, realizing we had to have reinforcements if we were to get any movies, we went back and got the other guys. They were to land on the isle, and, while they were being attacked, Art was to take movies from nearby.
Bruce and George were the first two to step ashore and, as they did so, they got well pecked and screamed at by the terns. It took a while to get the pictures, and Bruce suffered about 30 or so hefty pecks on his hands (which he used to shield his head), as well as being shat on three times on top of his head. Finally, after Art got pictures of the 2 birds and their baby, we left. After drifting a while we parked in a little sheltered cove and had lunch.
We then paddled the rest of the lake. Toward the end, it became very beautiful—lots of sand (which had been washed down from Selwyn Lake in prehistoric times) and birch and poplar trees gave the north end of the lake the look and feel of a vast golf course. Near the northern end, we saw two old trappers’ shacks, but Pete and George inspected only one.
We paddled like crazy to get up two small rapids, but found no portage trail, so we have come back out of the river and are now camped on yet another rocky point. Tomorrow, if all goes well, we hope to find the Selwyn portage—about 45 chains long.
Tuesday, July 12. Camp #10. South Selwyn Lake.
At last we have made progress and are really on the map! We are now camped on the largest lake to date and the prospect of a couple of days worth of canoeing without portaging seems really inspiring—we now feel that the damn canoe trip is really under way. Up to this time I doubt that we have been averaging more than about 5 miles a day owing to all the blasted portages.
We started from campsite 9 fairly late in the morning (none of us believes in “rising with the sun”) and paddled up the first of the two small but swift places in the river as it flows into Bompas.
We made a very short portage into a small lake and managed to avoid the second canoeable rapid and a third one which we dared not risk because of the heavily loaded canoes.
Just as we began loading our canoe (Art and I were in the lead) we noticed a family of seven American merganser ducks from our secluded trail, and Art tried to get movies of them. But they were too far away even for his telephoto lens, so he sent me crashing through the thick growth to try and frighten them into swimming within range of his lens. They came into range all right, but I gave them too much of a scare and they became airborne. The results of the picture taking are somewhat in doubt.
After this we loaded our canoes and skirted the shores of the small but very deep little outlet basin, looking for the portage trail—no dice. It seems that even Art’s 4-mile-to-the-inch map is highly inaccurate in this particular region. We were on the right lake, according to the map, but actually we were not.
We decided to scout around for the actual portage which should not be too far away, despite the inaccuracy, but first we all voted for lunch. As the three canoes drifted about on the pond, disaster struck—Pete dropped his ration of cheese and watched it sadly as it descended into the depths. George, deciding not to let the cheese go to waste, stripped and dove in for it. He found it on a ledge about 15 feet down and brought it up. He says that even from this depth he could not see the bottom, which dropped steeply away.
After lunch, George and Pete scouted around and finally found the portage trail. It began on another little lake about 100 yards east of us, which lay over a small ridge. Rather than go back out to Bompas and portage into this lake, we decided to blaze our own trail until it met up with the original Selwyn portage. This not only provided us with a short cut but also gave me an excellent opportunity to get off a blazed trail and go stumbling and scrambling about in the bush. The Selwyn trail was about 40 chains from where our own 15-or-so chain trail met it.
The morning was bright and beautiful, but, as usually happens around 2:30 or 3 o’clock, the south winds blew the smoke from the many fires up our way, and soon the bright sun was a blood-red eye, peering balefully at us from its perch in the sky.
We finished portaging around six or so, and, because the end of the trail was too boggy for camping, we paddled out onto the smoke-shrouded lake. We camped around seven o’clock, and, after a roast beef dinner, I bathed and washed many filthy clothes. Art, George, and I stayed up until about 12:30. The mosquitoes were quite bad earlier, but they quieted down as they evening progressed.
Wednesday, July 13. Camp #11. Middle Selwyn Lake.
The day dawned bright, cloudless, and got pretty hot (about 75 degrees F. early in the afternoon). Because Art was busy taking pictures of some insect life, we did not get started until around noon.
When we finally did begin to paddle, I took off my shirt and shoes to get the benefit of the sun. George and Skip, however, went one better. Skip removed everything but his hat, neckerchief and pipe, and George left his army hood (to protect his sunburned nose) and his knife belt on—many jokes and much uproarious laughter, especially when George used a caribou tail Pete had found for a fig leaf. Even Art was drastically inclined enough to take off his socks and wash them.
The temperature of the lake surface was 61 degrees F. We ate lunch adrift, in the lee of an island that sheltered us from a moderate south wind. Before lunch though, we saw a huge cloud of smoke to the northwest, and, as we passed by it, Art took movies of the other two canoes as they were silhouetted against it.
Right after lunch (around 3) the wind shifted slightly and began to blow in from the southeast. Soon after, the sun was again partially blotted out and cast its red glow on us.
Selwyn is not, to my mind, as beautiful as Bompas, Chipman, or some of the other smaller lakes we paddled. The country is beginning to flatten out rather noticeably and the cliffs and hills of a couple of days ago are no longer as high or commanding. There is also not as much exposed bedrock around here—instead, there are many boulders which make it rough when trying to pitch a tent. There are, however, plenty of trees left—Art claims he can notice that, on average, they are growing shorter—I cannot tell, as trees are trees to me and these seem plenty high.
We paddled about 20 miles from last night’s camp, which is pretty good, considering the very late start. We had to paddle past several points to find this campsite. As the wind died, ash and cinders drifted slowly down on the water.
We are now only three or four miles from the 60th parallel and the beginning of the Northwest Territories. We have come roughly 70 miles from Black Lake, and, at the end of this lake, we will be at the “height of land.” We will also be off Art’s detailed map and will have to rely more on Tyrrell’s report, as well as the very inaccurate 8-mile-to-the-inch maps we have.
Our campsite tonight is particularly gloomy and forbidding. As we landed, we found the rib-cage of some animal, probably a caribou, and, later, while walking around, ran into a lot more bones and some old campfire remains. The sky was so gloomy we could not see the east side of the lake for quite a while. However, a few yards south of our camp, there is a beautiful little hill on which I am now writing this entry. It is open—here and there are some smallish birches, and on the crown of the hill are many large boulders. If the sun was out and the smoke would blow off, I imagine we would have a tops view of the enormous north-south expanse of the lake (which is about 50 miles long, though not very wide).
We may hit the portage tomorrow—it will be very tough to find, because we will be on the larger scaled maps, and, besides, there are many islands and bays into which to wander and waste time. The portage itself will be no rose, as it is about a mile-and-a quarter long. Once over it though, it will be downhill all the way to the sea. We will probably camp out for a day or so to make a complete check of our edible supplies.
We have already begun to ration sugar—one small teaspoon per cup of coffee or tea, and two per bowl of oatmeal. We are also going to have to cut down on pudding for desserts, and we have been watering down the milk more than usual for the last two days or so.
Although, in bulk, we get plenty of glop, I am never quite full enough, and have been relying rather heavily on my personal supply of cheese and Baker’s chocolate—this has not been making me any friends, but the others realize it’s their own damned fault for not doing as I did, and they haven’t too much to say on that score. Soon, though, my supplies will be gone, and then we can all starve happily together.
Morale has been very high since the beginning of the trip. Between George, Skip, Art , and I, we manage to conjure up many laughs.
By now, I have more or less been handed the job of putting up and taking down the tent, which is OK with me, as Art has to cook up the glop when we hit the shores. It is now 11:20 P.M. and there is plenty of light to write by, despite the smoke and a sun which has set. Art may want to make some pictures around the campfire, so I’ll be closing for now.
Incidentally, I found it a lot easier and less painful to make a portage when I think of something pleasant, like Molly, for instance. My Achilles tendon is still pretty stiff and sore. It is also slightly swollen. I got a pretty good tan today, as did most of the rest of us.
Thursday, July 14. Camp #12. 15 miles south of the height-of-land portage.
We (Art, Skip, and I) finally sacked at 12:30, after doing some campfire scenes. Shortly after, according to Art, the sky really darkened and rain began pattering down on the canvas tent coverings we have been using. The rain lasted only a few minutes, and soon all was back to normal.
We got up around nine and again didn’t shove off until noon. The sky was somewhat cloudy after breakfast, but soon the remains of the alto stratus clouds were gone and the sun shone bright and warm.
We had been paddling only a short while when a strong, gusty south and southwest wind began to blow. Soon the water was quite choppy and a few splashes came in over the port gunwale. We had to hug the west shore to avoid becoming swamped. The smoke from the big fire we saw yesterday soon became more than apparent, and the sun began to be blotted.
We crossed over into the Northwest Territories—district of Mackenzie—at around one o’clock.
We ate lunch adrift in the lee of a small island, and shortly thereafter we were on our way. The temperature of the water went down to a rather cool 55 degrees F, and the air temperature varied throughout the afternoon from 76 degrees to 68 degrees.
To the northwest we soon saw another huge blaze sending up great clouds of cumulus-like smoke, and, after a couple of hours of paddling we were soon engulfed in its pall. Around four thirty the wind began to drop, and we decided to paddle out across a bay, rather than sticking behind sheltering islands. At one point we could just barely make out either shore—we felt as though we were sailing on some limitless ocean.
Suddenly, out of the smoky mist, a beautiful, white sea gull appeared and began crying out at us. A few minutes later, seemingly out of nowhere, a treeless pile of rocks loomed out of the calming waters, and we figured the gull must have a nest on it. The closer we got to the barren islet, the lower the gull zoomed and the more she cried.
The gull was not nearly as fierce as the two terns we had run into, and merely flew low over us and between the canoes. I felt sorry that we had to disturb her, especially when we found a mottled brown-and-gray egg in her nest, high on a rock. Art got some pictures, and soon we were on our way north. The mother gull persisted on diving at us however, and soon we saw why—a small gull was paddling furiously through the water. It was quite ugly, having a blackish beak and dark brown down. We examined it, took a few pictures, and were soon out of the gull’s life.
By about 5:45 we had come some 17 miles, and we decided to paddle another 8 or so before camping. That would bring us somewhat closer to the portage. From here on the water was almost perfectly still.
After rejecting several sites, we finally found a very pleasant one on the north tip of an island not shown on the maps. The campsite is on a very open point. There are a few birches, lots of boulders half buried in mossy ground, and overlooking the tents, on top of a small rise, is an enormous boulder, about 12 feet high.
Weird, piercing cries are coming from the smoke-shrouded mainland, probably made by some bird—but as much as he knows about such things, even Art has never heard these cries before. We have covered 25 miles today—we camped at around 9:30 or ten, and we are all pretty well bushed. We had fried “Spork” (a canned, Spam-like meat) and mashed potatoes.
Friday, July 15. Camp #12.
When we got up this morning, the sky was just as dark and smoggy as it had been in the evening. Around 4 A.M. I was awakened by a couple of loud peals of thunder. It rained fairly hard for a few minutes and then I must have fallen back to sleep, as I don’t remember any more about the storm, except that it couldn’t have rained much more or we would have gotten wet, despite the tents.
We had breakfast around 9:30 or so, and then while Art hunted up some birds to take pictures of the rest of us sat around and threw the bull around until noon. By that time the sky didn’t look much more promising and most of us figured on spending the rest of the day in camp, especially when a few light raindrops began falling.
At 1:30 we ate the customary hardtack biscuits, and by two it started to drizzle enough to put a definite quash on any plans to break camp today. We broke open a box of slightly mouldy hardtack, and though edible, it was not a gourmet’s delight.
Right now, the guys are whiling away the time. Pete is bitching (more or less) because we didn’t break camp. Bruce and George are in their tents. Skip just took a canoe out for some fishing—Art is crumped out in the tent, and, for awhile, I blasted out on the harmonica.
Pete is slowly but surely becoming a pain in the ass, as far as I am concerned—he is far from being the friendliest guy in camp. I feel sure the root of his ill will is my hoard of goodies. He keeps doing little things that tend to piss me off. For example, this morning, when he brought out his whetstone, I asked if I could use it after he was through with it. He grumbled and moaned about getting it clogged with steel scrapings, until I reminded him that he had borrowed my leather stitcher before and that he might just possibly want it again in the future. As far as I go, he is entirely too righteous and gung-ho paddle-boy, and we may have some bone picking to do before the trip is over. His trouble is that he can’t say things with a smile. He has made a few snide remarks about how George and I angle to get more food, and yet I saw him tip the sugar can so that he could get a bigger spoonful—there are many ways in which an extra spoonful of glop or pudding can be gleaned, and George and I, having the most voracious appetites, kid with one another and with the others about this—the rest accept it in good humor, but not so with friend Pete.
At present we have about 250 rounds of .22 ammunition, and, because of Art’s and the rest of our urgings, we are going to keep this strictly for hunting, and not for sinking tin cans, as we have been doing. Fishing, at least as far as Bruce, Pete and Skip have experienced it, is not at all as rewarding as the Canadian travel brochures would have you believe. Admittedly there are good spots and bad ones—so far, though, I’d hate to have to be forced to keep alive on fish—might just starve to death, especially since I have become the “Zeus” of the Northwest (this morning, Skip gave me the honorary title of All-American Garbage Can, after a close contest between George and myself).
Right now the skies are beginning to clear, and now that it is so hot in the old tent, I will close off. (Later) Art got some pictures of Bruce casting from the point next to the campsite—Bruce caught 3 lake trout, but threw them back: too small.
Most of the clouds blew away and a cold north wind replaced them in the clearing skies, sending the temperature down to the mid-forties by bedtime.
Saturday, July 16. Camp #13. North Selwyn Lake.
The day started off cloudless and bright blue, and a fairly brisk north wind stirred up the waves on the lake so that in the open places paddling was difficult. Luckily though, most of our route lay in the lee of islands, and we shipped little water, mostly slop, over the canoe sides. According to Art, we had only eight miles to paddle before hitting the height-of-land portage. As we paddled, more and more clouds began appearing. We also saw huge clouds of smoke belching up to the north.
After about an hour and a half of paddling, we came to a point of land made up largely of sand covered by moss, and sparsely scattered trees. As we were about to pass the point, Art noticed a grave. Immediately we altered course and headed for a narrow sandy beach, skirted by low shrubs and willows. After landing, we walked over to the grave, located on a high point amid a grove of birch trees. The grave itself, being modern, was surrounded by a once-green painted, but now almost entirely weathered “fence.” A carved board stood at the head and round nails, as well as mortised joints, held the tiny fence together.
Nearby, there were two depressions in the ground, about the same size as the grave, probably two much older graves. In the sand north of the graves, Bruce found the lower end of a chert arrowhead. I may have found two pieces of a scraper, but the material seems too soft, and none of us are sure what it is.
We ate on the beach and before and after lunch, Art made movies. Many caribou bones and the burned wood from old campfires were scattered about. Soon after we shoved off, we ran into the obscuring, reddish-brown smoke once again, and it remained hanging in the sky above us for the rest of the afternoon.
As we paddled northward the country became much more interesting and spectacular. Here and there cliffs and hills a couple of hundred feet high jutted out of the lake, and, as we came around a rocky point, we finally saw the height of land looming in the distance.
One cliff we passed had “ALVREDO – 1952” scratched in the lichens on its face. In addition to this, some message was written in Syllabic, and other dates were given, going as far back as 1947 on other parts of the cliff face.
Coming around a wave-swept and rocky point late in the afternoon, we saw the notch in the hill ahead through which the portage trail threaded. We also saw that the base of the fire toward which we had been paddling all afternoon seemed to be right on the trail. We kept on, however, until we came to the north end of the lake. Not knowing exactly where the portage was, we skirted the western shore until we came to what seemed might be the trail. I watched the canoes while the others went off to find the exact location of the fire (which by now had calmed down, as the wind died) and to see how good or otherwise the mile-and-a-half portage was. The shore was swampy and very shrub-grown. A patch of lavender fire-weed grew nearby and a multitude of bees gathered their pollen and nectar. The air near the ground was clear, though low-hanging smoke made the sky rather dismal. A range of sheer, treeless cliffs, rising a couple of hundred feet, rose to the northeast.
The others came back in an hour or so, after I had a chance to go devour four of my chocolate bars, and reported that the fire was a couple of miles off, northwest of the trail, and on the west shore of Wholdaia Lake (also known as Daly Lake). We decided to camp farther to the east , in case the wind (which was now drifting in from the southwest) shifted, but after paddling a mile or so and finding no suitable campsites, we decided to take our chances and camp right on the south end of the portage. We lugged all our gear, including the canoes, about 150 yards up the well-worn trail, to a fairly clear old and much-used campground.
We cooked up the “glop,” and, after dinner, feeling in a happier mood, I tumped the yellow box to the north end of the portage to see the fire which, according to the others, could be clearly seen from this vantage.
Most of the trail was easy walking—no steep hills and dry. The path did become boggy and rocky, at either end, but it did not take too long to make the trip. Arriving at the north end, I could see smoke wisps rising from the little hills to the west, across the lake. The fire was now dormant because of the lack of wind, and only smoke could be seen—once I did see the flicker of a flame as a solitary tree on the hillside ignited.
Although the fire was only about a mile away, I felt much more at ease when I saw its location in relation to camp. We were at the south end of the portage which, in itself, was at the southern end of the lake. The fire was ahead of us and slightly west, and, provided the wind did not blow strongly from the northwest during the night, we were safe enough.
I got back to camp and, stayed up, throwing bull and drinking tea with the others until around midnight. Then we sacked.
Note – we are now at the Height of Land. From here until the end of the trip we will be going downhill to sea level. At Stony Rapids our altitude was 699 feet. The Height of Land rises to 1340 feet above sea level, and Wholdaia (Daly) Lake—a lake fully as large as Selwyn—drops from 1340 feet to 1225 feet. Wholdaia is the headwater of the Dubawnt River.
Directory for the items of Lanouette’s journal.
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