Paddling the Dubawnt and the Kazan - 2004 Canoe Expedition

Day 27 - Tuesday August 03, 2004

Musk Ox

What an extrodinary day. We are back on the river and the paddling is easy. The weather is fantastic - easily the best we two have ever seen up here. Just as we got to a narrows where we saw caribou swimming across in '98 we saw a lone female - later in the day we saw another.

The only excitement I was expecting was the two rapids. They were great fun, but not even one percent as exciting as what was about to unfolded. We both needed a piss. (Lynda says women don't piss; only men do that. Women apparently do something else. I digress.) We headed to the only island in sight. Oval and about 500 m long, it didn't hold much hint of what was about to happen.


As we got closer I saw a black spot move on the shore. Then two. Then three. "It must be musk ox." As we drew closer, it became 7, then 9, finally 11. And from a half mile away - far before they could see or smell us - we could hear low guttural "mooing." As we got nearer they saw us. Some were already in the water, rubbing against sharp edged rocks. Some were asleep. Othere were either rubbing against the few willows or grazing on them. Then 5 of them walked into the water, chest deep, "bellowing" at us. We weren't sure if they were just inquisitive or if they were telling us to "bugger off." The longer we stayed, the more they grew used to us and soon they were back to business as usual.

I shot far too many pictures - I am running out of film - and said to Lynda, "Not another picture unless one climbs up on a rock on all fours." Honest to all that is sacred, 30 seconds later, one of the young males put his front feet up on a rock as if to get a better look at us. Then he crawled up on top. With all four feet nearly touching, he looked like a border collie trying to stand on the top of a pop bottle.

We could see a ton of quivit - the soft underfur that they shed - all about the island. But how to get it with 11 muskox standing guard? We slid down the island, hoping to get to the other end where we might grab some of the quivit. Be darned if the stupid things didn't follow us down. I finally got out and cautiously snuck up onto shore. Our new pals didn't seem to mind. So I grabbed a bunch of the downy soft under fur as Lynda kept guard. The silly things came to see what I was doing. They fianally drifted back to the top of the island and I was able to get about a garbage bag full of the "wool." Once it's carded and spun, guess whose mother who knits a mile a minute is going to have a job to do.

After lunch a canoe appeared on the horizon. It was a couple of Germans - Marcus and Michael. They have been out about 70 days and came from Fort McMurray following the same route we took from the Dubawnt to the Kazan. When Marcus got out of their canoe, I knew he was the "Big Foot " we have been tracking. He is at least 6 foot 7. We are camping with them tonight and just had a great yak about the north. I 'll get a picture of him beside Lynda tomorrow to show you how big he is. And I do mean big.

I left the tent door open for the last 4 hours by mistake. There are easily 1000 blackfllies trapped inside with us. Not too bright a bulb am I.


Day 28 - Wednesday August 04, 2004

I forgot to mention that the other morning that when we woke the tarp was covered in caddis flies. Sparrows kept flitting onto the roof to grab breakfast. We could hear them half hover half land on the tarp, then grab a caddis fly and wing away. This went on for the full hour as we ate breakfast and drank coffee. We also watched a weasel scooting about, grabbing parts of the fish guts I had left near shore for the gulls.


Today we were up at 7:00 but didn't leave untll 10:00 We had a great visit with Markus and Michael. The picture of Markus confirms what I said about how big he is. I told you so. Listening to these two young men go on and on about how marvellous Canada is makes one realise how special this country is. Both of them quit their jobs just so they could come. Family and friends think them quite mad to do so but, as I say - and they agree - life is very short.

Of note, last night and again now - as we sit under the tarp - is the plaque of blackflies. You wouldn't believe it unless you were here. It sounds like rain on the fly as they "hammer" away trying to get in.


Aside from feeding the trout, I have no idea what use they are to man nor beast nor the greater universe. What a plague. Last night when I set up the tent and fired in the sleeping bags and all I forgot to close the door. When we went to bed at 10:00 the inside of the tent was alive with thousands of them. Of course, nothing will quiet the little beasts save a drink of blood.

A great day today even if we had to fight a perfect 90 degree cross wind. We paddled about 6 hours and change and ended the day with 22 miles - about 130 left to go. All afternoon the shore we paddled was fantastic. Grassy peat meadows fronted by gravel beaches. WIth a huge hill in the background Lynda commented how it looked like a veld in Africa. And she should know as she lived there for 2 years.

We are now camped 25 feet from the lake. We are on a grassy peat field - the aroma is heavenly - about 10 feet above the now calm water. I can see trout surfacing right by the shore. And I know they are trout as one cast yielded an over 12-pound beast for supper - and tomorrow's lunch and supper .... BIG fish. We just finished fettuicne with my special tomato sauce and "flash-fried" trout. Succulent is a word that comes to mind.

Six miles until we are off Forde Lake and then a fast strecth of river. We should be on Thirty Mile Lake tomorrow. Any guesses how long it is?

We saw 5 or 6 caribou today and a lone muskox right on the shore of the river. We didn't even slow down or go over to see this one. We left it for Markus and Michael. As serendipity will have it, they have seen only one to date and we some 42. Lady luck has smiled on us for sure on this trip.





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
Live Radio Interviews - CBC Saskatchewan & MBC - Archives (Real Audio)


Expedition Sponsors

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Other Rivers

Coppermine River - Northwest Territories

Fond du Lac River - Saskatchewan

Kazan River - Nunavut

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

Canoe and Kayak - America's Paddling Magazine


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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