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

Day 19 - Monday July 14, 2003 - Route Detail

We woke up this morning to dead calm and freezing cold. A blessing as the usual torrent of mosquitoes was held at bay. The river was covered in mist and you couldn't see the far shore even though it was only 400 odd meters away. But the promise of sun and a warm day was trying to break through the mist and by the time we had finished breakfast the mist was mostly gone. I did my CBC radio interview from the riverbank and watched the last of the mist burn away and the mirrored reflection of the far shore form in the water.


The trip notes talked of portages "that are not easy", so when we set off we wondered what was in store for us and just how bad it would be. When we got to the first falls it was a pleasant surprise to find that the trail was infinitely better than the portage from hell we made two days ago. And the second one was even better than the first. Bonus! So by 11:00 we were past both of the falls.

   
 
Both of these drops are spectacular and yet are both still unnamed. A sign of how little travel has been done through these parts. The river is very narrow at both spots and its full force charges like a thing alive through the chasm. The right side we carried on is undulating smooth rock with a sparse covering of medium sized jackpine and birch trees. The far side is sheer and high. Years of rock that has shattered off litters the river. Rocks of all sizes, from monstrous near house-size, to medium car-size, to appliance-size makeup the left margin.
Lynda - Falls
   
  The odd brave birch and jackpine grows where it can find purchase among the boulders - a tenuous life at best with the threat of more crashing rock looming at all times. All the rocks are covered in reds and browns and yellows and greens of a myriad of lichens. The water is huge and the hydraulics boil up as if a huge sea creature is breaking the surface to feed. The view up and down the canyon - for it is a real canyon - is not something one would associate with Saskatchewan. British Columbia perhaps but not the prairies.
 

 

 

Our exit from the bottom of the last falls was a wild near calamitous ride. The eddy was a boiling cauldron - reminiscent of BC kayak days for me - and when we looked downstream, we could see the water where it was curving back at us as if we were looking uphill. Right where the water turned back to form the eddy it was a seething, boiling mass, of swirling nastiness. It had to be easily 8 to 10 inches higher than where we sat in the eddy. We charged it with the full force of our strongest strokes to try to climb the eddy line and break through but as we got to the top the hydraulics had us tipping, first left, then right and it was brace any way you could. We shipped water and with the added weight got pulled across the eddy line and paddled into a big calm bay on river left where we bailed and continued. There was nothing below us for a good 3 kilometere and even a swim here would not have been a crisis but Lynda was not overly impressed with the adventure. On a hot sunny day with warm water like this we were fine. On a cold rainy day we would have found a way to carry past the last corner.

The next rapid was lineable at the top and then paddleable even if we did have to "crash" our way through a low hanging dead tree along the shore. The last rapid of the day was something to see. A rock island bisected the river and both channels ran over huge smooth whale sized ledges, that you could clearly see through the water. Lynda started lunch and dried out the little of our outfit that got wet at the last falls, as I carried a few hundred meters to the put in mid-way down the rapids. After lunch we ran the river right side, ferried out to the center and found our way down the right margin, around a point, through a slot, between a 3 foot surf wave that would have loved to suck us its maw, and a ledge running out from the point on the right. And then it was all over. Just like that we were out of solid rock and into open sandy bench camping for as far as you could see.

 
     
 

We paddled another 6 odd miles and must have seen fifty camp spots like the one we are now at. A high sandy table top covered in cranberries and bearberries with a towering canopy of huge jackpine. The beaches are all under water and the alders and willows, that would normally be high, and dry have a foot or more water over their roots. In fact without even paddling hard the GPS had us clocking near 5 miles per hour for the last stretch today. I know this piece of the river as it is very near the confluence with the Fond du Lac and this water level is ridiculously high.

Nothing tomorrow but flat water and one good over a kilometer portage past Burr falls which will see us out onto Black Lake. Wind permitting we will be halfway to the community by tomorrow night and finished by noon on Wednesday. But it is raining and windy and overcast right now, and it is anyone's guess when we will get there. Were it not for the fact that I am doing a 10 day trip in September with a friend on the Fond du Lac, I would be getting bummed out at the prospect on hanging up the paddle for another year. With this trip still to come I am already planning in my head. One thing is for sure, it will be a far easier trip than the last 6 days on this river. The Porcupine is spectacular but it is a daunting river at this level. I will likely be back some day but hopefully the water will be lower and a little less intimidating.

Time for supper and we still have half of last night's cake left.

 
     
  Day 20 - Tuesday July 15, 2003 - Route Detail  
 

 

This last camp and the weather must be our pay-back for all the misery we put up with for the last ten days of our trip on the Thlewiaza River last year.

We had rain all night and the wind was mounting from the east when we took off this morning. It was a cold scudding gray sky and we had steady drizzle all the way to the portage past Burr Falls and off the Fond du lac River into Black Lake. The portage that used to seem long to us a few years ago was like a walk in the park. Either we are stronger or slightly crazier.

By the time we finished lunch at the entrance to Balck Lake the wind was going down and when we hit the water it was behind us to start and then it went dead calm, hot and sunny.

 
     
 
Our camp spot about 12 miles from the village is fronted by a gorgeous sand beach and the bench where we are now set up is a solid carpet of tiny juniper and cranberries, and as flat as a table top. Clumps of mature birch are placed as if in a park and you can walk where you like barefoot The water is warm enough that Lynda just took a bath. There are some old fire-pits but with moss grown into the centers of them. They have not been used for a long time. Looking out at the dead calm lake from our kitchen I am hard pressed to think of anything more peaceful. What a treat for our last night.
Last Camp
 

For anyone who followed me last year, I left another "chicken stick" at the confluence of the Porcupine and the Fond du lac Rivers. And what is a chicken stick? I used an axe to make a four-sided post about four feet long from a jack pine tree and tied it to a clump of birch trees. On one side I inscribed essentially an IOU to a group of Dene kids who are paddling form Wollaston to Black Lake later this month or early next month. They can cash the post in at Helen Throassie's Chester Fried Chicken Store in Black Lake when they arrive. I will foot the dinner bill for $200.00 worth of chicken. I can tell you the chicken will taste great to them after a few weeks of canoe food

This was quite a trip. Although far shorter than the last several years, we both agree that it feels like so much happened and that the trip was much longer. I think that's largely because of the extreme changes from tundra to forest to mountainous canyons. Add this to all the portages and the wild white water and it is quite a lot to digest in 3 short weeks.

 

 

   
  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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