Bill Layman & Lynda Holland's 2003 Porcupine River Trip
Vermette Lake, Northwest Territories to Stony Rapids, Saskatchewan
   
 

Day #15 - Thursday July 11, 2003 - Route Detail

"One year just before Christmas, I was pretty close to Snowbird Lake. I was on way down here - I'd been trapping you know. I crossed this river (probably the Porcupine). There was some ice so I tied my dogs and crossed on snowshoes. Then I saw a herd of caribou. My dogs took off after them, into open water and drowned. I had my rifle, and I had an axe, so I was alright you know. I made a little sleigh out of birch and went on to Black Lake. I was 29 years old that time."

Leon Medal, They Will Have Our Words: The Dene Elders Project, Volume 2", Lynda Holland

"Porcupine was so full of rapids and falls - on average one per mile acording to the Indians - that nobody traveled along it. ... The Indians never traveled on the river, but used a roundabout way."

Eric Munsterhjelm, The Wind and the Caribou.

   
 

For every time I have cursed her stubborn obstinacy in a crosswind, today our Prospector thrilled and amazed me, as she danced her magic through rapid after rapid. The subtlest of paddle strokes and she came alive with a passion forgotten over a winter in my snow covered backyard. It was a clear, hot, sunny day, and as we ferried our way through wild rapids, there surely couldn't be any place else that would make me feel as good as I felt today. My heart sang and my soul danced.

Getting Ready to Run Some Class III Rapids
   
 

The shorelines of this river are spectacular. There has to be a fantastic camp spot every half kilometer. Making note of the good ones would be a fool's errand, as each one you noted or marked, would soon be replaced by yet another better and more scenic one. We were nearly "ooh'd and aah'd" out by lunch time.

The Porcupine is a tight intimate little river with wild drop pool rapids. We have notes with us from Laurel Archer's new guide book but aside form pointing out where to expect to find the rapids, it couldn't tell us that much. Not because it is a poor book - it is far from that - but because the river is way, way higher than when she paddled it and the descriptions bear little resemblance to what we found today. This is the downside of all guide books and as I have said many times, don't put all your faith in an other person's experience. Water levels change, the other person's skill level may be higher than yours, you may be paddling - as we are - a single boat where no one else can rescue you, etc., etc.

 

 

 

Anyway, I expected we would have some fun as Stan Clarke who has worked at Selwyn for the last 6 years has never seen the water higher. He says it is up a foot or more from last year and it is right to the top of their dock - two more inches and your feet would get soaked and fish would be swimming around your ankles.

Here's an example of what happens when water levels change. Laurel's description in one spot is: " ... Just after the bay on RR there is a flat rock campsite. It is on the point on RR, with grayling fishing right out front of the kitchen. The next part of the rapid carries on through some winding Class 1+ rapids for another 225 meters or so." We stopped to catch grayling on the flat rock suggested and then headed on down. The immediate next corner turning to the right was an easy class 3 with huge 3 to 4 foot waves piled up on the left margin. There was a real tricky, doable line, from the far left with an aggressive front ferry back to RR but it sure wasn't a Class 1+ move. We were way over RR, where we were going to scout the rapid and found a line in a spill over channel tight to the right side This, through a normally dry spot where alders and willows were growing. My point is not a criticism of the book but rather advice for anyone on any river - Keep your head up and don't rely on other's advice as much as your own good judgment and observation. Anyway, all this aside, Laurel's book is well worth buying for her description of this and other northern Saskatchewan rivers. Lynda and I have both zoned the name of the book out but you can find it at Mcnally Robinson and Mountain Equipment Co-op.

 
     
 

We saw another cow moose and got up really close. I was grunting like a bull and we were downwind so she appeared not in the slightest concerned. In fact a few times she looked right at us. Lynda was sitting with two paddles in the air imitating a set of bull's antlers as I paddled us closer. The cow actually started walking closer to us and then started to feed again. When we were less than 25 meters away she started coming out to visit and then I spotted the caramel coloured calf about 100 meters away. We beat a slow and steady retreat to get out of mummy's way. Later we saw another cow and although we were upwind she didn't appear fazed in the slightest by us. Obliviously no one hunts here and few paddle the area or they would be more spooked.

The country is a mix of rock outcrop and table top "parkland" bush that is perfect for camping. Right now we are camped at river's edge on one of these spots and it promises a far better night's sleep than last night. Somehow last night my thermarest deflated and I had a grapefruit sized pointy rock under me, so it was a fitful sleep at best. But I was so tired I just didn't care. This river is really hauling ass and after a short day of only about five hours of paddling, we still ended up covering close to 18 miles. Gotta' like it!

Pizza for supper. Sadly I can't seem to convince Lynda to let me make a cake. And oh, by the by, the grayling at lunch were delicious! Some mean rapids and carrying tomorrow for sure as we head to a set of falls. But we will worry about tomorrow tomorrow.

 

 
  Day #16 - Friday July 12, 2003 - Route Detail  
 

 

It had taken us two weeks to get to The Forks. How many rapids we had passed we did not know; we had lost count of them long ago. We had rowed and paddled almost three months and six hundred miles to get there (from Fort Mc McMurray); packed, waded and roughed it - but we had reached our goal. We were there (near the junction of the Porcupine and the East Porcupine Rivers).

Two rivers of the same size join at The Forks; the Porcupine from the north and the Nest River (East Porcupine) from the east. ... The Porupine runs between swampy, grassy, and reed covered shores. The Nest River flows between sandy, pine covered Shores, and, about a mile further up, another tributary flows into it from the South. This is the Grease-lip River, (McIntyre River) which has been so named by the Indians because of the herds of fat caribou that live around it in the winter.
Eric Munsterhjelm; The Wind and the Caribou

The flow really picks up here (at The Forks) at the confluence of the East Porcupine. Watch for strong hydraulics in the downstream rapids
Laurel Archer; Northern Saskatchewan Canoe Trips

I wish I had the quote from P G Downes' book, Sleeping Island, about the country he entered upon leaving the Cochrane River and heading off to Nueltin Lake via his "Chain of LIttle Lakes." This is the type of fairy land we paddled through for most of this morning. After we paddled away from our 5 star camp we passed 10 more 5 star - if not better- spots in 10 minutes. You have to see it to believe it. Many of the spots would have housed 10 or more tents. To top it off the water is warm - well, ok, warmish.

I forgot to mention the sighting of many bald eagles the last few days. In fact on day 1 of the Porcupine we saw a huge stick nest with the proud parents circling high above and the youngsters poking their heads out over the edge of the nest as if they were wondering when it was time to try flying. In another bird episode today we had a mother merganser do the "wounded duck" routine to draw us away from her children who wouldn't get out of the way of the canoe. Every time we zigged they zigged so that it looked like we were trying to chase them down. Mom got crazy and put on a real show and actually flew right at Lynda twice and hit the water mere inches from the canoe. Then she would put on the most ridiculous wounded duck show. This went on for fully a kilometer and well after the ducklings were safely behind us. The last bird story is the one that has us both a tad exhausted from lack of sleep. For 2 nights there has been a bird of a certain species with the most repetitive and plaintive sound calling at our camp. Sort of a "wwhhooo ... R U" noise repeated at precise 2 second intervals. For the first 10 minutes it was sort of cute but after 4 solid hours we were ready to throw rocks at the stupid thing if we could have found it. I finally resorted to ear plugs.

We are going to lobby the Black Lake Band to change the name of the Porcupine to "Dinie Des" - Moose River. This morning we were paddling up to a little mid-stream island and we heard a distinct and very loud moose grunt. As we floated by there was a mother and her newborn nibbling willows and chatting back and forth. They were less than a canoe length away and like all the ones we have seen in the last two days unconcerned about our presence. Sort of baffled and confused but in no way scared. So now the count was up to 9 moose so close we could see their fillings if they had any. Two more miles and a black spot on the horizon moved. As we got nearer we could see it was a HUGE bull diving for bottom plants. Score for the trip 10 moose. Just before lunch we saw another bull in a little side bay about 300 meters away but we were hungry and I had already gone through about 5 rolls of film so we paddled on by. Score 11 moose. After lunch we soon spotted another big bull eating bottom plants and drifted right up to him. Score 12. Then right after the portage around the first rapids past the Forks we had no sooner drifted up to the 13th moose - a bull - diving for delicacies when I spotted another bull within 50 meters of him. So count for the day was 7 and for the last 3 days 14. It's like a damn petting zoo. And of note to Chief Vicotor Echodh at Black Lake we still haven't seen one damn porcupine - hence the name change idea.

 
 

 

As to Laurel's quote. "You ain't kiddin' about the volume lady!" Normally you can line the spillover channel on the first rapid. Right now it's running a solid 3 to 3 +. Wow. Is this river rockin'!

 
     
 
The country has changed to solid rock shield with the odd sandy beach like the one where we are now camped at the exit of Grove Lake. I expect tall sheer cliifs will predominate from here on based on the tight contour lines of the map. Where we only paddled one rapid and portaged another today we will be in for lots of carrying and lining for the next two days is my guess. I know you might not believe all the moose sightings but I have film and Lynda as a witness. She suggested the picture of me imitating the feeding habits of the bulls in the water, in order to verify our story. And if you can't trust the lady you live with who can you trust?
 
   
 

 

   
  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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