The Journal of Canadian

Wilderness Canoeing

 FALL 2004



OUTFIT 118 & 119










In this issue

Front Page



Winter Packet


From the Editor

Canoelit I

Canoelit II

Back page





Part  1  2  3

Y to K

                  Dragging on ice-covered Aylmer Lake enroute to the source of the Coppermine River.

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 etc.

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 mine.

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.

Week #6: 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 now.

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.






A skinny caribou decided to take a dip in front of Dick Irwin's camera on Aylmer Lake.


 Fall 2004/Winter 2005        Outfit 118 & 119 

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