Bill Layman & Lynda Holland's 2003 Porcupine River Trip
Vermette Lake, Northwest Territories to Stony Rapids, Saskatchewan
  Day #1 - Thursday June 26, 2003 - Route Detail

Well, it has all started once again - the dream that is.

Every year I wonder if it will still feel the same as all the years past or if I will grow jaded and tired on the rhythm of a canoe trip. However, after about 4 hours and 15 miles, it is safe to say that, for one more year, the passion has re-entered my soul. Without really talking about it, Lynda is, I can tell, equally as happy.

We left La Ronge this morning at 10:30 on Norcanair's scheduled flight to Stony Rapids. I drove up to Stony a few weeks ago to do my environmental monitoring work and took the canoe and most of the gear with me. So, when we arrived today at 11:30 Jeff Engeland, the base manager for Northern Dene Airways, already had the canoe tied onto the float of one of their Beavers. Quick good-byes to a bunch of the pilots and Shauna Archibald who runs the booking side of NDA's waterbase and we were in the air by 12:15 en route straight north 140 odd miles to Vermette Lake in The Northwest Territories.
Northern Dene Air's Beaver
  A mostly clear sky, the odd rain shower and a light headwind sees us into the narrows between Vermette and Rennie Lakes. We are camped on a lichen covered rock promontory within 20 feet of the water. We are in the almost tundra that the Dene call the Land of Little Sticks. Small tundra birch and black spruce predominate. At 7:00, the wind has died to a dead calm and camp is set up. Even though we are under our fly-screened kitchen tarp we are being devoured by swarms of mosquitoes. As the Dene would say "dejulie thon" - lots of mosquitoes.



We made a small fire and cooked some veggies in aluminum foil and fried some fresh caribou steaks that may well have been taken from an idthen (caribou) on this very lake.

Tomorrow will see us passing the late August Mercredi's campsite where he used to trap. Friends in Fond du Lac told me that they have fixed up August's old cabin as a hunting cabin for the trips they make up to this area in the winter. The last time we were here the cabin was largely abandoned and without doors or windows. If August is looking down at his cabin from heaven he will be thrilled to see the Dene using it as a base for hunting caribou.


As an aside, I somehow managed to grab a mug that leaks - and fast at that. Lynda thinks it is very funny as her cup is now 8 years old and I have either lost or broken four in various trips. Last year my favourite new mug ended its usefulness on a portage between Nueltin and Sealhole Lakes. But at least it survived near 40 days of the trip. This year my mug didn't last a single day.

Gotta' go. I am tired - not the kind of stressed out tired that plagues me in town but rather the kind of tired that comes when you are lost in the dream that is a canoe trip. It is fine to be here again.

  Day #2 - Friday June 27, 2003 - Route Detail  


We slept as only a young child usually sleeps last night. It poured rain and blew a great storm but we didn't notice until we looked out at the soaking wet collapsed kitchen tarp.

Up at 7:00. A hurried breakfast of granola and coffee saw us in the water by 8:30. It was cold and raining hard, but by 10:00 it began to break. We stopped to visit the late August Mercrecdi's cabin. It is situated on a gorgeous esker and the view from it to the north is of treeless tundra meadows and a multitude of azure blue bays and lakes. Short thick-girthed spruce grow in the swales and valleys and the wet spots are thick with tamarack and willows. The top of the esker is bare but for the odd huddled group of black spruce.

Looking at the cabin one would be hard pressed to see it as an end destination for a 160 mile trip north by ski doo to hunt caribou. But it is only an overnight cabin and the hunters from Fond du Lac who use it only want a warm place to spend the night.

That it is well used is attested to by the caribou fur and bones from last winter that litter the yard now that the snow is gone. The wolves will feast on what remains until next winter when the caribou and the hunters return. In Lynda’s book, Father Dauvet talks of the relationship between the caribou and the Dene.

I should say that the caribou is the meeting of two people, the Caribou people and the Chipewyan (Dene) people. If we could put this feeling into words we would say, "The caribou must be very happy to have come to us and we have come to them." It is not a hunt. It is something different. It is like the monsoon in India. If it doesn't come people ask, "What did we do wrong?"

By lunch it was very hot and dead calm. We stopped on a gorgeous little beach backed by miles of tundra. Our kitchen floor was a mass of flowering Labrador tea, bog laurel, cranberries and cloudberries By mid-afternoon the wind was building from the north but as we were heading east it didn't hinder us much. We actually found a mid-large snowbank and Lynda made a snowball - that she threw at me just before we paddled away.

Just before we entered the 2 mile stretch of river connecting Rennie and Damant Lakes I saw what turned out to be tent. We paddled over and met a fellow from Ohio who was been dropped into Rennie from Yellowknife. His outfitter is a friend of ours Tom Faess who operates Air Thelon. We both joke that the tundra is just too damn crowded these days. His trip will see him on the Elk River to the Thelon and then perhaps as far as Warden's Grove. Interestingly, one of the wardens at Wardens Grove was Fred Riddle whose cabin we will be looking for tomorrow morning on the shore of Damant Lake where we are now camped. Fred trapped this area with Adeline Chaffe for many years. Fred Adam from Fond du Lac told me that he owned this cabin and trapped the area before Fred and Adeline took it over. Fred Riddle was known to the Dene as Edthen Che (caribou tail) for his distinctive winter hats made of caribou hide complete with a caribou tail.

The last time we were by this way the 2 miles of river was barely flowing. This time we paddled 4 very nice class 1+ rapids as the river is running high into the trees. Twenty two miles today and, sadly, we will likely be into portages tomorrow. Fresh caribou meat mixed into Bear Creek Damn Good Chili with bannock for supper.

Oh, before I forget. I saw several HUGE trout circling under the canoe today and I didn't even rig up my fishing rod. Can you believe it?

  Last Year La Ronge to Arviat 2002 Map
Introduction Story for the 2002 trip
Check out Bill and Lynda's
2001 trip to the Dubawnt River in NWT & Nunavut.
Bill Layman's bio - with other Trips & Stories by Bill.
Live text edited by
Joan Eyolfson Cadham, freelance writer/editor, Foam Lake Saskatchewan.


Press here if you have arrived at this page without
the navigation bar on the left