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

Day 17 - Saturday July 12, 2003 - Route Detail

Saturday's First Installment

I will do the E-MAIL tomorrow. Suffice it to say that at 7:30 we just rolled into camp after one REALLY nasty portage (like mountain climbing really) and two not so great ones. As well, we paddled a ton of REAL serious water - this river is in full FLOOD - and I lost the boat at one bad spot lining it and had to swim through some class 3/4 as I hung on to it. Not really my idea of fun but if I had let it go we would have been f*&^%d big time.

Tonight we searched out a camp spot the guide book says has a sand beach in front. We found the spot but the beach is under 2 feet of water. YIKES!

More in the a.m. I need food and sleep.

Saturday's Second Installment

When I first started posting these daily stories to Out-There I wondered how I would find enough to say. I mean it is a canoe trip after all and you get up, paddle, go to bed. Isn't that it? Well now my problem seems to be how to fit in all that is happening every day. It is so hard to believe that we only left 17 days ago. So much has happened.

Today was a day of extremes. Extreme rapids, extreme sheer cliffs, extreme trouble. What's that you say? Trouble? Well it all started at a real nasty rapid. It was running Class 4 and was out of the question for an open canoe. In fact even if we had put the cover on the waves were just TOO big - in the plus 4 foot range and the hydraulics were unreal. The eddies were filled with pulsing, boiling, "squirrely" water. The kind of stuff I remember from my kayak days where you peeled into an eddy and couldn't find your way out, while the boiling water just kept on trying to flip you.

Anyway, we pulled over the first rocky point and lined the eddy to the next point, or what would best be described as what was left of the point - the water was just about running right over it. It was impossible to line past so I got the boat wedged in upstream of a sharp boulder and was getting ready to pull it across. When I went to pull the boat up further the downstream current of the river was pressing it against the rock so hard I thought we were going to puncture the hull. The shit hit the fan when I tried to get a log in between the boulder and the canoe to act as a sort of roller. A sudden gust of wind combined with my moving the boat to allow the log to slip into place and the stern was caught in the current. Lynda grabbed the hull and pulled like crazy as I tried to "reef" it back with sheer manpower as I pulled on the rope. Well if you paddle you can guess what happened next. The upstream side of the boat rolled and the tail end filled with water and that was it. Lynda screamed that she couldn't hold it. I looked at her and said, "It's ok. Let go. Let go. Let go. I'm gonna' swim with it. I'll be ok."

I leaped in as the boat got sucked into some real nasty 3 foot breaking waves. I got sucked under 3 times before I was free of the big stuff. In ten minutes I was to shore and in 20 we were back on the river. All I can say is thank God I used to kayak and have had a few real nasty swims or I would have panicked for sure. The other plus is that for 6 years or longer I have told Lynda if I ever loose the boat I am going to swim with it. I mean what other choice do you have when you are out here by yourself? All my instincts cut in and the down side planning that I always do paid off. But it was a real wake-up call for me. I was getting sloppy since I have never had trouble and I didn't expect any today. A good reminder of how much power a river like this has and I know I was lucky we were, where we were, with no real big rapids just over the horizon. And oh, did I mention there is a good reason to wear your lifejacket while lining? Thankfully I had mine on or the swim would have been a lot worse. A note for the Extrasport people. Your lifejackets work really well in 3 foot waves but I intend to keep it dry if possible tomorrow.

This river is REAL big beyond what others have told me about it. Tonight we are camped where some other people had a sand and gravel beach and when we got to the exact GPS spot we found the beach - but it was under 2 feet of water! We had to do one unexpected REAL bad portage today. Other people have been able to paddle this rapid but even covered, it would have been real nasty. We had to crawl up a near vertical cliff and then walk over boulders, tangled dead fall burn, and down a ravine so steep I had to let the canoe down with a rope. And we have another one the same for tomorrow, if the trip notes bear out. Could life get any better?

As to the carrying, if you haven't got Ostrom Barrel harnesses and a Nanibijou kitchen pack you really should take a look at their gear. It makes the misery of a bad portage so much easier to bear. But Bill and Anne, after the swim the kitchen pack had some water in it. What's that all about?

We lined one real nasty rapid, carried past an unnamed unbelievable falls and another huge ledge wave. The falls was an easy carry but the ledge wave saw me cutting a trial and blazing same, and was just not any fun at all. Other places where we expected "riffles" were now serious Class 2 with boiling squirrely water for several hundred meters below the waves. One more day and a bit more of this and we will be out to the tranquility of the Fond du lac River. Is she going to seem like a good friend when we get there!

And of course as expected we saw 3 more moose - a cow on shore nibbling willows and 2 more bulls in full velvet diving for deep delicacies. So far all the males we have seen have been out in mid-lake feeding on underwater plants and all the females, whether with young or not, are feeding on shore willows. Perhaps the males need something that the water plants have in them to help with the growth of horns? Or perhaps the females just can't swim? In any case this brings the count to 17 in 3 days. That's about half the total number of moose I have seen in my entire life. They seem to be doing fine in this country largely, I suspect, because it is such a hard place to get into to for hunting.

At one spot today we saw the most fantastic sheer vertical cliffs. Towering easily 100 plus feet above the lake they are covered in a variety of multi-colured lichens, iron rust (gossans as the geologists say), and there is much whitewash - birdshit - in places. The oddest clumps of ferns are growing right out of the cliff face as well. We saw an old abandoned stick nest too small for an eagle. I would suspect a peregrine falcon is around this area. We didn't see one but heard the repeated cries, which sounded like one to my untrained ear.
Towering Cliffs - Note Lynda at the Bottom
  We paddled over for a photo-op and found a cave we could paddle into. Eerie or what! When we got into it we could look straight up 60 feet and see the sky through a hole in the rock. Three tent sized rocks have wedged into place - like the way a gothic arch is constructed - and from the top view would look like a sort of short land bridge. So from where we sat, we were looking up at the underside of the bridge. Probably about 5 tons of bridge in fact! You felt you should be real quiet with this sitting right above your head, I can tell you.



Quite a day and it took from 8:00 in the morning to 7:00 at night to make 15 short miles. But what a 15 miles. I know I could , and I suspect Lynda as well, use a less frantic day ... but it sadly isn't in the cards for a day or a day and a half.

Just now as I am typing this I saw one of Northern Dene Air's Beavers scouring the river at low level - no doubt looking for us - but we are off the river on a lake campsite by about 2 kilometer and they missed us. I really should have brought my VHF radio so I could say hi.


As Bear Creek Chili and rice and half of the leftover Pina Colada cake with chocolate / cappuccino icing and re-hydrated strawberries and blueberries beckon. Gotta' go.

  Day 18 - Sunday July 13, 2003 - Route Detail  


Well after a good night's sleep we were still tired. Tired of the sheer extreme nature of everything about this river. It is a spectacular river but it is all "writ large." Were it raining and overcast and cold it would surely seem an evil place from whence demons and such were spawned. It is so odd after years on the tundra, where you are the biggest thing for a hundred miles, to be dwarfed by these huge canyon walls that seem to rise to the edge of the very heavens. Little wonder the Dene didn't venture here. I can only imagine how an Inuit would feel here surrounded on all sides.

So we paddled a mere five miles and decided to take a day off. We still paddled 3 large rapids with boiling squirrely water for hundreds of meters past them. We also portaged past another huge, yet unnamed, falls. The end of the later was along a narrow rock trail right beside a sheer drop of about 8 meters. No problem for me, as this kind of stuff doesn't much worry me - whatever will happen will happen - I have great faith in myself out here. For Lynda it is another story, as she has visions of plunging to her death or worse doing herself serious injury and having to limp out with a broken something or other. Odd but we are the reverse in town, where I can figure nothing out and it all worries and stresses me and she is a rock or stability. Don't get me wrong, neither one of us is basket case in either place but this part of this trip is way easier for me mentally than for her.

Tomorrow is the last day - perhaps a bit of the next day - with 3 or 4 carries past real nasty falls and such along with several big rapids to negotiate. Then it is the soft wide sandy shores of the lower Fond du Lac River and the lower reaches of the Porcupine.

Where we are now camped it is a gorgeous sandy parkland spot with huge towering mature jackpine and soft carpets of caribou moss. As an added bonus we have a lovely sand beach and would be swimming were it not so windy. It is hot but the wind from the west is very heavy and although we could have continued it would have been stupid. Wind this big as it swirls about in a canyon can make paddling in rapids a real nightmare. Strangely, for the first day in many, we saw not a single moose in our 3 hours on the river. But when we landed the beach was covered in recent tracks.

I forgot to mention that Lynda really wrecked her pants yesterday and I had to repair a one foot tear with duct tape, in and out. She now looks like a Red Green model. Oh , for a treat today we had bacon - I salt and vacuum bag my own - with fresh hot bannock and a Spanish omelet with real salsa. Now how good is that? It is a great day to lay in the tent, bake a cake -which Lynda did - and laze. In fact I just dozed for a few hours in there. We will be rested, if not completely ready, for the final stretch of the canyon tomorrow. Sooner than I want I will be back in that other world where I often get lost .. but that's where Lynda can guide me.



  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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