Week #4 (July 6-12): This week has been a long struggle against the
ice and morale ebbed about as low as it can go. We
started with beautiful weather on July 6th and we saw
five musk oxen but the ice continued to be a serious
problem. We spent the day forcing our way along the
shore where we could, getting out on occasion to drag
when we couldn’t, and at one point making a one-mile
drag across the neck of a bay to avoid what would have
been a 16 mile detour. Dick is getting antsy. He has
been suggesting that we modify the trip to meet Margie
at the lodge in Rock Nest Bay on Aylmer where we know
planes can get in. His thought is for Margie to fly in
extra food and maps of McKay Lake and the Yellowknife
River and to have us then head south in a grand loop
back to Yellowknife. I demurred. I got a moment alone
with Walter to get his take on the situation and was
pleasantly surprised. He thinks we will be extremely
late but has faith that we will make it, much more
optimistic than I had supposed. Actually Walter is
really getting into the ice thing. At first he was
worried about damaging his boat, but now he just rams
into the ice pack and whales away at it like the rest of
us and is not the least hesitant in leaping out to drag
across. In the last couple of days he seems to have gone
from a “we can’t go any further” to a “bring it on”
approach to travelling. Actually I am not too worried,
if the ice melts we’ll paddle, if it doesn’t we’ll drag.
We are covering ground just fine. In fact both Randy’s
projections and mine indicate we shall reach Margie on
time with Randy’s estimate even having us there a day
early. We actually covered 24 miles today.
July 7: 20 miles. Trout and couscous for supper. Another beautiful
but very hard day starting with a mile and a half drag
to cut across another bay. Later we did several more
drags. I think Todd and Sandy were the only ones not to
step through the ice today. We’re off Clinton Colden now
and will reach Aylmer tomorrow. Dick went off to phone
Air Tindi tonight to inquire about conditions on Aylmer
July 9: 22 and 12 miles the last two days. At last we’ve left the
ice behind us with a final 2.5 mile drag across Sand
Hill Bay first thing this morning. Then a few portages,
two in excess of a kilometer, and here we are. Time is
very tight now and rather than risk going up the
Thonokied which we know nothing about, we decided to
start portaging up the chain of ponds to the east
avoiding what looks like a prolonged string of rapids to
ascend the river. I count 13 portages for tomorrow
before we join the upper Thonokied. Now that the ice is
behind us and we are on these little barren ponds the
bugs are suddenly getting thick, but just mosquitoes so
far, and no one seems to mind.
July 10: 6 miles, mostly portages, but we are on the Thonokied.
Tomorrow we head up to Afridi Lake and beyond.
July 11: Today it was Dick and Walter’s turn to fall far behind (my
turn comes the second month when Margie arrives). It is
so great having a strong partner like Todd. This stretch
of the river has many unmarked rapids to ascend,
pleasantly fun for those of us with a pole. At one point
Todd was willing to walk along the shore carrying one of
the packs, which made things even easier for me in the
canoe. Dick and Walter made many portages, three over a
kilometer, and called a halt at 3 pm. A couple of nice
trout for supper. Hmm, it is raining pretty hard now.
July 12: 5 miles. Very cold and rainy day but we forced ourselves
to travel feeling we had to reach Thonokied Lake today
if we were to have any chance of getting to our
rendezvous with Margie on time. A paddle, pole and
portage day, with an awful lot of wind. Hmm, the pole on
Dick’s tent has just snapped. Time for repairs.
Week #5 (July 13-18) We went 19 and 7 miles these last two days and
here we are on Lac de Gras after two brutal days of
portaging, a lot of it more or less cross country. Randy
has a GPS and uses it to guide a route. It worked really
well on one carry and then really badly on another.
Walter is an excellent portager. He always carries their
canoe, never gets tired, and seems to have an innate
sense of where the next pond will be. Todd and I just
blunder along and have been known to make some lengthy
detours. Anyway it was a big relief to reach Lac de Gras
and discover that the summer ice is finally gone for
good. Margie arrives tomorrow and I’ll be sorry to see
Todd leave. I better spend some time bathing and
scrubbing before she gets here.
July 15: Margie is here and the trip has changed considerably.
First off, summer has finally arrived and it is suddenly
hot and buggy and very still with almost no wind to
speak of. Secondly, we have finished all of the upstream
work and the rest of the trip should be easy traveling
as we have allotted 30 days to get from the east end of
Lac de Gras down the Coppermine to Kugluktuk. Margie
brought in lots of fresh food and supplies for the
month. Another 20 kilos of milk powder for Walter and
chocolate bars for me. I think the others will enjoy no
longer having to be in the slowest boat. Randy and Sandy
have decided to stay.
July 16: 18 miles. We passed two huge diamond mines today. The most
intriguing was the one dug in the middle of the lake
like a giant empty whirlpool protected by a dike.
July 17: 18 miles. We have finished the lake and are poised for a
portage. Today was hot and sunny with a single shower.
For the first time this summer the black flies are out
and we have killed several hundred in the tent tonight.
Walter lost a paddle today. It was right there in his
hands and he was paddling along with it and then it
wasn’t there. He and Dick looked hard for it but could
find no trace. Unlikely that it would sink but it was
not on the surface or along the shore. I lent him one of
July 18: 13 miles. By noon we had spent the last 24 hours in our
head nets, but then a breeze came up. For an hour it was
a nice change but before a second hour elapsed it had
turned dark and stormy and we searched out the least
exposed spot to camp we could find. This morning we had
to portage, wade and even lift over a few little rapids.
A pretty exciting week: I drowned our tent poles; we saw
our first fellow travellers, stopped in at two lodges
and left the barrens behind.
July 19: 19 miles. Yellow billed loons and Harris’ sparrows today.
Black flies are back.
July 20: 20 miles. We met our first paddlers today, 3 gentlemen
from Germany paddling in those fold up boats with the
aluminum struts. They are moving at an incredibly slow
pace and do not expect to reach Kugluktuk before the end
of August which is a little too adventurous for us. When
traveling this far north we always try to be out by the
15th. Anyway they started 10 days ago at the west end of
Lac de Gras where we camped 3 nights back. They are out
here to experience the isolation and were disappointed
to see us. They made us promise not to camp on the same
lake with them. Lots of bugs today, killed 140 black
flies in the tent tonight. There is a caribou out back
July 21: 9 miles. Pretty eventful day. Saw a number of caribou,
both on land and in the water mingling with the canoes
as we paddled along. Also I went swimming inadvertently
and managed to lose our tent poles but we saved
everything else. Tonight we have set up camp on a sandy
spit just below where the rapids dump into Point Lake
and our poor tent is erected back in the willows hanging
from 8 surrounding paddles, with another serving as
center pole. Packs have been placed in the corners of
the tent and with lines leading off the sides, over the
paddles, and down to the ground; the whole is reasonably
presentable. From our dinner site though it resembles
an immense spider with paddle legs crouching in the
willows waiting to swallow us up for the night.
July 24-26: 32, 25 and 22 miles. The weather has been perfect and
we have traversed the 80 odd miles of Point Lake to
Peterson’s Lodge in two and a half days. They were
expecting us and we were warmly greeted and treated.
Margie had phoned Air Tindi after my embarrassing
incident with the tent poles to check if any parties
would be flying into the lodge that day. We were in luck
and replacement poles have now materialized.