Bill Layman & Lynda Holland's 2002 trip
La Ronge to Arviat on Hudson Bay - 55 Days and 1000 miles.
   
  Day #6 Saturday June 15, 2002

Last night I repeatedly awakened from a deep sleep. Not from worry or confusion, but to the sounds of nature. First it was the songs of the grebes and mergansers and loons mixed with those of a beaver slapping its tail in warning. Later it was the croaking sound of a small group of sand hill cranes as they winged overhead. The night was cool and when the cranes woke me I got up to take a pit stop. The night was thick with mist off the river. Hundreds of gossamer spider webs were outlined in dew and, as I stood amazed, a flock of geese honked their way over head as they winged their way north.As I stood there, shivering in the cold air, I thought of how lucky I am and I thought of P G Downes saying about his travels, "I guess I will never be so happy again."

As I drifted off to sleep, I thought of his trip, and I think I glimpsed a bit of the passion he felt. I thought of how lucky I am to be able to follow my passion. And when my days out here are over, as they surely will be, I doubt I will ever be so happy again.

By 6:00 we were both ready to get up. We followed our regular routine and were in the water by 7:30. Within minutes we saw another wolf and during the day we saw easily 25 bald eagles. We heard two boats pass our camp last night about 11:00 and when we entered Uskik Lake we saw the nets of commercial fishermen. We passed a gorgeous two-storey log home surrounded in the immediate area by about six other older to newer cabins. It was a truly gorgeous spot, all grassed and sheltered from the cold north winter winds. No doubt Pelican Narrows people live here seasonally. And given the choice of here or Pelican, and having seen both, this spot wins hands down. Uskik Lake is not burned and has high hills that lead down to smooth rock outcroppings. There are lots of tiny rock islands perfect for lunch or for a night camp.

   
 
 
 
The Boat Ramp   Kettle Rapids
   
  We had horrific north winds all day. This means we fought cross winds all morning and ground out 16 miles by noon, fighting for every inch. I was drawing every stroke and it was exhausting work, yet I wouldn't trade it for the world. We got to Kettle Rapids and dragged the canoe over the boat ramp fully loaded. This is an awesome spot with a violent two to three meter drop. Huge holes roar their force, and rooster tails kick high in the air.

I caught four small walleye and Tom professed an intense interest in learning to fillet them. But I have warned him too well of the spiked dorsal fin and the damage it can do to your hand. I can't get him to pick one up. We decided that would be the first Baby Step in his filleting skills. After he can pick them up, we will graduate to the knife.

We stopped for lunch at the junction of the Churchill and Reindeer Rivers, a gorgeous point of smooth rock with natural vertical steps that act as a natural bed rock table top. A few stunted and very old and weathered jackpine cling to a tenuous life in the meager dirt filling in cracks in the rock. Nearby we saw an eagle's nest in a dead poplar tree.

And spiked fins or not, Tom declared lunch of walleye fillets seared in olive oil, strong black tea and bannock a meal fit for a King and Queen. We devour it all and lick out the pan, it is so good.

And then the fun began back on the river. We turned to our left which saw us heading straight into a howling north wind. And, to top it off, we were now fighting the current as well. We made reasonable time to Atik rapids, considering. But a few miles later it was simply too much to fight. The sun and wind had sapped us badly. I have never seen this consistent in your face wind on the Churchill before and hope for a break soon

Attik rapids is another huge ledge that drops about a meter and a half. There is a boat ramp so we again got a free ride across, having not carried anything since Big Jim's camp at the bottom of Nistowaik Falls. The put in was in strong current and it was a real fight to break free from the current that races to the rapids. But the thought of what would happen to us, were we sucked over the drop, saw us grunt up to calmer water. An otter popped up time after time to see us as we fought the current that it so easily handled. We watched a Beaver fly overhead and in the strong wind it appeared to be standing still.

The river is all now burned and thick with new polar and birch. Beaver houses are everywhere and the air is thick with smoke. There must be big fires north. We are pinned by the wind at river's edge as I type this at 5:30, having made about another six miles. We are planning to have supper and see if the wind dies and then perhaps grab a couple of more hours of paddling before we make camp.

In spite of the wind it is a fine day to be alive

   
   
 
Day #7 Sunday June 16, 2002

So if you took a mid-big pumpkin, two old black socks, an orange cut in half, some hay wire, a tin of black spray paint and a sharp paring knife what could you make? Think for a bit as I tell you what unfolded within 20 minutes of my last night's e-mail. We decided to make supper and see if the wind would let up. So we dug out some spaghetti and just had the sauce simmering nicely when the fun started.

 
Tom at Atik Falls
   
  Oh, as to the puzzle. Well, take the half cut orange and shape it to fit the round of the pumpkin. Attach it with a few pieces of the haywire. Now carve two close set beady little eyes just above the pug nose shape you formed with the orange. Carve a tight-lipped frowning mouth under the orange nose. Now take the socks and cut about four inches off the toes. Stretch them over some bent haywire and poke them onto the head so that they face forward like ears. Paint the whole mess with the spray paint. Get the picture yet?

Back to the adventure. I had my back to the wind as I tended the stove. Tom looked up and said matter of factly, "We've got company." I looked for a boat of Cree fishermen, but that wasn't who had come to visit. Now do you know what the pumpkin head was all about? I found myself looking into the eyes of a HUGE black bear who had stumbled into our camp. The wind was so strong that it didn't smell us until the last minute and the bush is so tight with new growth it couldn't see us until it was about 20 feet away.

What I found odd was that at lunch I couldn't get Tom to pick up the walleye but when he is close enough to smell the breath of one of the biggest black bears I've ever seen he's totally calm. The bear sprinted away and I told Tom all the standard garbage like, " He's more scared of us than we are of him." "If we don't bother him he won't bother us." O course, after 25 years in the bush, I don't believe a word of this silliness. Black bears, are 19 times out of 20, really predictable. But this one was hungry as there are no berries and worse he was HUGE and had attitude. I kept my eye on him and told Tom to pack up as I got my bear scare flare pistol out of the canoe. I could see Ted (as in Teddy bear) the bear about 20 feet away, eyeing us through the tight knit bush and testing the air. "Oh, no, he's smelled the sauce and likes it," I thought. As Tom packed, I launched a cracker shell to within about five feet of the bear. These things make a noise like an exploding bomb and the normal bear reaction is to jump straight up, spin around in mid-air and hit the ground running. The shell did its job and, with our ears ringing, Tom and I noticed that the bear didn't move a muscle. It kept testing the air and moved closer. Ted circled downwind. He had the look of a ten year old who has smelled KFC. As we packed, Ted kept moving closer and closer. We got away, but not before the damn thing was within what I consider to be my comfort circle. Needless to say we slept on an island last night. We got away from our second supper site about 7:30 and got 2 hours of paddling in, making it a 23 mile day. We ended up having to look high and low for a camp site, as the shorelines are all very steep and the forest thick. We finally found a spot at the north end of an island that had a perfect breakfast view out to the expanse of a lake. The tent nested into a great spot of moss and we slept much better away from Ted the bear's hiking trail. Just before we camped, we saw two bald eagles at an active nest. Within feet of us, a beaver started to slap his tail.

There is so much smoke in the air that the sun is a burnished mauve-pink. Hanging above the trees it looks like it is a part of another galaxy.

Today promised calm and we burned up 14 miles in 4 hours. Then after lunch the wind was head on in our faces. We are now once again wind bound. I have never seen such perverse wind and bad luck as we have had. We have switched direction three times, east to north to north-west, and each time the wind has turned to our face and brought us to a crawl.

The only good news is my weight loss plan is working better than I hoped for, and all the wind and warm to hot temperatures must be playing havoc with the ice on Reindeer Lake. Perhaps we'll get a lake clear of ice when we get there in a day or two. We are within striking distance of Steephill Rapids if the wind dies. Oh, by the by. Atick rapids that I named yesterday is really Atik Falls.

Wind aside the weather is wonderful and the lack of flies and mosquitoes is a blessing. We got away by 5:15 and paddled hard until about 6:30. I haven't scaled the map but I think we are in the range of 24 miles for the day. I gotta' tell ya' that having a marathon runner in the front of the canoe is A-OK ... even if he eats like two normal humans. This river is covered with some of the biggest beaver houses I have ever seen. The very reason that the early explorers got here was in search of their pelts. Now that fur has gone out of fashion, they reproduce largely unhampered.

We passed three camps along the river. These camps are people from Southend. When Billie and Ober came through, the freight went by canoe and York boat to Southend and thence to Brochet and points in between. By the time Downes came through, freight arrived at Southend by horse teams in the winter from the south end of Montreal Lake and was then put onto the HBC schooner at Lac du Brochet. Downes caught a ride north from Southend to Brochet on at least once occasion. One of the stops they made was at Wapus (Rabbit) river on the east shore of the lake. This HBC outpost was, for a time, manned by the Schweder family who later ended up at Windy River where Lynda and I will be in early August.

What highways these rivers were and are. How they fostered the wanderlust in those who travelled them in days gone by, and how they do so to me. There is always another route to explore. I have already been thinking of how exciting it would be to leave from Wollaston and come down the Cochrane through Lac Brochet, Brochet and Southend and end up portaging into our back yard in La Ronge.

Did I mention that we had homemade pizza and Bear Creek Lemon Poppy Seed cake for supper, along with two mugs of steaming cappuccino? Poor Bill and Tom....

   
   
  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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