The Journal of Canadian

Wilderness Canoeing

  SPRING 2002











In this issue

Front Page



Spring Packet


From the Editor







Part  1  2 (map)  3 

On the subject of digestion, a few days later we witnessed a grizzly’s lunch. The bear was loping intently along the river’s edge with its nose to the ground. No interest was shown in our canoes so we kept pace, only to see a ground squirrel make a mad dash uphill for its den. There was no contest. The lightning-swift bear caught up to it in two bounds and came down on lunch with both front paws. Wisely, we decided not to get closer, and even had the good sense to take our own meal on the opposite bank.

We pulled ashore on July 16 where Coal Creek dribbled into the Horton. In this area the renowned Arctic explorer and ethnographer, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, together with Dr. Rudolph Anderson, a zoologist, and ten Inuit, passed the winter of 1911-12. Stef and Dr. Anderson had been in the north since 1909 on assignment for the American Museum of Natural History , New York. This was Stef’s second expedition to the north and preceded his leadership of the Northern Party of the Canadian Arctic Expedition of 1913-18 that discovered some of the most remote islands in Canada’s Arctic archipelago. Working from whaling ships off the coast, they were familiar with the Horton, having sledged almost its entire length during the previous winter on a journey south to Great Bear Lake. The decision to come part way up the Horton and establish a winter camp in 1911 was based on an interest in experiencing a winter in the interior to further their research. In Stef’s book, My Life With The Eskimo, published in 1913, he indicated the cabin was about a mile up Coal Creek and even included a picture taken by Dr. Anderson of him crouching inside what looks like a pretty wobbly structure.

With copies of this photo in hand, we all set out to search for the cabin remains. Anders and I took the south side of Coal Creek, while Bob and Joe scouted the north. After a few hours of getting nowhere, I heard Bob shout from his side. I joined the others to find them around the flattened cabin timbers in a nondescript area of dense spruce about 100 yards inland from Coal Creek. The photo we carried showed positively that this was the cabin site, though much overgrown - possibly caused by new growth after Stef’s original clearing as well as greater forest density due to global warming. A search revealed no artifacts in the immediate area. Bob took a GPS reading, then we returned to the one item of interest that had been located on the way in.





A Horton party member checks out the remains of Stephenson's cabin on Coal Creek (above), the site of which is now well grown over after almost 90 years.

When ascending Coal Creek, we had noted an old piece of sheet steel tangled in a thick patch of willow along the bank. We retrieved it and carted the thing all the way back to Inuvik where it was left with the government’s Aurora Research Institute for delivery to the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife . What exactly had we found? It was an unmarked rusted section of sheet steel 3.5 feet high and 1 foot in diameter with two holes 10 inches in diameter cut out one above the other. In this context, it was quite probably stove siding, an essential item for passing a remotely comfortable winter. That Stef carried such a piece is apparent from the entry in his field notes for 1911 that I obtained in photocopy from Dartmouth College Library (see illustration). It read, “Sept. 26th. Tuesday: Finished meat rack, put in stoves for fireplace in house.” The Prince of Wales Centre believes it is very possible that we found a piece of Stef’s equipment, but, lacking markings, cannot be certain. Only time and more work will tell if we located a historic artifact, but at least the piece is in good hands rather than rusting away beside the creek.

After Coal Creek the country changed. Trees faded out at 69 degrees, 33 minutes N. latitude, which we believe is the most northern forest in the western hemisphere. Bob and I briefly discussed our good fortune in being able to observe the limit of trees in both hemispheres, the other being on a 1990 trip in northern Siberia. We were paddling by the Smoking Hills. This is a literal naming as lignite deposits have been spontaneously combusting there long before being first described by Richardson. These and other minerals have created a region devoid of vegetation that engenders an eerie other-worldliness.

On July 24 we turned down the last bend of the Horton to look out on an ice-choked Arctic Ocean . In terms of ice on the water, it brought us full circle from our landing lake. As we passed under a prominent hill on that final stretch, I looked up to see a lone caribou silhouetted against the azure sky. Was it a symbolic farewell from all those northern animals whose paths I’ve crossed?

My take is that it was just an au revoir from the Horton; I’ll return to the country.


John Lentz, a financial analyst living in Bethesda , Maryland, has been canoeing down wilderness Canadian rivers since 1962. He is a regular contributor to Che-Mun.

 Spring 2002         Outfit 108 

<< Previous   Page  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 10   Next >>

Home   Che-Mun   Rupert Battle   Rupert River   Temagami

  Forum   Crees   Camps   Canoes   Keewaydin Way   Search   About   Contact Us

Maps and information herein are not intended for navigational use, and are not represented to be correct in every respect.

All pages intended for reference use only, and all pages are subject to change with new information and without notice.

The author/publisher accepts no responsibility or liability for use of the information on these pages.

Wilderness travel and canoeing possess inherent risk.

It is the sole responsibility of the paddler and outdoor traveler to determine whether he/she is qualified for these activities.

We do not endorse and are not responsible for the content of any linked documents.

Ottertooth Copyright © 2000-2009 Brian Back. All rights reserved.

Che-Mun Copyright © 2002-2009 Michael Peake. All rights reserved.