|Canadian Canoe Routes
|Journal of Moffatt-party participant Lanouette. Post 3.
|Page 1 of 1|
|Author:||Allan Jacobs [ March 3rd, 2018, 1:19 pm ]|
|Post subject:||Journal of Moffatt-party participant Lanouette. Post 3.|
Journal of Moffatt-party participant Lanouette.
Post 3. 17 July to 28 July.
Copyright to all the following belongs to the Lanouette family.
Sunday, July 17. Camp #14. North end of the height-of-land portage.
We got up around nine, had breakfast, and, as we began the portage, Art got movies of us.
The day was rather warm and the work promised to be damn sweaty business—which it actually was. The sky over us and to the south was cloudless, but to the north and west, we could easily see that the fresh breezes from the southwest and south had breathed a new life into the dormant monster ahead.
Bruce, Pete, and George started down the trail ahead of me, and, by the time I ended the first trip of the day, I did not immediately see them. Bruce was sitting alone on a rock, watching the fire. On the distant shore, I could see the red canoe Pete and George had used to go over to the fire.
When I first got there, the blaze was downright awesome and spectacular! As far as I could see there was a wall of bursting flame. It looked as though the whole west shore of the lake was burning. Above the flames and to the north the sky was absolutely black and almost fearful to behold. Closer to us, the puffy and gnarled bellows of smoke were varying in color—from white to grey to orange, brownish, and red. The scene looked exactly like the religious pictures depicting either the gates of Hell or the end of the world. Even where Bruce and I stood and watched, we could feel the sucking updraft the fire created. We watched entire hills succumb to the clawing flames. First an area emitted clouds of black smoke; then, after a few minutes, white smoke replaced the black. After a few minutes of this, the entire area would explode into a sheet of flame 150 feet high, which would soon die out.
As I said before, we could see the red canoe on the shore about a mile away—west of the canoe stretched a sandy glacial esker, on which rose a sparse number of trees, and we figured that this was where George and Pete had gone, in order to see the fire first hand.
The whole business made me somewhat uneasy, and I remember wishing all our gear was safely on this side of the portage in case the wind veered (some of these fires have been known to travel 30 miles a day).
Presently, Skip came along, carrying his green canoe, and he told me what lens openings to use to take pictures of the fire.
After this, I hurried back and got another load. When I got back to the north end of the portage, George and Pete had returned safely and Skip was smearing the hardtack with peanut butter. Art was busy eating and taking pictures. Pete gave out with a hairy story of how he had had to run like hell from a vantage point in order to escape an explosion of flame.
After lunch, it was decided that George and Pete should stay behind, lugging their gear, and the rest of us would cross the lake to the top of the sand esker and try to get some pictures.
Skip, Art, Bruce, and I all piled into the green canoe and we were soon in a little cove. We landed and dragged the canoe up out of the water. George had been on the esker in the morning, and, according to his report, the fire was then about 300 yards west of its crest.
As we walked through the woods toward the ridge, I noticed that, except for the ominous cloud above us, there was no evidence that a fire was raging a few hundred yards ahead of us. A soft but steady breeze was blowing, from our backs—there was no smell of anything burning, nor, because of the wind, could we hear the fire.
Presently, we came to an area which had been burned several years ago, and the scenery was “out of this world-ish.” The floor was thick with dry moss and lichens and here and there rose the blackened skeletons of trees. The place looked like a battlefield after a prolonged skirmish. Suddenly, in the woods ahead of us, we saw a clump of pines burst into flame and heard the roaring hiss of the flames. Art, Skip, and I took many pictures, and after staying here awhile, we decided to climb to the top of the esker.
When we reached the summit, we could see the fire below us to the west, the south, and the north. It was vast—at least 5 or 6 miles, I should say, running roughly north-south. Every few minutes or so a clump of trees or a solitary tree would go up in a seething roar—other than that, all we could see in the valley below were the tops of charred trees poking above billows of weird-looking smoke, which seemed to hug the ground, except when a fresh puff of wind sent it swirling up into the air.
By now the fire had climbed up the south side of our hill, and at times we were only a few feet from the flames. Because of the wind, the heat where we stood, as well as the smoke, was negligible. I even went so far as to walk into some burning moss. Some of the pictures I took were about 5 feet from the flames.
We kept a wary eye out, though, for wind shifts, and also to make sure that we wouldn’t be cut off from retreat and left to roast on the sparsely wooded crest of our hill. We stayed up here for a couple of hours until the film ran out. Then, having seen enough of the fire, we paddled back and I made a last portage trip.
When at last all our stuff was at the north end of the trail, Pete and I took the red canoe out to look for a campsite near the base of the cliffs east of the trail, but, finding nothing, we returned and had to make do with a rather crummy and buggy site about 300 yards from the canoes, along the trail. Just before going to bed, the sky which had clouded up while we watched the fire, let loose with a couple of drops of rain. All of us were utterly fagged out and weary, so we went to bed fairly early.
Monday, July 18. Camp #15. Wholdaia Lake. 8 miles south of the mid-lake portage.
Skip, blast his early-rising rising instincts, got up around nine and soon had us padding sleepily about, eating our oatmeal. The day was rather warm, though entirely overcast with bona fide clouds, and I was still beat from yesterday’s portage and felt lazy as hell.
Soon after breakfast Art and Skip went into the woods to take movies of some Canada jays as they ate a can of foul-smelling bully beef we had been forced to discard the night before. The rest of us piddled about, broke camp, struck the tents, and lugged some of our gear back down to where the canoes and the rest of the supplies were stashed.
At around eleven or so, with still no sign of Art, Pete and George grew impatient. They would like to start earlier in the morning and end the day earlier than the 7:30 or so average time we are now laying off. However, Art’s movies and just general lethargy are responsible for the late starts.
I made a deal with Pete—4 packs of cigarettes and some roll-your-own tobacco in return for borrowing my maps until the end of the trip—I also made a deal with George (back at the Indian grave) whereupon for 21 sheets of paper, he would give me 5 of his chocolate bars that we are issued a couple of times per week at lunch. He is desperate for paper on which to record his nightly dreams. Apparently, George figures that by analyzing his dreams, he can get rid of stomach pains to which he is at times prone. He claims it works—I think his pains are caused by his being very “high-strung.”
We finally shaped up and shipped out just before noon. It began to sprinkle lightly, and by the time we had paddled 5 miles or so, most of us were pretty wet and miserable. The waters were calm, and although the light breeze was from the north, it was fairly warm.
We decided to eat lunch by a peculiar cliff about 15 or 20 feet high. It looks like an esker, except that it is made entirely of peat moss (sphagnum)—no trees or shrubs grow on it and underfoot it feels soft and spongy. After lunch it looked as though we were in for a good long rain, and we began unloading. But we soon decided that wet moss without firewood would make a rotten site—we paused to see what course the weather would take.
Note: According to Tyrell’s report these peculiar peat cliffs are the edges of peat swamps—He found layers of ice and moss on top of one another and gives the following explanation:--Moss and trees grow—the trees die, and so does the moss, then, a layer of ice forms in winter, over which another layer of peat grows the following summer—naturally this forms a layer of insulation for the ice and it just never melts, except maybe for a few feet down. He says he found streaks of clear ice after digging down about a foot or so. Because it was raining and we were soaked, we didn’t bother to dig, but because these bogs are common along this lake, we will investigate them as soon as we get the next chance to.
Some of the hardtack is beginning to get slightly moldy, and it tastes terrible. I can foresee that moldy hardtack will eventually lead to short tempers. After a very unpleasant lunch in the canoes, the rain began to show signs of letting up, and we decided to shove onward.
Skip stopped at a small island to see how much water had accumulated in his canoe, and he chopped a few scrubby trees down so that he could keep his packs out of the “bilge” water—the rest of us figured “ah, what the hell.”
Shortly after, Skip and Bruce re-joined our little flotilla, the sun came out, though the atmosphere remained somewhat hazy because of all the smoke.
At about 5, we came abreast of a small and very pleasant looking island—most of us wanted to put in here for the night, but Art said no, and this, in turn with our continuously late starts, caused some tensions to spring up, although no one actually said much to indicate his rankle.
At one point, we ran into hundreds of caddis flies. They are harmless—sort of like moths—but they tickled the bare skin and thus were annoying.
Shortly after passing the island, and after having our tempers sharpened, a northwest wind began blowing, softly at first, but gradually it picked up to about 20-25 mph and really began whipping across the water. Soon we were making damn little headway and every now and then we shipped a couple of quarts of water over the plunging gunwales. This, plus the water we had taken in because of the rain soon forced us into a very shallow bay, in the lee of a small island. We were desperate for a campsite, and had to make do with a small, rocky knoll. We stowed the gear and canoes in a muskeg bog in front of the rocky rise. There were quite a few spruce and larch around, and we pitched the tents in their shelter.
Soon after “glop,” black clouds began surrounding us on all sides, and we battened down the hatches. Art spread a tarpaulin over our canoe and tightened the tent strings. In a short while we began hearing the rumble of thunder, and a few drops spattered down. I went into the tent and began writing up the log.
I can definitely begin to see the change in the trees lately. The woods are made up mostly of black spruce, most of the birch and other trees are disappearing. Even the spruce, however, are becoming shorter, more scraggy, and spaced farther apart. The open places are, for the most part, soft and cushiony, blankets of moss and light-green lichen. Wherever it is wet enough, the muskeg grows.
Wholdaia Lake is, in a lot places, quite shallow. Every now and then boulders can be seen jutting above the water. The land around the lake is becoming more and more flat. The lake itself is very large, being longer than Selwyn. There are many peat cliffs and “meadows,” and from a distance, the bogs looked beautiful and green.
Around 12:30 the storm really hit. It rained furiously and thunder and lightning lit up the inside of the tent like a three ring circus. The wind shook the tent, and the rain began trickling in at the seams. I crawled deeper into the sleeping bag, hoping it wouldn’t become soaked by the cold rain.
After this storm passed, the thunder kept rumbling in the distance and I dozed fitfully until a clap of thunder and a particularly livid flash of lightning damn near shook me out of the sleeping bag—it was 4:30 AM by the loudly ticking watch in my Levi pocket. Most of my clothes, which I had left on top of the sleeping bag, were soaking wet. Little puddles of water collected on the canvas floor, and I mumbled many curses. Suddenly, an extra violent wind gust tore the tarp, covering and protecting the tent, loose from its moorings and the rain beat directly down on us and really made things miserable.
At about 5, the wind and rain let up, and I rushed outside to re-secure the tarp. The black skies looked beautiful as tremendous flashes of lightning, hidden by clouds, pinkened the fringes of the clouds and the horizon. I tied down the tarp and crawled back into the tent, thickly covered by the ever-present mosquitoes.
Tuesday, July 19. Camp#16. 8 miles west of the mid-lake portage.
When I woke up, everything but the inside of my sleeping bag and my Dartmouth sweat-shirt, which I had tucked into the bottom of the bag, was either soaking or well dampened. I put on the sweat shirt and slid into the cold Levis and went out into a gray morning to eat oatmeal.
It was still very gray and dismal out, and a good stiff wind was blowing. Figuring on an all-day stay, we left the tents up, but spread out all our wet clothes, air mattresses, etc. on every bush and tree in the vicinity. I went back into the tent and wrote—soon it got hot as hell—I looked out and the sun was shining.
We began getting our stuff together, and, poof, out of nowhere, more gray clouds. Some of us, wanted to pull out and head for the portage, the others, myself included, wanted to hang around and see what, if anything, the weather was going to do. Finally, however, we shoved off, and by 1:30, we were on the water, paddling the 5 miles to the mid-lake portage (this portage over a narrow neck of a big peninsula would save us paddling 18 miles.) We finally ended up in a swamp at the end of a weed-clogged bay and had lunch amid pleasant occasional whiffs of marsh gas. Art had found a very boggy and wet trail before lunch that he thought might, ugh, be our baby. But he had not followed it to its end, and after eating, the three canoes split up and went off in different directions to try and find a better trail, if it existed. I wandered off to the west, about a half mile or so, hoping to connect with a trail—the going was pretty wet and more than once I stepped on what looked like a dry spot, only to find myself in water up to the ankles. After awhile I wandered into a forest of dead spruce whose scraggly branches were laden with black “moose-moss”—very dismal and lonesome country! By the time I reached the top of a small rise I had seen nothing, so I turned back to meet Art.
I found our gray canoe without any trouble—it was deserted—Art was out looking over his trail, so I quickly chomped down 3 ounces of chocolate from my personal supply and had a smoke and fought off many moose flies (alias “bulldogs,” etc.), black flies and mosquitoes. (Note:-Blackflies are tiny little bastards, no bigger than a hefty flea. Their bite resembles the sting of a mosquito, except that they also take out a small chunk of meat, which causes a drop of blood to flow. The bites itch like hell for a week or so, and scratching only prolongs the agony.)
When Art finally came back, he said this was definitely the trail, and that it was high and dry enough in the middle, though swampy at both ends. The trail was 22 chains, about 500 yards, and once through the bogs, it wasn’t too bad. We finished the portage at about 5:30, and, as we paddled, the sky began to clear and the wind fell away completely.
Soon we were traveling in a Chamber of Commerce’s delight. Puffy little cumulous clouds, lit by a warm and friendly sun—lots of little islands—a big lake and complete calm and silence.
We saw many American merganser and surf scoter ducks—at one point, we saw 2 male loons doing a mating dance before a female. As soon as we approached, however, they ducked underwater, and that was the last we saw of them.
Suddenly, as we were drifting along relaxing and having a smoke, we heard a weird howl coming from the mainland. Art got out his binoculars and located what he thinks was a dog, deserted by his Indian master. The dog, or wolf, as the case may be, howled once more, and then trotted out of Art’s view into the bush. We paddled some more and at about 8:30 we found a truly delightful island with a great campsite, overlooking a beautiful sunset; the first good and smokeless evening we have had in quite a while. While paddling, Bruce took the temperature of the lake and found it to be a very warm 63 degrees F. The canoe touched bottom about 5 feet from shore, and with feet already wet from the portage, I did not hesitate getting them any wetter.
George and I went in for a bath before dinner, and I changed into a clean shirt.
Dinner consisted of canned roast beef, dehydrated mashed potatoes, fried onions (delicious), tea and chocolate pudding. I was still hungry, however, and ate about a quarter pound of my cheese on top of this repast.
We stayed up until swarms of mosquitoes came swooping down upon us as it began to grow dark, and then hit the trail to the sack.
P.S. We passed a couple more peat “meadows,” and would have camped on one, except for George’s objections that they would be too soggy and buggy.
Wednesday, July 20. Camp #17. Wholdaia Lake.
When I got up this morning, after sleeping like a log, the sun was out and the wind was nil. It was a beautiful, silver and blue morning and I for one hated to leave our pleasant campsite. The temperature was 66 degrees in the shade, but the sun made it seem much warmer.
We got going around 11:30, after Art had taken a few flics—a gently blowing east wind made paddling easy. We passed many nifty beaches and saw a couple of eskers and more “meadows.” Soon, however, the wind shifted to the NE, and we began seeing some opaque clouds on the SE and southern horizon.
We ate lunch at a rocky point—I was anchorman and held the canoes in place. I got George’s chocolate bar—two more to go.
After lunch, we came out into the main body of the lake, and could just barely see the almost flat horizon, to the west.
The wind picked up and soon we were pitching about, making little headway. The clouds began covering the sun. Presently, we approached a sphagnum “meadow,” and Art decided to take a close look. We beached the canoes on a beautiful, reddish sand and very gently sloping beach.
The beach was only a couple of yards wide—looming about 15 feet over it were the stratified layers of the red-brown cliffs (the whole “meadow” moves, somewhat like a glacier, and every now and again huge overhanging chunks of moss slide down onto the beach). We scrambled up the cliffs, sinking luxuriously into the soft mass, and, once on top, were impressed by the beautiful greenish vastness of the “meadow.” Its surface was dry and we easily walked around over it in bare feet. Here and there we could see what amounted to “crevasses,” except that moss was growing over the cracks. Two or three clumps of spruce trees dotted the entire expanse, which extended roughly eastward as far as we could see.
I dug into the surface with my bare hands. After a couple of inches the moss became quite damp—then it became cold and damp, and at a depth of about a foot or foot-and-a-half I hit solidly frozen moss—I could dig no deeper, so I went back to the canoe got my camera, and took pictures. After this, we all descended to the beach and skip and I chopped at the face of the cliff with his axe until, at about 24 inches, we again hit the frozen moss—we continued chopping, hoping to find the streaks of clear ice mentioned by Tyrell, but with no success. We did, however, find the charred remains of moss—evidence of a prehistoric forest fire.
A few minutes later, not being able to resist the beautiful beach and warm water, George, Skip, Pete, and I undressed and hopped in. George and I waded about 50 yards offshore, to a big rock sticking a few feet above the surface and dove into the belly-deep water. Later Bruce came in, and even Art finally took a bath and washed his evil-smelling socks—we all cheered and kidded him.
Finally, the sky behind began to blacken, so we dressed and headed on. As we rounded the sheltering point, we again had to battle the wind, and continued to do so until we picked a small island among a great cluster of islands for a campsite.
Right now the sun is down and everyone is in bed. The sky is ominous and dark, and, awhile back, we could hear the rumble of thunder. We also heard some Sandhill cranes—their cry sounds like someone with a bad case of hiccups being murdered. We also have seen and heard with our own eyes and ears loons that quack like ducks—yes, they are loons and not ducks.
It is 55 degrees F out, and it is now 12:05—a cinder just burned a hole in the neck of my Dartmouth sweat-shirt. I’ll douse the fire, shake off mosquitoes and hit the trail to the tent. We are now all battened down for a blow. Made 18 miles today.
Thursday, July 21. Camp #18. North end of Wholdaia Lake.
Putrid weather all day long. We got up at about nine and had breakfast—then we sat around for a couple of hours waiting to see if the sun would come through. We had half an inch of rain last night and the ground and trees are sopping wet, as are my shirt and sneakers, which I had left hanging on a tree to try and dry. By noon we were on the water and began a paddle against an increasing NW wind.
Our maps are inaccurate, and did not show a very narrow channel between an island and the east shore through which we went to get back into the main body of the lake. When in this channel we were lost and would not have continued on if, suddenly, we had not come around a point and seen a gap and the vast, gray expanse of lake beyond.
We ate lunch under a threatening sky, on a small beach near a peat meadow. Art thought maybe he could get some pictures of it, but the sun never showed. Instead, he and Skip put up the canvas in anticipation of rain. Actually, only a few drops fell, and, after an hour or so, we shoved off.
As soon as we cleared a cluster of islands near the east shore, we ran smack into a cold wind which had shifted toward the north, directly in our faces. It was tough work making what little headway we could, and we would have stopped if we had found any sort of decent campsite—but the low, swampy shores afforded none, and we had to keep on, hoping the rain would hold off.
Finally, around 5:30 we hit upon a rocky, glacier smoothed point and landed—we had made 12 miles—not good at all. As we were landing, some rain fell, making us all a bit damp and cold. The lashing waves made unloading difficult, and we had to have an extra guy, Bruce, hold the bobbing craft while we clambered around on the slippery rocks.
Right behind the rock point is a small peat meadow; we have pitched the tents here. The bugs are much more numerous than at yesterday’s meadow, and if it were not for a cold, strong breeze, I’m sure we’d all really be cursing.
Art may have developed a hernia; he is not sure. So, this may have a serious effect on us, as he will not be able to do much lifting.
Right now, the thermometer reads 56 degrees F, and a light, misty rain is falling. Art took a few feet of film of us against the gray, dismal water and sky—I hope they come out, as, no doubt, we can expect a lot more of this sort of weather—and a lot worse. Despite the weather, though, morale has picked up quite a bit, even though Pete and George still grumble a bit at our late starts.
(Later)—10 o’clock—temp. dropped 2 degrees—walked around island on N. end of which we are camped—still drizzling. “Meadow” is made up of many little green plants, including juniper and “bearberry” (about 1 ½ inches high—also many dwarf birch trees standing about 4 feet high—8 ducks in lee of island, seeking shelter. Trees around here quite short—correction, trees I have been calling jack-pines are really black spruce and larch—have not seen any jack pines since beginning of Wholdaia.
Friday, July 22. Camp #18 (same as yesterday).
Heavy winds all day long, blowing in from the west, kept us from continuing our trip today. I am going to try and write smaller from here on in, as I am not sure my two 150-page log books will be enough to keep me in paper for the rest of the trip. But if worse comes to worse, I can always fall back on nearly a ream of typewriter paper, on one side of which there are ballads typed. I am not yet nearly as desperate for paper as George.
Took stock of my cigarette supply—2 cartons American cigarettes left (enough for about 20 days) and a tin and 3/4s of roll-your-own tobacco (good for maybe 3 or 4 weeks)—Art is about as badly off as I, even worse, because he got most of his cigarette papers-with-glue wet. Bruce has plenty of weeds to last him the trip (“tailor-mades”); lucky guy!
Got up around 9:45 for breakfast this morning. At first I thought I was mistaken, but as I listened, I heard the roar of an airplane engine—the first sign of other humans, since we saw a plane on Molly Lake. I didn’t see the craft, as I was still in the tent, but Bruce, who was on his way to breakfast, said he saw it flying northward over the west side of the lake—most likely it was a D-H “Beaver.”
Mostly cloudy today. In the afternoon, though, we did get a bit of sun—strong winds have been kicking up white crested waves all day long—much too rough for our canoes.
After breakfast, I came back into the tent and memorized some of the ballads I had typed out just before coming on this trip—this took up most of my morning and part of the early afternoon.
I used up the rest of a roll of film that may have been exposed to sunlight, on the guys and local scenery.
Around 4:30 or so I began walking toward the east, and found, to my surprise, that we are not on an island, technically speaking, but are on one of two high and dry places that are connected to one another and to the mainland by a grassy and very wet swamp. We may not be on an island, but we’re pretty darn close to it.
After leaving our meadow, I sloshed over to the other “island,” and clawed my way through a rather swampy and dismal grove of black-spruce that grew near the edge. A few hundred paces farther on, I crossed the other swamp and was soon finding it easier walking, as, once away from the water’s edge, these spruce thin out into many open places.
I kept walking toward the east until I came to the edge of the woods, and saw before me another peat “meadow.” The ground here was swampy in most places, but, as I approached a small pond in the middle of the meadow, the land got drier. I took some pictures. The sun angle was not good, and I later discovered a couple sets of caribou horns and skulls. On the east side of this young meadow stood trees and a fairly low and gently sloping hill which I decided to climb.
As I got to the top of this hill I climbed out above most of the trees, and saw that the ridge was mostly clear land with a couple of protruding bed-rock exposures. On the most northerly of these exposures, I saw what at first seemed to be a raven, looking over his shoulder, silhouetted against the sky. Actually, though, it was some rocks probably put there by humans, as I later found an empty syrup can and two old campfires. I built a small cairn next to the “raven” and wandered about for awhile on the hill, but saw nothing else of particular interest, except the surrounding scenery.
I figured I was at least a couple of miles from camp, and, not wanting to lose out on the glop, I started back.
As I was about to come back on to the first island, I heard a shot close by; it was Pete, with George’s .22. We both walked to camp together in plenty of time for dinner.
The weather looks worse than ever right about now—I will be surprised if we can leave tomorrow—the wind is still raging and the sky is completely clouded. Although the temperature at dinnertime registered 61 degrees F, the damp wind makes it feel like 50.
One could see from the hill onto which I hiked that the barren grounds are not too far off. From where I stood, I could see many huge open patches of muskeg. The trees now seem to confine themselves to the shores of swamps and lakes. They are becoming quite short and gnarled.
Saturday, July 23. Camp #18 (same).
Looks like my prediction for lousy weather came true—got up fairly late after a crummy sleep, had breakfast, and flipped right back into the tent. This morning the skies were overcast and a strong west wind had the waves churning against the rocks, a few feet from our campfire. Most of the guys had projects of their own to pursue—George went hunting for grouse—Pete went for an all-day walk to the east—Art and Skip went over to the pond and meadow to see if they could take movies of local bird life—Bruce and I stayed in camp all day: in the morning we either slept or read.
At about 1:30 Bruce and I ate the rations that had been left for us—a quarter pound of cheese apiece and 3 hardtacks. As we were finishing, George came back, empty handed, and he too ate his share. Feeling in need of something to restore the heat that the wind has been sucking out of our bodies, we brewed up a vat of tea, and as we spent a couple of hours guzzling it down, got into a long, involved, and complicated philosophical discussion. After this, the 3 of us went back into our tents.
We had been there for only a few minutes when a hell of a wind hit. I ran out of the tent, and there, bearing down upon us from the north, was the blackest sky I have ever seen! In a matter of minutes the north wind dropped the temperature about 10 degrees, and the westerly waves, big as they had been, were soon overridden by even bigger waves from the north. They came crashing onto the rocks, sending spray about 20 feet onto the shore. George was still in his tent, reading, but Bruce and I stayed outside to watch the raging cold front as it swept toward us. Before the storm, we had been getting bigger and bigger patches of blue sky, and the combination of sun and blackness was a weird and beautiful sight to behold. The wind picked up to almost hurricane force, and Bruce and I had to lean into it to keep our balance. The ebony surface of the lake was contrasted by masses of sun-lit whitecaps and airborne clouds of spray.
The ridge-pole on Bruce’s tent was blown down, and the tarp covering our tent pulled loose from its tie-down and flapped wildly in the gale. We worked fast, tightening up the tents—if it were not for the protection of a small but thick grove of stunted trees growing nearby. I am sure that the wind would soon have shredded our tents. The wind was also sending the waves dangerously close to Art’s and my grey canoe and all its supplies, so Bruce and I hurriedly chopped some spruce and lay them between the waves and the overturned canoe, to break the force of the waves. Art, Skip, and Pete were still somewhere out in the bush and none of us at camp envied them as we watched black and wind-ragged clouds scudding over the water.
We soon scuttled into the tents and I played my harmonica for a couple of hours. Then, suddenly amid the wind and rain, Skip’s voice could be heard calling us to dinner. We put on our ponchos, and, looking like refugees from an Arab convention, we ate a watery mixture of glop and rain. Both Art and Skip were drenched from the waist down, and the fire, which had been moved to the lee of the grey canoe, must have felt pretty good to them.
By about 8:30 Pete had still not returned, and we began making plans to look for him in the morning. He finally showed up, however, and told us how he had walked for miles through swamp and muskeg until he came to a long esker, on which he had found many caribou remains and Indian campsites. He also told us that, at one point, he had fallen through the muskeg into almost freezing water up to his hips—finally, an icy floor had stopped him from sinking any deeper. He said that for a long time he thought he heard voices coming to him from the wind. Skip, too, thought he heard airplane engines as he and Art had walked around. I guess it doesn’t take too much to drive a guy “bush-batty.”
After dinner, I had one hell of a stomach ache, and in a few minutes I was in the damp tent, crumped out for the night—all of us except Art and Pete, who stayed up until midnight trying to dry off, sacked out early.
Sunday, July 24. Camp #18 (same).
This morning was damp and miserable! The wind has shifted back to the west, but it is cold as hell—at breakfast, our thermometer registered 44 degrees F, and this, plus occasional sprinkles, made it feel as though winter had arrived.
Art, who had been up since 6 AM, trying to get pictures of some birds, came in just as we were finishing breakfast—he was again sopping wet from brushing against dripping bushes, and had gotten only a couple of feet of film for all his efforts. The sky, what you could see of it through gaps in the clouds, was a beautiful but cold-looking light green.
I am back to my normal “eating anything that’s not moving” shape and am feeling great, if a little cool here and there. My slightly sore arm and back muscles have had a fine time recuperating while we are wind-bound, and I and the rest are a-rarin’ to go again. Art’s “hernia” is probably nothing more than a sore or strained muscle, which is good news.
We have been waiting around all day, hoping the wind would fade out, but now it’s almost dinnertime, and it is blowing as strongly as ever. The clouds are becoming ever more widely spaced and we have been having quite a bit of sunshine this afternoon—enough to dry out those things that got dampened from last night’s showers. It is now 51 degrees F, and I have just finished chopping some semi-green spruce so that Art can bake up something called a johnny-cake—we had soup for lunch today, plus a hardtack biscuit and some cheese.
I have spent most of the day in the tent, memorizing and grabbing some sack-time.
We have been here since Thursday afternoon—we are not far from where the Dubawnt River flows northward out of Wholdaia, but between us and its sheltering banks lies a rough stretch of open water. We will shove off tonight, if the wind dies, but so far, it has only gotten stronger and colder.
(Later)—Had a great dinner! Fried Spork, mashed potatoes, large amounts of johnny-cake, and much hot tea. The cake was made of corn-meal, flour, baking powder, sugar, dried milk, grease, and salt, and sure tasted good, as well as being filling enough to keep me from delving into my own stock.
After dinner, Art took some movies of us sitting around a blazing campfire, and, after that, we sat around until about 11 o’clock. The skies are clear but cold looking, it’s blowing like hell, and the thermometer reads 47 degrees.
Monday, July 25. Camp #18. Same.
Looks like we may be here for the rest of the goddam summer—complete cloud cover, roaring winds from the NW—temperature at nine-thirty this morning was 48 degrees.
Three herring gulls were hanging around us at breakfast, gobbling down the bits of oatmeal mush Art threw into the water. They came to within about 15 feet of us and Art got some good shots of them. They had a red spot at the tip of their lower bills, pink legs, and white spots on the primary feathers. These gulls sure have knobby knees and look funny padding around on the rocks with their webbed feet.
We had a few sprinkles of rain after breakfast, and Bruce noticed that some ice particles were mixed in with the rain droplets, as they fell on his dark-blue ski parka—oh to be in Florida! All the guys are now in the tents, and everyone is getting pretty bored with good old camp #18.
Tuesday, July 26. Camp #19. Dubawnt River, north Wholdaia Lake.
We did nothing but lie around and eat for the rest yesterday. The weather was lousy all afternoon—clouds, cold, mists, and winds. At around ten o’clock p.m., Art, Bruce and I were sitting around the campfire (the rest had hit the tents) when we suddenly noticed that the wind had let up enough to make paddling feasible. The sun had come out too, so we quickly got the others out of bed, packed, and by 11:10 that night, we were shoving off. The temperature was 48 degrees F, and although the water had still not calmed way down, the white-caps were gone, and we shipped only a few splashes over the side.
By the time we were in the lee of a small group of islands about 3 miles away, the wind began to perk up again. The sun had set and banks of clouds obscured most of its afterglow so that it was fairly dark out—the two other canoes looked eerie as they glided along silently without lights—reminded me of a crew of smugglers trying to land unnoticed on some lonely coast. Every now and then, as we came to islands, we’d run into shallow water and clank our paddles against submerged rock as we groped about. We managed to keep the upper halves of our bodies warm when we paddled, but as soon as we stopped to rest the damp cold would have us shivering and eager to continue paddling.
At about 1:30 AM we came to where there should be a narrow part of the lake. But we could not see it in the dark and, figuring it would be too easy to miss in the night, we decided to run the canoes up on a beach I had just been able to make out. Also, Art thought there might be a rapids or swift water in the narrows, and we’d need plenty of light to navigate safely.
We had a tough time picking our way to the beach; the water was only a couple of inches deep for several yards out, and many small rocks kept grinding our canoes to a halt. Finally, Bruce had to take off his boots and wade his canoe ashore. Pete and George found a channel a few yards farther north, and Art and I pulled in beside them. I hopped ashore via Pete’s red canoe, and with the bow of our canoe thus lightened, Art poled up onto the beach. A cold though gentle wind was blowing from the NW, so we went into the forest a few yards, made a wall out of our large tarpaulin, and built a roaring fire. We sat as close to the fire as we dared, ate pilot biscuits and cheese, and drank gallons of steaming hot tea.
George, who had walked a few yards farther into the forest, announced that it soon ended, and that a vast muskeg meadow stretched out as far as he could see. We sat or lay around talking and telling jokes until we suddenly realized that the dawn was not far off. At four o’clock, we left the warmth of the fire and trudged out into the dewy cold. A bright orange-yellow streak shone on the eastern horizon, right under a solid mass of gray cloud, and we hoped we would get some good, sunny weather for a change.
We found the narrows without any trouble in the light and entered the channel that connected the main body of the lake with another of its parts. We were in a completely different world—the rising sun soon transformed the lower sides of the rapidly dissipating gray clouds into a sheet of red-purple beauty. The channel was about 50 yards wide—its low shores were sheathed by water-grasses and the water was perfectly still, reflecting the full and subtle array of ever changing color in the skies above—one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen. Art got some good movies of the other two canoes as they glided along, silhouetted against the sun but my camera was tucked away and I was kicking myself for not having taken it out.
The trees now were mostly miniature and they grew only near the shores, in thin lines behind which I could see beautiful green lichen and moss covered open areas—the whole place seemed like a giant’s golf course.
Presently, we came to a narrow 8-yard-wide channel of swift but deep water—we whizzed down, going past a straight line of boulders on either side. The ice had lined them up perfectly, like soldiers awaiting inspection, and it was like sailing down a boulevard. A mile or so further on we heard rapids and stopped at their head to reconnoiter. The rapids were of the white-water variety, about 100 yards long, 50 feet wide, and, on either side, rose small cliffs and dense birch forests. Pete and Skip, the other two steersmen, went with Art to check out the rapids and then watched while he and I ran the course.
Art took off his heavy coat, in case we turned over, and soon I could feel the current drawing us down river. We picked up speed—I paddled normally—we came within about 5 feet of the rock walls on the west, pulled out to avoid running head on into the shore as the course swerved to the right, rode up over a string of three or four huge waves, which managed to soak my pants, and then, as quickly as we had begun, we were back on calm water. We did nudge a submerged rock near the end of the run, but no damage was done, except that I was damned cold.
We pulled ashore as soon as possible, so Art could get pictures of Skip and Pete as they shot the course. We scrambled through thickly matted trees and set up the cameras. When we were ready, and the sun poked through the clouds, Pete pulled out into the stream above us and began his run. But he misjudged the speed of the current and could not avoid hitting the rock embankment. The canoe struck bow first—a tremendous bang and scrape could be heard—the swift water glued him to the rocks and he began to heel over. In a few seconds though, he and George managed to free the canoe, and it barreled on down the gorge, smashing into a submerged rock.
Somewhat shaken, Pete brought his canoe out onto the rocky shore, and, as Skip made a successful run, Pete and George unloaded to check on the damage, as well as to empty the water they had taken in. Their bow was dented and one of the planks was cracked—nothing serious. After re-loading, we shoved off downstream and ran many more riffles and currents. At around 7 AM we came upon some beautiful clear campsites and pulled ashore.
Tuesday, July 26 (continued).
While waiting for Skip to boil up some oatmeal, we walked around on the almost treeless plain we had picked. The sun was good and warm—many dwarf birch shrubs were around, and I took pictures of the distant hills.
After breakfast, being rather bushed from our all-night paddle, most of us fell asleep right around the campfire. At around nine o’clock, after about an hour’s nap, Art woke us up and we decided to keep on until we found the big peat plain at the head of the Dubawnt River—that way, he could take pictures of it, and we could recuperate for the remainder of the day. At about 11:30 a.m., we glided swiftly down the last little rip current riffle, and, at long last, onto the Dubawnt River.
Art was disappointed: no imposing cliffs greeted us and the vast meadow flattened gradually into a squishy, grassy swamp along the shore.
We ate lunch behind a grove of dwarf black spruce, and, after scouting around for a better landing, we paddled a couple of hundred yards down shore and unloaded.
Our campsite was in the same grove behind which we had stopped for lunch. We set up our tents, and because some of the guys still had some energy left, they decided to go grayling fishing. Bruce caught 7 grayling, Pete got 6, and Skip got none. They fished at the head of a large and swift rapid, some 200 yards wide—it was pretty shallow and they waded in. The fish were plentiful and really hungry—Pete caught a couple of fish within 5 minutes.
Being more asleep than awake, ever since breakfast, I blew up my air mattress, and sacked out in the tent until nearly dinner time.
We had fish fried in bacon grease and rolled in cornmeal, bacon, and mashed potatoes for dinner. For dessert, we topped the repast with butterscotch pudding.
The sunset was very pretty—orange skies—the temperature around 10 o’clock registered a very cool 46 degrees F, and most of us sacked fairly early.
The plain was vast—it extended as far as we could see. I discovered a large set of bear tracks, a couple of weeks old anyway, during an afternoon stroll. The black flies were wicked, especially early in the evening.
Wednesday, July 27. Camp #20. Dubawnt River.
Woke up late—clouds again overcast the sky; weather, cold—winds from SE.
As we were packing the canoes, it started to rain, but only enough to get us damp. We shoved off late in the morning. Right away we rode out a swift current for about a mile and a half until it emptied into a small lake. We got slightly lost and went into a wrong bay, but Art soon checked with the maps and we lost no time rectifying our error. We shot some more riffles until it began raining again, then, because the sky looked more rather than less threatening, we started looking for a camp. For more than an hour we could find nothing. By the time we finally found a place, on an island in the middle of a stretch of swift water, we were fairly well dampened. It was midafternoon by the time we battened down. We had frequent showers so Art put up the large tarpaulin and we sat under it most of the afternoon, warming and drying ourselves by a very large and cheering campfire.
That night we had rice glop and found it very tasty and filling.
By midnight the wind had begun to blow again and we slept among showers of rain and flapping tent tarps. Art had earlier gotten his sleeping bag soaked by leaving it too near the wall of the tent and it was not until 12:00 o’clock that he got it dried out.
Thursday, July 28. Camp #20. South end of Hinde Lake.
The weather looked rotten the next morning when we got up. All clouds, and, although it wasn’t raining, it looked as though it might do that at any moment. However Skip and Art wanted to leave and any time they spotted a lighter streak of clouds, they got all excited about it. Finally, around 11:30, we did get a patch of blue and in a short while we were on our way—each canoe carrying an extra two long poles to use with the big tarp, or for use as firewood in an emergency.
As we canoed, the clouds began breaking up, and soon, although it remained quite cool, we were seeing more and more of the sun. We ran many riffles and shot a couple of hairy rapids. On one rapid, Skip took movies as Art and I cruised through. After this rapid we tied the canoes to some small shrubs on shore and ate lunch. George discovered a huge blueberry patch and, after eating, he Bruce, and I went out and picked a few to toss into next morning’s oatmeal.
Clouds covered the sky all day, but, somehow, during most of the afternoon, we managed to get quite a bit of sunlight. But as soon as the sun sank, it would get cold again, especially when the wind blew.
After sweeping past the low and swampy shores, we came to a long, winding series of rapids and stretches of boiling swift water—we had a great time on these, and narrowly missed several rocks just under the surface. Finally, as we came swiftly around a broad, shallow, hairpin turn, we heard the unmistakable roar of bad rapids—we pulled into a swirling eddy, and brought the canoes alongside some rocks on the shore. The stern men got out to go and look over the rapids (which Tyrell called the Big Canoe Rapids because his big canoe struck a rock at its lower end) and the rest of us sat around smoking or doing nothing.
About an hour later, Art, Pete, and Skip came back—it was decided that we could run the rapids without too much risk. Skip and Bruce, in their green canoe, went down first and we could see their heads bobbing as they disappeared behind a small rocky point. After giving them a three or four minute head start, Art and I pulled our canoe out into the clutching current. We pulled upstream against the current for a little way, so that Art could get his bearings and so that we would have as straight a run as possible—then we let her go and rapidly picked up speed as our paddles bit the dark waters. The sun was behind a cloud and the white foamy crests of the waves stood out against the black waters.
We came within a couple of feet of a big, rounded red boulder jutting out of the water at the head of the rapid—now we had to swing inshore and come as close to a white rock as we safely could. I went over in my mind the different commands Art might give and got ready to answer them. In a couple of seconds we had passed the white rock—now and then I could catch a glimpse of a submerged boulder as we flew over it.
At the lower end of this rapid, where the water flowed into a deep hole, rose a set of 9 or ten waves with white combs. They looked huge from our canoe, as we were close to the water, but actually, they couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4 feet high. Just as I began breathing again, thinking the worst was over, we somehow got flung too far to the right, and before we could do anything, we were right on top of the waves. We rode the first one fairly well, but I could feel that the bow was too heavy; it dug in too deeply into the wave and did not rise quite fast enough. We rose to the crest of the second wave and slid down into the trough before the third “mountain.” This wave was bigger than the first two and its front was quite a bit steeper. The bow did not even begin to pick itself up—we simply dug right into the wave, near its bottom. A wall of green and white water poured right in at me. The canoe slowed with a lurch as the weight of the water took its effect—the bow section was almost knee deep for a second; then the wave washed back into the mid and stern sections as we rose to plunge again into the next huge wave. Again we dug deeply, and this time the bow was even more sluggish, and our canoe became more log-like—the remaining waves came crashing in upon us with sickening regularity, and Art began hollering “Easy, easy; we’re going ashore now, we’re going ashore!” I guess he figured I was about to abandon ship or something. By the time the last of the waves was behind us, we were half full of water and could barely paddle. We were now in a swirling eddy—another rough rapid lay about a hundred yards away, and we were being sucked down into it. We paddled like holy hell, and just barely made it to shore. Our next problem lay in slowing down the canoe, so that we could step out of it. The water was deep on the river-side of the craft, and I stuck my leg overboard, trying to stop the water logged craft. Finally, Art’s leg stopped the stern end (the bow was now pointing upstream), and the bow began to swing out into the current. By the time I jumped overboard, the bow was perpendicular to the current, and the water was at least chest deep. I held onto the canoe, and soon my end was pointing downstream. We had the canoe close in against the big boulders on the shore. We unloaded it, being careful not to let the stern swing out into the current. We then dumped the water out, after a long struggle, and re-loaded. Art then said that it was damn near a miracle that the canoe had not rolled over on us. With all that water in it, sloshing from side to side, a canoe is extremely unstable—on top of that, we had also been riding and rolling with the waves.
Soon the sun came out briefly, and we shot the other rapid, but not before we had shifted our 50 pounds of bully beef from under my seat, to back in the stern. On this last rapid, we shipped a couple of gallons amidships, but suffered no other swamping.
About a half hour later, we came to one of trapper Ray Moore’s camps. Bruce and Skip went ashore to examine it. They found empty boxes of cake mix, bread wrappers, old batteries, and other camp garbage lying about, and, soon after, they re-joined us, as we drifted lazily down the river.
At around six o’clock, we came to another short rapids, and Art had to get out to look it over, while I sat in the bow shivering and wishing I were in Florida. On top of this, it started to rain and things got really miserable. My soaked wool sweater did not help at all.
We finally managed to navigate this barrier, and cruised down onto an ever flattening landscape. Finding campsites here on this part of Hinde Lake was tough. Finally, though, at around 8 o’clock, we came to a high, rocky slope with decent landings on the west shore of the lake. It didn’t take us set up for the night.
Dinner was delicious—I changed into dry clothes and was ready in time for a none too filling repast of roast beef, fried onions, mashed potatoes with bacon grease, and chocolate pudding. During dinner, we saw the most beautiful and colorful rainbow display any of us have ever seen. Three complete sets of rainbows, in magnificently bright colors made complete arcs across the sky. One end of the most vivid rainbow was right on the channel through which we had come into Hinde Lake.
Shortly after, it began raining where we were, and for a few minutes things again became rather less than pleasant.
After dinner, Art and I emptied our personal packs. I found most of my belongings to be dry although, much to my displeasure, a bottle of insect repellent had spilled on a carton of my American cigarettes. At least one pack was ruined—I tried to smoke them, but they tasted foul and I had to discard them. A couple of other cigarette packs have also been soaked, but I am hoping I can salvage some when I need them. Most of my gun oil also spilled, soaking into the 24oz of chocolate I have left, but these are still edible, if slightly weird tasting.
Art spread out some of the wet food to dry under the canoes—a couple of boxes of hardtack and a case of cheese, some dehydrated mashed potatoes, oats, and cornmeal. I spread my dampened belongings out on the tarp, and, at around midnight, I finally sacked out.
Note: Because, geologically speaking, Dubawnt River is such a “young” river, it has no good drainage system and merely wanders about the country, spilling from one lake into another. We are camped on Hinde Lake, which is about 15 miles long and through which the Dubawnt flows. We are about 25 miles south of the tree limit—right around here, though, there are plenty of trees and much good firewood. Although the lake’s shores are very flat and boggy near the water’s edge, where we are now camped, it is quite rocky.
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