Paddling the Dubawnt and the Kazan - 2004 Canoe Expedition

Day 23 - Friday July 30, 2004


Long long very very long day. 32 miles. Even with the river helping it was tiring. We were ready to quit fully 8 miles before we did. But we just couldn't find a tiny spot big enough for our tent.One of these days we are going to get a real easy day. Fingers crossed for tomorrow. I haven't had a good sleep for two nights and am real burned right now. I can tell, as my temper is way short. I can't seem to understand even the simplest questions from Lynda. I mean like "Could you hand me a cup of water, please?" I hear it but it just doesn't register.

Perhaps I will resort to Zopiclone tonight. With lots of rapids tomorrow I would really like to be on the top of my game.


It was a beautiful day. Lots to tell. In the morning.

We started at 8:00 and an hour of flat-water got us to the start of the river. We saw one last lone inuksuk on Angikuni on a high hill as we worked our way north.

The first rapid was exciting. We could feel the tug of the river as it hurried its way to the ocean. Frantic to get to salt water, the lake hurled itself down the drop. The water, tripping over itself in its haste and careening off of rocks, was alive with waves and boiling surging currents.

"It looks big !"
"Nah. It's a piece of cake." I answered calmy with heart racing. "Rapids. Time for some fun," I whispered to the Prospector. She raced forward as if to agree.

I did a back-ferry near the top to show Lynda that it was going to be easy. It was big and fast but an easy move through a calmer spot. But when we got to the eddy at the other side it was a seething foaming wide line of chaos. Water torn from the calm pool by the racing current surged up into boils. Half air and half water - with current going every direction - these are tricky spots. Noting to brace a paddle on. Nothing to give purchase for the paddle to pull you forward. Caught in the capricious waves and cross waves the canoe can easily be tipped or turned around in a second. The line was wide - near 8 feet. I threaded the canoe along the outside edge of the eddy "fence" and just next to the large - 3 foot - bucking waves. Not a good place to be but it didn't worry me a bit. It felt right. The Prospector agreed -she danced.

"Nothing to it. " I told Lynda hoping she wouldn't remember the eddy like this one that ate us on the Porcupine last year. But that was with an old tired Prospector. Today I was in a young boat that knew no fear, that was marvelling at the tundra for the first time - that was dancing. The rapid went on for fully 3 miles. At speeds of up to 10 mph we were through in under 20 minutes. Twenty minutes of fun.

There were no more huge rapids - they will come tomorrow - but there were many long fast "baby" rapids. In many places we were on an oily slick of black indigo water that was racing down a hill. Then up again. Then down again. Hills on a river. Neat. We watched the bottom racing by until we were dizzy. Even when not paddling we floated at 4 mph.

And the racing current made me forget the "Eskimaux" who are no longer here. Their ghosts were banished from my mind or, if they were present, they were smiling and laughing to see us enjoying Inuit Ku as they once did. I was able to enter the dream again and think about a "kyack" apearing around each corner.

And at lunch I found my kyack! The first place we stopped for lunch yielded pieces of a skin boat right beside where we put up the tarp. One piece was shaped and about a inch square in diameter with holes drilled in it. The other bent - we think it is a part of the coaming - with a perfect notched u-shaped groove along its outer circumference. At at one end there were two tiny drilled holes one of which still had its hand-made copper rivet - made from a shell casing or old pot, I presume.
I found my "kyack !" And I thougt of the man who built it, and his life on Inuit Ku. And I smiled for him. And he smiled back as I enjoyed his land.

A friend of mine in La Ronge said he thought, "The hoary old ghosts speak to you. They keep calling you back."
I think he's right.

The day ended with a camp across form Tyrell's Cliffs right before the First Cascade. Tomorrow will be a few carries, some real fun paddling, and perhaps some vists with the "Hoary old ghosts."

Life is good.

Day 24 - Saturday July 31, 2004


Its's 6:00 pm and one of those days when the Tundra Godess has smiled on us - warm temperatures, fast current, and enough wind to keep the insect plague away.

We are now camped on a peat field 20 feet above the river. The view from the "kitchen" is a half mile wide thread of blue water racing to taste salt water. The far shore - and this one - is a solid wall of yellow gravel fringed with fields of tundra birch and willow. Looking downstream , I can see the next rapids where it curves around a point. Several gravel islands sit mid-river.


Its's 6:00 pm and one of those days when the Tundra Godess has smiled on us - warm temperatures, fast current, and enough wind to keep the insect plague away.

We are now camped on a peat field 20 feet above the river. The view from the "kitchen" is a half mile wide thread of blue water racing to taste salt water. The far shore - and this one - is a solid wall of yellow gravel fringed with fields of tundra birch and willow. Looking downstream , I can see the next rapids where it curves around a point. Several gravel islands sit mid-river.

I can smell Bear Creek Brownies baking. Coffee is just done and I have a cup waiting. It is an early day as we quit at 5:30. We didn't make a lot of miles, but we had the "Three Cascades" to portage, line and run today.

The first drop is shorter than the second but it is a sight to behold. A ledge of red-brown rock runs at an angle across the entire river. When you approach the portage on river right the ledge unfolds to your view as you paddle into the apex of the angle. The start of the portage is right beside the falls. The short carry has you right beside the river so you can see and hear the whole display. Quite wonderful.

The second makes the first pale by comparison. The river has cut its way through the soft rock, leaving behind many steep-sided high islands of harder material. The first drop is as wide as the river - say 200 odd meters - and kicks up a fine spray. When you paddle into the portage all you can see is a "horizon line" with the mist supsended above it. Where the river is squeezed between the rock islands it is a white boiling cauldron.

We carried to the first logical put-in. This is the same place where we ran the remainder from in 1998. But the river is quite a bit higher this year. So we scouted all the way down to where we could see the third drop - more of a very major rapid really. Some tricky parts for sure today. Far harder than the last time.

The first move was perhaps the worst. The main current is fast and the waves huge through this section. Five to six foot waves race along at over 15 mph. There is a huge boulder near shore. To run it on the outside and then power into the shore again is do-able but it would be tricky. I wanted to try it but Lynda wisely talked me out of it. I knew we could do it but there was no "Plan B" if we screwed up. To line along the shore would be real tricky as well, as there is a train of 3 1/2 foot curlers that are right tight to the shore. Too close for comfort when you are lining. Way to easy to get the boat caught sideways in the hole. So we decided we would paddle down from the first eddy and then portage up and over a point and put back in again.

We got the boat loaded and then started edging down along the shore. I had a plan that I hadn't told Lynda about. "Do up your spray cover." I had to yell to be heard over the roar of the rapids. "Why? We're carrying." "Just do it up. Now paddle. Hard hard hard." We punched the wave train. The first drop felt like we were on a ride at the fair. Then Lynda vanished for a second as we forced our way through the first wave. I could hear her scream like she was on a real scary roller-coaster. Then 3 more waves. Bam bam bam and we were through. And we didn't even take on that much water.

Another 250 meters of lining - one spot REAL tricky where the eddy we were trying to get to was re-circualting right back into a keeper. I had to hold the back of the canoe straight while Lynda hauled the front throught the eddy fence. Then one more paddle thorugh an "S" turn between a rock island and the shore and we were ready for the last move.

You have to do a full front ferry from river right to river left. If you screw up you go through the third cascade. You might live. Probably not. It's an easy ferry except that on the far side there is a ledge that's hard to get past to where you start the portage. The option here is to ferry below the ledge but that puts you kinda' close to the real big stuff at the top of the rapid - easy 6 foot waves. I scouted the move from the boat and we dropped below the ledge and into the eddy with meters to spare before we would have been anywhere near the rapid. A perfect text book move, if I do say so myself.

After 3 quick casts into the eddy, lunch was the best - we both agree - trout we have ever eaten. About 8 pounds. It fed us for lunch and now again for supper with curry and couscous. Bear Creek Brownies for dessert. Lynda says they are 11 on the 10 scale.

Now how could it get better? Well, what about the Peregrine falcons at Tyrell Cliffs? Ho hum I can hear you yawning. Well try this. On the far shore after lunch we did a front ferry to the right bank to see ... to see .. Maybe I'll just tell you tomorrow. Ok ok ok .... 27 muskox grazing right by the river's edge. When we tired of watching them - they just couldn't seem to quit watching us - we paddled away only to find another fellow out on a gravel bar, having swum there to see us perhaps?

Also of note. We lost our binoculars. Right at the top of the bank where you scramble down the the river after the portage at the second cascade. Pout pout pout. I will have to get the word out on the Canadian Canoe Routes web page to see if someone can find them for me. Oddly we were just reading last night where Tyrell lost his telescope. He asked his gude Kakoot if he could find it.. Two years later Mr. "Des Chambeault" of the HBC sent them along to Tyrell. Maybe I can find Kakoot's great gransdson?

Also of note. Laval Tremblay is ahead of us somewhere and we think it was his Red Royalight we found on the rocks at the portages. Not so interesting except that if it is him, it's our old Novacraft Prospector. I'm sure my new one and the older one would yak up a storm about the way I've treated them. But in my defense, I give them lots of play time in the rapids.

Enjoy . Life is way short.





Web Casts on

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



Text - Bill Layman
Photos - Bill Layman and Lynda Holland
Live text edited by Joan Eyolfson Cadham, freelance writer/editor, Foam Lake Saskatchewan.
Layout and art work - L. Librehomme
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Other Rivers

Coppermine River - Northwest Territories

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Thlewiaza River - Manitoba/Nunavut

Thelon River - Northwest Territories/Nunavut


Other Articles

Canoe Gear For The Subarctic - BIll Layman


Other Features

Kanawa - Canada's Paddling Magazine

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Related Links



Bill writes for KANAWA magazine and Canoe & Kayak magazine about their canoe trips. Lynda has published several books about the Dene of northern Saskatchewan. The most recent are the two volumes in the Dene Elders Project and are published by Holland-Dalby Educational Consulting.

  • The Dene Elders Project: Stories and History from the West Side (ISBN # 0-921848-23-4)
  • They Will Have Our Words: The Dene Elders Project, Volume 2 (ISBN #0-921848-25-0)

For copies of either of these books you can contact Lynda directly at or PO Box 327, La Ronge, Saskatchewan, S0J 1L0

Bill has an article featured in the May 2004 issue of Canoe & Kayak covering a portion of his 2002 La Ronge to Arviat canoe trip. - Canoe & Kayak Website You'll also find several other articles on gear and expeditions written by Bill in Kanawa Magazine

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