Bill Layman & Lynda Holland's 2002 trip
La Ronge to Arviat on Hudson Bay - 55 Days and 1000 miles.
  Day #59 Tuesday August 6, 2002

Last night right after I wrote, and right after we iced the chocolate brownies, a massive mini-storm hit. It blew up, and under, the kitchen tarp and send it flying like a giant red kite. And of course it was pouring buckets of rain. With maps flying and all our loose stuff blowing hither and yon all I could think to say was, "Quick Lynda, Save the brownies." That's how good they are.

It rained and howled for an hour or so and the skies were pitch black when we went to sleep, both wondering if we were in for another few days of being windbound. But when we woke it was to south west winds and clear skies.

After breakfast we were off and within an hour we were at a very nasty rapid where the river is bisected by an island. It is an 18 meter drop in about a kilometer and that's about as bad as it gets. In '97 when were here we lined the left side of the right channel. This time we took the right side of the left channel - just for Zen balance. The sun was right on the water and we just couldn't see whether it was runnable or not at the top. To be safe we lined about two hundred meters. When we could see a line to paddle to the bottom we boulder bashed our way in a serpentine course avoiding as many obstacles as possible. From where we started to paddle we could see a clear , but tricky, line to paddle right from the top. Maybe next time.

As we bounced along to the bottom I thought of two more reasons Billie and "Ober" would have had trouble on this river. We are paddling a gorgeous near indestructible Novacraft Prospector made out of Roylex. This stuff flexes and bends like crazy when it needs to. Not so their wood and canvas canoe. Later at a wild drop I thought of the extra "edge" that our Northwater spraycover gives us. We did a real wild eddy turn out of four foot surf waves to avoid a stretch of huge mean "eat a canoe whole" waves. Then we slid down a narrow slot tight to river right between big smooth boulders. A quick glance to our left gave us that "Oh my God!" feeling in the pit of our stomach. No way we would have run this stretch at all without a cover, I can tell you.

By lunch, we had covered 18 miles in about 3 1/2 hours of paddling. We stopped on a gorgeous esker and hiked about. What a sight. Sand and gravel ridges that run for miles in every direction. Clear blue skies with huge soft white clouds, a warm west wind, dark blue lakes everywhere we looked. And, of course, fresh caribou and wolf tracks all over the place. The wind is eroding the sand and leaving little islands of tight knit spruce trees suspended 3 and 4 feet above the dunes in places. We saw the requisite 15 or 20 male caribou standing their solitary guard on the tops of many wind swept hills. Today we also saw our first gray necked Arctic loons.  
A Beautiful Esker
  One spot on the river today was absolutely spectacular. You could see the river dropping away for over a kilometer. At the bottom there were several high domed tundra islands that would make for wonderful camping. And it was an easy ride of gentle rapids all the way to the bottom. At times the GPS had us going over 8 1/2 mph. In short, a great day on the tundra. They don't get much better than this.

It is now 5:30 and we are about 2 miles form Edehon Lake having gone near 32 miles. Neither of us is even half as tired as some of those "into the wind" 15 mile days. Only about 110 miles to Hudson Bay.

Pizza and the last half of the last Bear Creek brownies for supper.

  Day #60 Thursday, August 08, 2002

We woke to a hot morning. By 9:30 the wind was blowing in from the east, not a hard wind but a constant wind that brought with it high gray skies and the promise of rain. We fought the wind all morning, arms and shoulders straining, and by lunch had ground out 12 miles and were well over half way down Edehon Lake. After lunch, the skies got darker and then the wind quit just as the rain started.

We are now camped in a nice tundra spot under the tarp with pouring rain that looks like it is settled in for the night at least. It was a cold wet hard day but when it was all said and done, we had close to 26 miles.

The caribou have all but vanished today. We saw only a handful and one of these swam across a narrows within about 25 meters of our breakfast spot. We are now very close to the spot where we saw the herd of seven or eight hundred caribou in 1997. Wouldn't we like to see that again.

The river is now much wider and shallower than yesterday and the rapids
are big but have safe edges where you can easily slide down. Many corners and mid stream islands are littered with a wall of giant boulders. These walls are the result of the ice that grinds up the bottom of the river each spring. In fact, many of the islands are actually being moved downstream by the ice. Not actually moved as much as shifted.
Island Boulders
  The ice grinds away at the upstream edge of the island and you can clearly see where the mature trees are being toppled into the river as their foothold is undermined. Toward the downstream side of the island the river deposits silt and small rocks and the like and thus forms a new beach where willows and small shrubs take hold. Over time the willows give way to bigger trees like the black spruce and thus the island migrates.

The river here has, for the most part, low indeterminate shores with much peat bog, black spruce and tamarack. This makes for tough camping as everything is wet and boggy. The cut banks of peat are a bright brown red today from the rain. The contrast with the green lush hills is gorgeous even if it's not good to camp on.

Here's hoping for a dry morning. We can go in the rain but it is no fun until you are packed and underway. And even then, it isn't nearly as nice as a hot sun. This is definitely the worst weather that either of us can remember on the tundra.

Black bean sofrito for supper and vanilla pudding pie with fresh blueberries and cloud berries for dessert.

  Day #61 Friday, August 9, 2002

It poured rain last night. When I went to load the canoe there was about four inches of water in it. Why don't I turn the canoe upside down, you may well ask. Because if a huge storm hits, by the time you wake up with your tent flapping, your canoe will have turned into an 80 pound kite and be half way to the Bay on its own. ALWAYS leave your canoe right side up and put a few packs or barrels or rocks into it if your paddling the tundra.

We set off into a fairly strong east wind directly into our face. Then the sun came out and we basked in its warmth. Just when I was thinking that I could get used to the wind if the sun stayed out, a huge blacker than black storm raced in off the Bay. Gremlins spitting fire from their mouths and lightning from their eyes and riding winged gargoyles would have not looked out of place. And all this in one hour.

The storm raced through and left heavy dark wet gray skies to every side of us. It stayed like that all day along with huge gusting east winds that we plowed into. Now at 7:00, after a very tiring day, we have managed 25 hard fought miles. I swear to God if this was our first trip and I thought this was normal I would never come back. It's been a tough couple of weeks and I doubt it will get much better. Even if it does, we are mere days from the Bay and trip's end.

We are going to get a boat pickup from Arviat. I don't know a thing about paddling tides and Lynda is dead set against paddling the Bay. We have a friend who knew six people who died trying, which has a very sobering influence on our decision making. I don't think that it is all that hard as there are groups of young Minnesota women who do the Tha ane or Thlewiaza each year and they always paddle right into Arviat. But not for us this year for sure.

Anyway Joe, the Inuit Resource officer from Arviat, is going to come to pick us up. Ober and Billie were also picked up by Inuit and taken to Churchill, not by pre-arrangement - how could one have done that in 1912 - but by happenstance. The pictures of the Inuit they met in the book "Toward Magnetic North" are worth the price of the book alone.

Over the last few days I have thought about all the things that those two adventurers didn't have. The list is endless. GPS, maps, nylon tent, goretex, spraycover, graphite paddles, satellite phones, etc etc. And when they got to the Bay they still had another 700 miles or more to go.

Tomorrow we will stop and visit a cabin site we found on our 1997 trip. It is a white trapper's cabin. These men used to work their way up the river from the Bay to trap for white fox in the 30s when they were worth "top dollar." Get Gerry Dunning's book "When the Foxes Ran" for a series of remembrances of several of these white trappers who worked out of Churchill. It is fascinating.

No caribou at all today. But at the top of a huge rapids where we stopped to put on goretex and lifejackets - we were frozen - I spotted a black shape dive under the water. Being used to La Ronge and area I immediately said "Look, its an otter." Two seconds later a ranger seal popped his head up to check on us. This is fully 90 miles from the Bay.

Tomorrow we see Ranger Seal Lake. Lynda has taken to calling it Forest Ranger Sealer Lake, which is now its official name on our map. I would so like to finish the last 70 odd miles of this trip with a few days of sun. The river is getting broader and bigger as we head east. The rapids are gigantic - fully 7 foot surf waves in a few. Little wonder that the Inuit simply call this Big River. A young Inuit man, Lutie Otuck, who we met last trip at the mouth of the river saw Big River break up one year. He said simply, "It was like a dream. It was unreal." I have found spots
atop 30 foot high banks where the ice has gouged away the tundra. It surely must be a sight.

Bannock and dry meat for supper washed down with tea. Eatmore bars for dessert.

  La Ronge to Arviat Trip Map
Here are the
Sponsors & 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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