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 

Y to K

A view from camp at the corner of Escape Rapids. This stream falls 100 feet into the Coppermine.



It was good to cross the tree line again today. As much as we love the barrens there is something comforting about knowing that you have shelter and firewood should it ever be needed. Also it is so much easier to cook big fish with wood rather than our little stoves. One of Walter’s major talents is constructing fireplaces. He is an engineer by training and creates elaborate masterpieces. They smacked of overkill when we were cooking with our single burner stoves on the barrens but now that we are back amongst the trees his edifices are more appreciated. Dick accompanies each result with a perfectly evenly sawed, split and stacked wood supply. Perhaps we are not doing enough miles each day to properly tire those two out.

July 26: 13 miles total the last two days. Yesterday morning we arrived at the complex on Red Rock Lake where the most amazing couple spends their summers. Marjorie and Max Ward welcomed us into their compound and were the perfect hosts for a wonderful 24 hours. They have a beautiful Twin Otter parked out front for their commutes into Yellowknife. Max, 81, is one of the original bush pilots, and flew out of Yellowknife decades ago before starting an international airline. It fact, it is one of Max’s earlier planes that is perched on the pedestal at the Yellowknife airport. Anyway he helped carry Randy’s boat into the shop to repair the bottom where it had been rubbed through dragging over rocks and ice. We also used their laundromat and showers and set up for the night in one of their guest sub mansions. The cook baked cookies until we were stuffed and after dinner we all sat around to tell stories. Max has been in the north even longer than Dick and it was one of those perfect evenings when everyone ruefully trots out their most outrageous experiences. In the morning we scarcely paddled 3 miles, just out of sight, before stopping for the day. Sandy is suffering after 42 days on the trail. She is both sick and worn out and tonight she and Randy are struggling to decide whether they should return to the Ward’s and fly home or continue on with us in the morning. It would be a sad thing to see them leave tomorrow.

Week #7: What a perfect week, just the way summer trips should be. Lots of rapids and fun stretches of river, along with wolves, caribou, musk ox, moose and grizzlies. Easy days, fine weather, great scenery and wonderful camping. Everyone should be sure to do the Coppermine once in his or her lives. Summers are so nice in the north. There seems to be at least one good week almost every year.

July 27: 15 miles. Thunderstorms this morning so we had breakfast in bed. The green canoe has decided to continue with us and we are all glad that decision is finally behind us. Nice weather today and we are camped on an esker at the end of Rock Nest Lake.

July 28: 13 miles. There are 4 sets of intricate rapids below Rock Nest and each canoe made its own way. At the bottom we came upon a capsized canoe lodged mid-stream with all its gear. We wrestled it ashore and left it for whoever comes next. It belonged to two young women who apparently survived their mishap. We were attacked by angry terns today that kept clipping the stem of our canoe in their efforts to head us off from their nursery. Big moose outside camp tonight.

July 29. 34 miles. We startled a sleeping grizzly with her two cubs on shore today. Imagine our surprise when she woke up and leapt toward us. Once she saw that we were six however the three of them quickly detoured into the brush. She was very tall on her hind legs; most impressive. We’re camped on a high bank at the edge of the woods tonight and it is very plush with nice moss to sleep on. A mother wolf and her three pups are just across the way. We are pretty much at the Arctic Circle now and will be crossing the tree line back onto the barrens before long.

July 30. 30 miles. Three moose today, also a wolf with six pups, the most we have ever seen. Caught my first arctic char for supper tonight, about 30 inches, maybe 10 or 12 pounds. The traveling has been great, what a wonderful river.

July 31. 31 miles. Cold and windy today. Saw a robin.

August 1. 23 miles. Cold and rainy all day long. We made a big fire at noon to warm ourselves up.   Tonight I got so frustrated that I put my fish rod away for the rest of the trip. All I hook are char now and they are just too big for my outfit. I lost two lures to snapped lines this evening before landing a 15 pounder which Dick is turning into chowder. Once I had him hooked and tiring, Dick was able to wade out and herd him into shore with his raincoat. Moose, wolves and caribou today. Grizzly tracks on the flats down by the canoe tonight.

Week #8: Fall arrives and we go home.

August 3:  We only got 6 miles yesterday and by then the wind and rain were kicking up waves so huge they kept filling the boats and it was not practical to continue.  We set up an elaborate tarp/canoe shelter back in the trees and are here again today sitting out the storm. I guess it is fall now. Suddenly the caribou have reversed course and they have been streaming southwards past our camp by the hundreds for the last two days. It got up to about 45 degrees Fahrenheit at noon. The wind is howling out on the river but we are all snug in camp. The bugs are gone now. Really it was a pretty good summer insect wise as they scarcely lasted two weeks.

August 4: 25 miles today, temperatures in the low 40’s, north wind, mixture of cloud and sun, caribou everywhere. Saw musk ox. Nice current and rapids. Passed Rocky Defile at lunch and one group ran while the others portaged this big rapid. Pretty easy day except for the 30 mph head winds. We passed the Kendall River and are camped on a bluff across from the September Mountains.

August 5. 37 miles. Another good travel day; cool and overcast with occasional rapids. Another wolf, more caribou. Very picturesque country. Camping just below Muskox Rapids tonight.

August 6: 23 miles. Camped along the portage above Escape Rapids. Kind of a rainy morning but this evening is great. Lots of huge ice chunks along the shore today. Also saw a hole in the river we will not soon forget. We came around a corner to find Randy and Sandy jammed in along the rocks, pointing upstream. Like them we did an unplanned revolution, then swung out around them with the bow hanging out over the edge of the hole before surging safely by along the cliff. They managed to paddle back upstream a few feet, then spin around and edge by the hole also. Then Dick and Walter made it too. Kind of scary stuff. Guess we should have been on the other side of the river! Grizzly wandering around outside camp tonight. Beautiful spot.

August 7: Camped at Bloody Falls tonight. A little disappointing, have heard about it for years and had expected something more earthshaking. 11 miles to town tomorrow. We plan to pop in early to see if we can catch a flight out.

August 8.:  Got in to town shortly after 8 am but cannot leave until tomorrow. Alistair Harvey is the man to see here. We made arrangements with him to have our boats barged up the Mackenzie to Hay River and then trucked back to the east coast. Cold and windy here and very exposed. Snow squalls off and on all day long.

Conclusion. The Coppermine is a marvelous river and I cannot recommend it highly enough.  It was a wonderful summer. We have traveled with Dick before and he is a great companion. If we had realized how special the Coppermine would turn out to be perhaps we would have gotten around to doing it sooner but there are so many great places to visit. Recollecting back, I marvel at our good fortune to have traveled in the north so many years. Margie and I started travelling together in 1965 and next summer’s trip on the Kazan will mark the completion of our first 40 years of wilderness exploration. What a wonderful journey it has been, and how we look forward to the trips ahead.




The peripatetic Dick Irwin and lunker trout on Artillery Lake.






Y2K Part II paddlers. From left to right: Carl Shepardson, Dick Irwin, Margie Shepardson, Randy Shepardson, Walter Lohaza and Sandy Breen. Missing is first half paddler Todd Shepardson.

 Fall 2004/Winter 2005        Outfit 118 & 119 

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