Paddling the Dubawnt and the Kazan - 2004 Canoe Expedition

Day 31- Saturday August 7, 2004

Long day. Freezing, unrelenting wind. Just got into camp at 8:00 and very very tired. E-mail in the morning.

Our semblance of a daily schedule has been destroyed by the unrelenting north wind. It has blown with the ferocity of a pack of timber wolves for over 72 hours now. Where does all that wind come from?


I got up at 7:00 to boil some water to wash my feet. I have some horrible sort of athlete's foot or trench foot or similar. My God, it is so itchy that at night I can't quit scratching. I dare say a wire brush would feel good. This has been going on for about 10 days and I have tried every ointment and unguent we have in our limited pharmacy, all to no avail. When I wake, my foot is usually stuck to the sleeping bag liner with blood from where I scratched. The great thing is that all the drugs say to keep the affected area dry. Good luck on a canoe trip.


Anyway, when I got up it was cold - real real cold - and by the time my bath was done my hands and feet were frozen. So I concluded we would have to wait for the wind to go down and for the day to warm up. The day warmed up and the wind, in fact, actually got more severe. Nonetheless, at 1:30 we decided to make a run to a new home for the night.


We managed to paddle some 20 miles into a 20 mph wind. What a chore. You have to set the paddle as fast as possible lest you start to stall and slide backwards.. A few times the gusts would get so strong all you could do was paddle like mad to simply hold your ground. As quick as the wind relented for a second you had to fight to get the canoe moving again. Hard hard work. And made even harder as I have to draw every stroke to keep the canoe on course. My left shoulder - which isn't good on a good day - felt like it had a hot knife stuck through it. But at least it made me forget how badly my feet were itching.


About 3:00 we came to a rapids that we had run on river right in 98. My plan was to do the same but I thought it best to look at the left shore to reconnoitre. A good thing I did. It was a piece of cake to line the corner. The top saw me boulder hopping and leading the canoe through easy channels. Then a quick paddle through a calm pool to a final short portage that the Germans had just finished. I took a look at the spot and concluded I could line off the smooth series of ledges where it dropped back into the river. Lynda said I was mad but with both ropes in hand and running alongside on bare dry rock, I got the canoe through safely in a trice. Ah, but I was so proud of my handiwork, and Lynda had to eat her words about my mental stability.


The river turns straight north after the rapid and it was tedious paddling, The waves try to race up the river but the river fights them. The result is that the waves get bigger and bigger as they try to win the battle. We had to fight to gain the privilege of simply going downstream, the canoe slamming up and down all the while.


A beautiful sky all day. Low scudding clouds with the sun peaking through. Moving circles of light danced across on the tundra and the reflected light from the clouds cast everything in the most vibrant colours. Where the river narrowed, it flowed between 20 foot high walls of jumbled boulders pushed up by ice at breakup. Some spots showed the most gorgeous smooth multi-coloured bedrock scoured to a mirror's finish by years of wind, water and ice. Yet other spots saw huge rocks pushed beside sandy beaches on the wider lakelets.


As we rounded the final corner that put us on the easterly course of Thirty Mile Lake, we saw another herd of muskox at river's edge. Eleven this time and when I went out to scout the tundra for quivvit, I saw 6 more off in the distance. What luck for us this trip for us to see so many of these curious animals. They are obviously thriving.


As I type this (Sunday Morning) we are sitting beside a narrow channel where we are camped. I looked up and there are 5 caribou grazing peacefully, oblivious to our presence.


Supper last night was trout. Right before we left the island where we camped yesterday I thought I would cast off the rocks to see what was about. Beside the smooth rock edge of the island I could see 3 over-6-pound trout swimming in place against the current. I dropped my hook and instantly had all 3 fighting for it. I couldn't resist. I cast 5 times and had 5 fish. I kept 2 and let 3 go. I am not near tired of fish but Lynda is a tad "pisced" out after 7 meals in a row. "But at least none for breakfast yet !" I comfort her.


The wind has moderated and appears largely from the west today. As we are headed east it should be a good day. The mosquitoes are out and it is warmish with sun. Suits us just fine.

 

Day 32 - Sunday August 8, 2004

A most magical day. No other word describes it better.


Thirty Mile Lake could be a million miles long and stretch to eternity if only all of it would be as wonderful as what we have seen today. In spite of unrelenting north wind - it started in earnest about 11:00 - and bitterly cold air - we were near frozen the few times we stopped to piss or see an inuksuk - the day simply flew by.


The paddling was all right except for my continuing complaint about having to draw stroke after stroke after ..... The Prospector is a hull I love to death but in nearly any wind at all she is like an errant puppy dog. You know how a puppy insisits on going to the right and left of whatever direction you really want to go? Well, the Prospector is like that, but she is a 300 pound mastiff that takes a lot of muscle to control.

 
   

We started the day paddling through a series of "Isle-lets" that formed a braided series of channels. Hidden from the full force of the wind and with fast current we flew along at a gallop. We saw several more caribou and about 12:00 when we went to investigate a huge inuksuk we saw another herd of 12 muskox. That brings our total to over 65 I think - I really have lost count now. We are so jaded we paddled right by without a second glance. The inusksuk we found was massive. Fully 10 feet high. I marvel at how humans without machines got the gigantic rocks into place. It is an old site. It is easy to tell as the rocks are huge - much teamwork was needed - and the lichen has grown from rock to rock. Too many paddlers now make their own crude imitations of these works of beauty. I wish they wouldn't. It seems wrong somehow.

 
 

Most of what you read about these stone men is about their practical purpose - steering caribou herds, route markers, and the like. But there is a deeper meaning here, I think. This is the "ancients" folk-art. It says simply, "We were here. Think of us as you pass. Respect our land. Love it the way we did." And in a hundred hundred years these pieces of art will still stand in testament to the Inland Caribou Inuit and the skill and ingenuity they needed to survive in such a beautiful but frugal land. To stand by these monuments is to feel the presence of those who were here first.


Lunch was a slow affair as neither of us wanted to take the tarp down. Sheltered out of the wind and warm from the outside with the fire in the Zip Stove and from the inside with bannock, steaming hot cheddar broccoli soup and tea laced with honey and a dollop of lard, I found myself ready to go to sleep.


The river is forced from her northerly flow along Thirty Mile. Huge rock hills on either side form a deep channel running west to east, and it is through this course that the river flows. Huge, gently sloping hills rise 30, 40 up to 80 meters above the lake. In many places, the bedrock runs right into the lake with deep water right beside. In other places, green meadows reach up to embrace the craggy hills. The odd sand-gravel beach appears.
The afternoon was full of surprise Two more massive inuksuks and at one the remains of a carefully carved wooden spoon - almost a ladle - now showing its age and encrusted with lichen in spite of being under a rock shelf.


The sun poked through at intervals. It was sheer magic to watch as the circles of light would run across a drab gray-green meadow and turn it a vibrant yellow then just as quickly vanish. Once we watched as an island appeared to spring out of the background. A spot of white and gray rock topped with a mane of yellow fields danced out to meet us. And then the sun passed and it was gone.


Supper finds us 10 meters behind a gravel beach. The waves are rolling in from the lake and the wind is letting up a bit - I can see mosquitoes hanging to the fly screen. To our right is a huge 30-meter-high rocky promontory that begs to be explored. Our bright yellow Marmot Fortress has downy soft sleeping bags ready to warm us. Life is very good


I have been meaning to write about some of the interesting 1930s fur trade history of this area. White Fox was king and the "Bay" and "Revillon" went head to head in a full out battle to get the Inuit trade. I promise I will share some of our last winter's research. But today and yesterday and the day before and likely the days to come just beg to be written about, if only so I can read the words aloud when I can no longer roam this land.

 

 

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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