Paddling the Dubawnt and the Kazan - 2004 Canoe Expedition

Day 29 - Thursday August 05, 2004


The dead calm night let the black flies revel. My God, they were so thick on the inside of the tent fly they started to "clot" into clumps like bees that are "hiving." We watched in a mix of bemused interest and terror as the weight of the clot would grow too large and the ones whose little feet were gripping the fabric were ripped loose. The whole mess would hit the tundra and then the process would start over again. What would you do without a tent? Whatever did the Inuit do and how do the caribou survive? You want a real survivor show? Put those New York City Yuppies up here with a head net, a fishing rod and no DEET. My guess is the show would be about 1/2 an episode long. It was so bad that at one point I wanted a book I was reading and concluded there was NO WAY I was going to open the door long enough to grab the canoe barrel 3 feet from the door. It wasn't worth it.


I awoke at 8 after rain all night. I secretly wanted a day off but the wind seemed not bad even if the weather was from the north to north-east. So I faked it and went back to sleep. At 7:30 Lynda and I talked out the pros and cons of stopping for a day - just for a rest really was my logic. She was for making miles but I argued that the furthest we would get is about 10 miles where we would be stopped dead on Thirty Mile Lake by the mid-strong east wind - Thirty Mile runs east to west. We agreed to wait until about 10 to see what would happen vis a vis the wind. Lynda rolled over and went to sleep.

I got up to make coffee and when I stepped out of the tent, I just about got knocked flat by the wind. It was 20 gusting 30 plus and the lake was alive with lines of breaking 3-foot white frosted waves. The Marmot Fortress is so stable we had no idea there was much wind at all. You gotta' like a tent like that.

So the day was spent sleeping, reading and lazing. We both must have been real "trail tired" as we both slept about 4 hours. All in all, a nice place to be stuck. The smell of peat washes over everything and the beds in the tent are "oh so comfortable". The wind is from the north now and moderating. I can see clear skies and we will be underway tomorrow with any luck. A day off is great, two wears thin, three and I am crazy to travel again.

Curried trout and couscous for supper. I wonder what all you poor people are eating tonight.

Day 30 - Friday August 06, 2004


We woke to yet more wind. Cold, strong, unrelenting north wind. So, off and on all morning, we debated staying or going. All morning, that is, until we got out the quivvit and started cleaning it.It was a perfect diversion that kept our minds off of our enforced stay. Cleaning the downy soft underfur is tedious work but so rewarding as we think about the herd we saw and what we can have made from the wool. I know already that whatever we have knit will be something we will both cherish for the rest of our lives. It will be rich with meaning and memories. 

As you pull the fibers apart and sink your fingers into the wool, it is like pulling soft brown clouds apart. The slightest breeze sends the tiny clouds aloft.


Wonderful stuff and so warm to the touch. We both wish we could have camped on the island where our new friends live. We could have easily picked 5 garbage bags full of this gossamer fine fur.

Afer lunch the wind relented, if only a bit. We started packing like Gypsies to make a hurried dash to the north end of Forde Lake. Just as we were loading the canoe, the German pair appeared on the horizon. We tagged along with them for the 4 mile open water crossing - sometimes in front, sometimes in the rear. Big waves and horrid wind made for a 2 hour long crossing. With nowhere to run if the wind got more intense, it appeared to be a foolhardy paddle. But we have seen the Arctic, and we can sense her moods. The wind was steady with no huge looming systems ready to pounce. (When you really should worry is when it is dead calm and there is a foreboding black sky to the north. Days like that can spell real trouble). Today was just a real long 3 1/2 hours of paddling. And I doubt we paddled more than 8 miles for all the effort.

We are now camped on the river about 4 miles downstream from Forde Lake. The sky is a mix of low, scudding, black-bottomed clouds and blue sky. The light is soft as it skips off the clouds and the view is incredible. The distant sky is layers of colour - grays and whites with the odd splotch of blue. The sky folds around the lines of distant hills - some black in shadow, others vibrant green, a few sunlit. The water is dark blue and alive with the servants of the wind - lines of white galloping waves racing off to the shore.

It is only 5:30. A short but hard day. Well, not really all that hard. We have had far worse. I don't want this trip to end and even though a hundred plus miles remains, I am trying to slow it down. Where a month ago I would have been racing to get ahead of our schedule - what semblance of schedule we have - now I am relaxed and feel at home. I am in no hurry to leave this country. But tomorrow we will set out again, and if it is a good day we will paddle some 20 - 25 miles, simply to see what we can see, to find another new perfect home for the night.

This really is a wonderful way to live, this nomadic Gypsy day-by-day existence. It suits my temperment and makes me happy. Here I feel a contentment that eludes me anywhere else. Here I have a clear simple purpose. Here I sleep like a child. Here all the confusion vanishes.
It really is, I suppose, a feeling of suspended reality.




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

Globalstar - Satellite Communications

Iowa Thin Film - Portable Solar Power

Mont-Bell - Outdoor Gear and Clothing

North Water - Paddle Sports Equipment

Nova Craft - Canoes

Socket Communications - The Mobile Connection Company

Tilly Endurables - Travel Clothing


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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