Paddling the Dubawnt and the Kazan - 2004 Canoe Expedition

Day 15, Thursday July 22, 2004

   

Crawl out of bed at 6:00. Hurried breafast in the tent. Pack quickly. So cold our hands freeze in the biting wind.Wade through 100 feet of muck to get into water deep enough to paddle. Ferocious wind in our face, 2 km takes near an hour.

Huge clouds, as white on top as hotel-laundered sheets, float in a sky of aquamarine. Rocks on the tundra cast in sharp relief with shadows as black as the bottoms of the clouds. Earthy red peat fields bleed the night's rain in tea-coloured rivulets.

 
 

Portage after portage - 4 in all - all the same. Treacherous landings with rock-studded shallows. What should take minutes takes forever. Lift the canoe over 1 foot at a time. Stuck on sharp knife-edged rocks over and over. Forced to unload and carry outfit to shore over moss-covered slippery boulders. Each foot step threatens to throw you into the frigid water.


Tundra portages are hard walking. Dance from rock to rock - slog through soft peat - scramble through clumps of tundra birch. Eyes down, searching ahead for each footstep. Then reload at the far end.
Wade through sevearal narrows that the map promises are channels with water. More slippery walking.. The canoe crys out as we rake it over the rocks. Soaking wet to the waist all day. Freezing, biting, north wind is unrelenting. Makes the canoe near imposible to carry.


Lunch is wonderful. Great spot behind a huge boulder out of the wind. In the wind we are frozen. Behind the rock we are fine. We have learned how to revel in the shortest of good fortune here. The sun comes out for 5 minutes and we have to strip clothes. Then it hides and we freeze.


A primal landscape. Next to no trees for shelter. A circle of weather enfolds us. We see storms rage through everwhere we look when we are in the sun. Then we are pelted with ice pellets as we watch the sun brighten the tundra close to us.
Tempers are short. We quarrel. But we move on. 8 1/2 hours yields only 7 miles. Fully a kilometer of that a carrying. Each portage with the damned unloading and loading. 3 trips each across. A mile of the same carrying starts our day tomorrow. But for now we are warm and are full of chicken and dumplings. Tomorrow will bring what it will bring.


We will yet again get days where the river speeds us along. Where the wind is behind us. Where we see muskox. Where we find old Inuit camps.


Neither of us would trade this for anything right now. Really.

 


Day 16, Friday July 23, 2004

The end of the day first - if only because the start was so hard.


We are now on a tiny tundra island less than a mile from where the river flows out of Big Rocky Lake. The sun is out and the wind is finally going to sleep. The island is a dome of peat covered in a carpet of caribou moss, labrador tea, and cloud berries. Some tiny cranberries are thrown into the mix. There are open sores of red oozing peat moss scattered here and there that the carpet will quickly cover over. A few lone scattered rocks litter the top on the dome. Tiny spruce, birch and willow occupy perhaps a third of the shoreline. Walking on the peat feels like you are on a huge sponge.


After 6 1/2 hours of "work" we made a hard-fought 10 miles. And the odd thing is that the first mile took 4 hours and 5 miles of walking. The portage was good, by tundra standards. But you still had to keep your eyes to the ground and pick the places for your feet. And the wind was 20 gusting to 30 mph. At least it was behind us as we carried our 3 loads each.


Some comfort for 2 of my loads, but the canoe was a nightmare to carry. I rigged a rope with a toggle on the end and tied it to the front canoe seat on the windward side. This helped me wrestle the canoe onto a bearing that came close to the way I was trying to walk. But I was forced to stop repeatedly and wait for gust after gust to subside. Several times I was spun right around in a complete circle. Then I would watch as I got spun past my line of travel another 90 degrees. Some fancy footwork there, I can tell you. I suspect I looked like an evolutionary experiment gone sadly wrong."Better to get a few more sets of legs under this tundra crab we're trying to make. The wind is playing hell with its carapace," I can hear the genetic scientist say. "Yes, and perhaps lower its center of gravity while we're at it?" the other replies. A few times the canoe felt like it was going to fly away as I struggled to keep it from levitating. My good gawd, what a mile that was! In any case we got it done. And the next 9 miles flew by with a tail wind assisting us.


Lynda is exhausted. She has been waking up about once an hour every night - too hot then too cold by turns. It's wearing her down. She also has this real phobia about slippery moss-covered rocks, and we have had our far share the last few days. Tonight's soft bed of spongy peat might help her finally get some much needed sleep. I hope so, as tomorrow we have many rapids. I suspect tough lining and/or portages will be the order of the day.


In any case it finally looks like this batch of "shit" weather has blown itself out. Soon enough - perhaps tomorrow night - we will be on Kamilukuak and get a few days of plain old paddling where we can get a few miles without killing ourselves.


We saw our first pair of Arctic loons today. Also saw an otter sunning on a rock and another swimming in front of us, oblivious to our presence. As I type this, I can see the brilliant white of the labrador tea floating over a field of caribou moss and cloud berries. Tundra birds are flitting in and out of the 3-foot-high clump of spruce on the shore. I can hear the water lapping the rocks along the shore.


There is a magic here. We both have fallen under its spell again. The pain of the day is forgotten and we are happy.

 

Resources

 

Web Casts on Out-There.com

Paddling the Dubawnt and the Kazan - On Going 2004

Vermette Lake, NWT to Stoney Rapids, Saskatchewan - 2003

La Ronge to Arviat on Hudson Bay: 55 Days and 1000 miles - 2002

Paddling the Dubawnt River through the NWT and Nunavut - 2001

 

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