An overcast day
lent a gun metal grey colour of the sky to the water. In the soft light
the hills were a vibrant green - all the colours leapt out at us. The
sun was unable to wash away the vibrancy with her usual unrelenting noon-day
show of force.
The river runs through much bleached bone white rock here. You can see
the rock outcroppings from miles away. To walk on them is to marvel at
the scouring and polishing done by wind, water and the ice sheet. Smooth
as glass, and perfect spots for lunch if inhospitable for a night camp.
One "almost" lake about 4 miles long was sprinkled with sand
beach after sand beach. The moods of the glaciers were many. And it was
a good day when this lake was carved out of the earth's surface. God's
own Engineering Department couldn't have done better work. Behind each
sand beach was usually a ridge covered in tall - say 15 feet - lone spruce
trees. The hills surrounding the lake had randomly scattered tall trees
as well, really what you would see as you got into Taiga going up a mountain.
At lunch we stopped on a bare rocky island. We found a nice spot near
the top and put up the tarp - to get out of the wind and the sea of grayness.
Under the tarp we marvel at how other people cope without one. We were
soon warm from tea and cheddar broccoli soup Bear Creek of course - and
I fell into a deep sleep. By the time I woke the wind from the east had
blown in some new weather that tried to gain a foot hold.
As we paddled away it was the oddest sky. Bleak, high and gray to our
left. Soft billowing low white clouds and blue sky to our right. And over
top the river a wedge of blue between the two that tapered off to the
horizon. "Good and Evil weather wrestle," Lynda commented. The
two systems sparred all afternoon. Evil finally won. But for a while the
sun poked out through mists of gray and sparkled on the water in those
soft flat shimmering sheets off light you see late afternoons on the ocean
Two spots of significant whitewater today. One simply marked "nasty"
and the other "beyond nasty - portage left" from my 98 notes.
They lived up to their names. We paddled and lined the bottom of "nasty"
and ran and portaged "beyond" nasty. Nasty is a huge rapid with
giant sucking holes and waves everywhere you look. No easy line can be
found. Do-able in lower water. We ran it all in 98. Beyond is not do-abe
at any water level.
Supper is almost ready so I'll have to explain "Knife Head Hill"
Of note and forgotten yesterday are the walls of ice we are encountering
along the river. Quite something when you think that it is near August.
In closing, in the May of 1926 Thierry Mallet, Del Simons, Peter Linklater
and "another Cree man" set out from Reindeer Lake with a 19
foot canoe and a 3 1/2 HP motor to go to Baker Lake. They picked up Kakoot
- the same person who, as a young man, found Tyrell's "field glasses"
(not telescope as I said yesterday - for him - at Ennadai Lake to guide
them. When they got to Yathkyed - we should be there tomorrow - the lake
was covered in ice. Kakoot told them that the Pademuit name for the lake
is Heeko - leeg - juak (Big Solid Ice Lake).
They set out back up-river. - how they did it is beyond me - and Kakoot
said he would walk back to Ennadai My guess is he thought about how hard
it would be to paddle upriver and left the white guys to their own devices.
When the paddlers pulled into Kakoot's camp exhausted and famished, he
was waiting. He'd been home to his three wives and clan for a few days
and was none the worse for wear for his hike. Take a look at a map to
get a sense of how far he went. Amazing!
Day 26 - Monday
August 02, 2004
What an unbelieveable
day. But if I don't tell you about Knife on Head Hill now I never will.
In '98, when we did the Kazan, we got in wind so big we couldn't get the
canoe down rapids where we were doing over 8 mph this year. Worse, the
canoe got turned sideways and we were stuck mid-river. It was too deep
to get out and we tried everything known to man to get the canoe turned.
No way, Jose. We had to sit there for 15 minutes until there was a lull
in the gale force winds. We got turned and paddled for all we were worth
to gain the privilege of landing on a rocky, inhospitable shore.
We set up the tarp, crawled under, sipped coffee, read books, and waited.
We deluded ourselves into thinking that "any minute" the wind
would quit. Good luck. I fished for hours and did so without a hat on.
This was a pre-Tilley hat trip and the one I had wouldn't stay on in the
wind. Being hair challenged, I got way too much sun and got a bad headache.
The aspirins were in the bottom of a barrel so I thought I would just
tough it out. Then I remembered that some willows have ASA in them. So
I ate a ton of them, and birch - leaves, bark and all. Well, the headache
got so bad it felt like my head was ready to explode.
We finally got away at about 6, after waiting all day for the wind to
die. We passed "Beyond Nasty" rapids and pullled into K on H
Hill. It was late and we were wiped out. I got the tent up and crawled
in, but I couldn't lie down, the pain was so bad. Try as I might I couldn't
lie down lest my eyeballs pop right out of my head. I was almost in tears
- I am sure I had sun stroke. God only knows what was in all the tree
material I ate. Lynda got me a Tylenol 3 and after about 20 minutes I
could almost ease my head down onto my pillow without it feeling like
knives were being pushed into my eyes. Thirty minutes and I was almost
All I remember next is looking up at the roof of the tent where Lynda
had wound her pants around a make-shift clothes line - we don't have one
now. Then it happened. Lynda's Swiss Army Knife fell out of her pants
pocket and bounced off my forehead. Because it was tied onto her pants
with a string, it bounced off another 3 or 4 times - like a bungie-jumping
wild dervish. I let out a moan of utter defeat and pain. Lynda leaned
over to see what had happened. And she broke out laughing so hard she
near cried. I was ready to hit the PLB button. I saw nothing funny. Hence
the name - Knife on Head Hill.
A lovely day today - hot and sunny. Winds from every quarter seemed to
come and go every half hour. One minute we were fighting it. The next
it was behind us. The next it was dead calm.
When we left this morning we passed some huge gray gneiss outcroppings
in the lake. Polished smooth and with no rocks on top, they looked like
half-submerged giant whales. A 7 mile race across an open stretch took
us to the north shore of the lake. Camp spots rating 11 on the 10 scale
are a dime a dozen, mile after mile. Soft rolling tundra hills fronted
by sand or gravel beaches seemed to be the order of the day.
Just at lunch we were approaching a point that showed promise. I wanted
to eat and convinced Lynda to let me troll to shore. We had been seeing
trout surfacing mid-lake all day so when she uttered an "expletive
deleted" I thought she had seen lunch stiking its fins out of the
water. Nope. A lone muskox was alseep on the beach, no doubt getting a
sun tan. He - it was a he as the "boss" on the head wasn't joined
- just wouldn't leave. At one point we were less than a canoe length from
shore and he was maybe 10 feet from the water. We watched him - and he
us - for about 15 minutes. The I made enough noise to get him to leave
so we could pull in for lunch. He ambled off in no particular hurry.
I tried to catch a trout for lunch with no luck. But I kept seeing these
circular ripples near shore and could actually hear a "gulping"
noise coming from them. So I put on a fly and in 1 cast had a 1 1/2 pound
grayling. And we are at least 12 miles from the river. Wild!
We did another 12 mile dash to the outlet of the lake where we are now
camped in a 10 in the 10 scale spot. This is the kind of spot where you
would positively love to be wind-bound - for a day anyway.
A mile from shore I saw trout surfacing so I made a quick cast. One cast,
1 fish. It really isn't fishing here. It 's hunting. You scan the surface
for your quarry and then cast at it and .. BAM.... you have supper.
Supper was Honey Garlic noodles with Black Beans and fried trout. Heavenly.
River and rapids tomorrow. 24 miles today - and that on a lake. Not bad
for an old bald fat white guy and his young lady friend.