Bill Layman & Lynda Holland's 2003 Porcupine River Trip
Vermette Lake, Northwest Territories to Stony Rapids, Saskatchewan
  Day #11 - Sunday July 6, 2003 - Route Detail

Some day!


Right now we are camped part way down Flett Lake on the nicest spot we have seen yet on this trip. A gravel beach backed by a tabletop of randomly spaced clumps of birch and carpets of caribou moss, some labrador tea and cranberries. We should have gone further, as we only made 16 miles today but, when we rounded a rocky spit and saw this spot leap into view, it was no contest - we had to stop. And to top it off, just as I was ready to give up fishing - after about 10 casts - and Lynda and I had agreed on pizza I hooked onto a gorgeous red-fleshed 5 pound trout who decided to stay for supper. My manhood is finally redeemed..

The Nicest Spot so Far

A Black beans and cheddar broccoli rice is on the go and soon the fish hits the pan. Did I mention that it is hot and sunny? It's warm enough that we both took our first half bath of the trip. Half bath, as neither of us was brave enough to dive into the ice cold water.

We woke this morning to clear skies and very cold wind from the east. With the sun, we knew it would warm nicely and felt that anything would be better than the last three days of rain and cold.




Adeline Chaffee walked this portage and the good news for her was that it was frozen so it wasn't a real hip deep slog. The bad news was that she was about 16 - we think - and breaking trail for their dogs with her dad, William Archie. They had already walked all the way from Sid Lake - some 100 plus miles north - and were en route to Stony Rapids some 100 plus miles south. Man, people were tough then. That's when men were men and probably Adeline was twice the man I am..

In any case, the portage is short at about 400 meters but the south end is a series of real deep boggy floating muskeg ponds. Quite a treat when you have a canoe on your back and the weight drives you into the seemingly bottomless morass. I wonder how far Tyrell's packers sunk with their 120 pound canoes? My guess is a couple of them may still be in there somewhere.

When Tyrell got to the bottom of the portage from Selwyn Lake to Flett Lake - then called Daly Lake - he topped a larch tree and hung a flag. Thinking of him, I marked the beginning and end of the Muskeg Portage with pieces of a blue fiberene tarp we found. One piece at the south end is high in a larch tree and looked like a flag blowing in the wind as we paddled away.

The wind was perverse today and when we turned south it began to shift to the south east. By the time we had finished lunch, it was right into our faces. By 3:30 though, it had switched back to east and we only had to fight a bad cross-wind. God knows what tomorrow will bring. With any luck we will be at the portage and across it into Selwyn Lake by mid-afternoon.


This portage marks a height of land. Paddle north from it and you end up on the Dubawnt River and Baker Lake. Paddle south and you end up on Black Lake, then Lake Athabasca and the Mackenzie River. As we headed down Flett Lake we could see the outline of the hills that mark this divide painted slate gray in the distance and in the foreground some rock high islands covered in greens and browns. Quite a sight and it has changed not a whit since Tyrell was here.

Just before the Muskeg Portage and to our left we could see a high hill with a steep rock promontory at the north end. Not a particularly impressive sight in this country unless you happen to be Dene. You see, it is from this hill that Erelkal - the famous Dene shaman - flew to a distant island to escape his Cree pursuers. This man, who factors in much of the Dene oral history, was noted for his ability to turn into a wolf.

We stopped briefly near a rock next to an island. And as we were dive bombed by terns we paddled right up to within a meter of three tiny baby terns that scampered about on their one square meter home. Cutest little things you ever saw.

Gotta go - there's fish to eat. YUMMY!

  Day #12 - Monday July 7, 2003 - Route Detail  


"On the morning of the 18th, accompanied by five native Indian, we arrived at our portage near the northern extremity of the lake (Selwyn).

... the portage led, as we had been informed by the Indians, over the Height of Land northward. Its length was found to be a mile and a quarter long. Its northern end terminated on the shores of another large lake (Flett), the level of which was ascertained to be about fifty feet lower than Selwyn. Seperating the two lakes, rocky hills rose elevations of two to three hundred feet ... and between them wound the trail., which was comparatively level and easy. ... we had now reached a summit of the continent."

J W Tyrell, Across the Sub-Arctics of Canada

When Tyrell got to the north end of Selwyn he met the Chipewyans who led him to the portage described above and then helped him to portage his outfit. They accurately described the Dubawnt River to him as far as Dubawnt Lake and of great worry to his men was their warning that they, "...would meet great impassable canyons, and that the country through which it flowed was inhabited by savage tribes of Eskimos, who would undoubtedly eat us."

That the Dene were great travellers and had an encyclopedic knowledge of the north is evidenced by his meeting with them the day before they portaged. He gets a map from them that shows the route from Wholdaia to Kasba Lake and thence to the Cochrane River and Brochet on Reindeer Lake. In fact one of the Dene he speaks to, Alexis, is from Brochet and he tells Tyrell about Dubawnt Lake, that he should follow the left shore, and that the river drains into Hudson Bay a long way north of Fort Churchill. He also tells him about the river (Thlewaiza) that drains Nueltin Lake into Hudson Bay. And did I mention that Alexis is still travelling with his people even though he is totally blind?

It was a clear sunny day with light easterly winds when we hit the water at 7:30. By 11:00 at the portage it was tending to gray overcast with intermittent sun and the wind had picked up . We carried one load right across, including the kitchen pack, and stopped for tea and lunch before heading back for the final barrel and the canoe. The blackflies were absolutely horrendous and we got eaten alive as we struggled fully loaded across.

Mid-way across with our second loads we stopped and went down to the Dene's sacred healing Lake - Goo Tue. It is here that you are to offer a piece of clothing and then, upon drinking or bathing with the water, all manner of ills and disease are cured. Not knowing the ritual last time we visited this lake we hung some clothng in a tree and it was still there. This time we both threw in some clothing and drank the water. As we did so we both thought of friends we have lost ... Lynda of the late Phlip Bouvier of Black Lake and I of the late Jonas Hansen of Wollaston Post.

Adeline Chafee talks about this lake in her interview in Lynda's book.

"People go over there and take water in a a jar or anything. Whenever they're ill they wash themselves and they said that water is so pure. No lie about it, it helps make people well."

We are now camped at the north end of Selwyn Lake, called Active Man Lake or Big Lake by the Dene in days gone by - and are getting ready to eat Bear Creek Damn Good Chili with Teriyaki Rice and Poppy Seed Amaretto cake. We are both real tired after 16 miles and all the carrying .. and worse we don't even get to sleep in as I have to do a CBC interview at 7 tomorrow which means a wake up call at 6.


The country is all very shield-like now with high rock promontories and exposed bed rock everywhere. Tomorrow or early the next day will see us at Selwyn Lake Lodge at the head of the Porcupine River where we will visit the owners, Gord and Mary Wallace for a bit... and then a hurried dash to Black Lake, Stony Rapids and a wedding in Saskatoon.

But there are still about 10 or 11 nights out here .. and that's real good by us.



  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.


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