Paddling the Dubawnt and the Kazan - 2004 Canoe Expedition

Day 33 - Monday August 9, 2004

Have you ever watched a small child when something totally unexpected happens? Sometimes it's something that should scare them and they laugh, sometimes it's humourous and they cry. I felt like that today.

A most unbelieveable day. We have seen nothing like in our all our time on the tundra. We only paddled 12 miles and yet I feel as if we have traversed a million miles and then a million more.


We woke early - about 6:30 - and were on the water by 8:00. It was a fine day. The wind - what there was of it - was from the west and it was warm. We set out with high spirits after the last many days of cold and gray and head winds. We had great plans of being half way to Kazan Falls. It felt like a 25 mile day was in the offing and we were ready to make some "big" miles. At 9:00 we stopped on an island to look at two inuksuks. One is the same one that Gerorge Luste had photographed - it appeared in the Spring 1975 issue of the Beaver Magazine. It was nice to see this as we hadn't seen it on our '98 trip and as we met George last year at his Wilderness Canoe Symposium in Toronto.

About 10:00 we were on the north shore headed for a narrows. I could see a ragged fringe on the far shore several kilometers away. It looked like rocks. We paddled through the narrows which put us closer to shore.

The fringe was still there on the south shore. I kept my eyes on it and then it happened. A "rock" moved. Without binoculars - remember where they're lost? - it was hard to tell what we were looking at. A muskox or two? A lone caribou perhaps? We decided to veer off course to have a look. Soon we could see it was a caribou, then 10, then 20, then 50, then hundreds. All our plans of making miles went out the window.

    We stopped at a lovely gravel half moon beach backed by a gentle hill of tundra. As we walked up the hill the herd just kept getting bigger and bigger. Lynda veered right and I went left. And then it happened. I crested the ridge. Spread before me were 2000 or more caribou. Males in new brown coats with whiter than white chests,
proudly wearing their new huge velvet-covered racks. Ragged females with motley coats and short new antlers followed by their new born calves. There was motion rverywhere. Some going right, some left, some grazing, some shaking to rid themsleves of flies. Some were sleeping, some drinking from small tundra ponds.

And that's when the whole scene just "got to me." I smiled, I laughed, and then for no reason I could fathom I broke into tears. Such a sight. So overhelming I simply didn't know how to react.

When Lynda walked over her eyes were as big as a child's at Christmas. We walked back to the canoe and "babbled" about all we had seen, our good luck, and what in the world could top this day.

As we neared the rapid out of Thirty Mile I was already thinking we should stop and take a break and wait out the wind. It was gusting to 30 mph and coming right up the river. And this is a nasty rapid with lots of manouvering. Not at all the kind of place you want to be fighting wind. Besides we knew there shoulld be some Inuit sites at
this narrows.

As we pulled up to the beach I saw a few caribou trotting along the crest of the high rocky hill. Then the few became a hundred and the scene started all over with another herd. We ran up to the top of the hill and sat on the edge of a rocky outcropping as hundreds of animals streamed by. We sat there and watched then for 45 minutes and they were still coming. They were all headed to a high hill at the bottom of the rapid where they may still be herded up for all we know. I would guess we saw easily another 2000 or more animals.

After they passed, we explored and found tent ring after tent ring. We found all manner of shaped wood, some mortised together beautifully with hand made copper rivets. We found a paddle and tent poles and tent pegs. We found stone arrow heads and a old metal "tankard" with a pour spout. While we were looking at all this Lynda made a noise. I turned around and saw 20 caribou standing watching me.

After a day like this, how could I possibly bore you with the details of the fur trade history?

We have never had a trip like this one. It keeps getting more and more and more unbelieveable. I will surely have a hard time trying to sleep tonight as I think about all we have seen. In town a month can slip by and you can find one or two "perhaps highlights." Out here, and particularily on this trip, every day is a miracle and filled with magic.

I am happy beyond words. I can feel it in my bones, in the core of my being.


Day 34 - Tuesday August 10, 2004

Just when we thought it was all over it started again.

We were finishing supper under the tarp - how do people live out here without one? - when we heard a grunt. " Not again," I said aloud. I peeked out of the corner of the tarp and the entire several thousand caribou had drifted to within 10 meters of our kitchen. Even when I got out to stand and look at them they seemed relatively unconcerned. They finally quit inching toward us and veered away a tad. Then they all, the many tens of hundreds, slowly ambled by us about 15 meters away. We watched for what seemed like forever as they trooped by unconcerend. Some grazing, some shaking, some stopping to lie down and rest, the tiny ones gamboling about with the frenetic energy of youth.

I followed them up to the top of the nearby hill and walked through their line of travel. This had the effect of steering those to my left one way and those to the right the other. Like a stream, they parted as a river would past an island. Further away, I could see where they were joining again. To my right was a "clot" of a thousand animals so tightly packed that they were rubbing shoulders as they moved. To my left there were sevearl more hundred and in the valley below was a living moving mass of "tuktu" - easily another 1500.

In spite of all the emotion of the day I slept like a child and dreamed about all we had seen. Then about 6:00, while I was dreaming about the herd we had seen behind the tarp, I could hear them grunting. It was a waking dream, it felt so real. Then I woke up and looked out the door of the tent and they all were back again. Lynda and I lay in our warm bags and watched them on more time. Lynda went back to sleep. She was sort of "Ho Hum .. another thousand caribou." Besides she loves to sleep.

We were on the water by about 8:00 and the huge rapid turned out to have a fairly easy "cheat" line down the right. Where we did a "mad-dog" fight-for-your-life ferry across to the left in '98 we opted for lining the right side this time. In '98 we couldn't line as this spill over channel was dry. The ferry was still doable and I sorely would have loved to make the move again. But with the easy lining and the little wisdom my age has given me, lining was the better choice.

  We were at Kazan Falls by about 3:00 after fighting a 25 mph head wind for hours. The first entry rapid before you have to line was HUGE. We ran it down the center and it was a real ride in the wind and with the huge waves. The waves were big, fast-moving but oddly sluggish. The river was so fast they were making ther own boils and were changing shape and size every few seconds. I was ready for a high brace one second and a low brace the next. Lynda hated it. It was simply too big for her. But she did fine and as she didn't see the birth of a new wave that rolled right across the entire spray deck she was fine. Had we been uncovered when that wave tried to eat us we would have been swamped on the spot. As it was, we picked up atmost a gallon of water. We lined the last 1/2 mile to the falls and it was uneventful except for my slipping and falling right into the icy water.    

I could go on and on about the Falls. They are really something. Suffice it to say that God's Geological Department did a good job here. Take a look at the picture for a rough idea. Sadly the sheer dimension of this spot is lost to film. I actually got vertigo standing on the edge of a cliff and looking at all the moving water.

Three trips across for me in a huge wind and two for Lynda. Gusts to 30 mph made carrying the canoe almost impossible. I had to get Lynda to walk behind and steer it right and left as I ferried my way across, looking some odd land crab.

On each trip across, small clumps of caribou watched us unconcerned. This is the Kaminuriak, herd so named for their calving grounds at Qamanirjuak Lake just to the south of us. The herds are getting ready to head south and will soon be on the Inuit dinner tables in Arviat. For the last few years they have been venturing far to the west and the Dene in Wollaston and Lac Brochet have been hunting them. As a matter of fact some of my home made caribou jerky likely belonged to one of the cousins of the caribou we are seeing.

We left a note at the cairn at the Falls. Many people through here this year - easily 20. And Laval Tremblay form Quebec was here yesterday. He is the fellow whose gear I hauled to Stony and who is paddling my old Novacraft Prospector canoe complete with Northwater spraycover. It would be fun to meet him and see how the canoe liked the trip. I think the canoe misses me and Lynda after our near 2000 miles in her.
We have now had 6 days of unrelenting NW wind. Will it ever quit? Fast current should see us with many miles tomorrow in spite of the wind.




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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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