Bill Layman & Lynda Holland's 2002 trip
La Ronge to Arviat on Hudson Bay - 55 Days and 1000 miles.
Day #14 Sunday June 23, 2002

So we finally got away yesterday at about 4:30 in the afternoon. The wind let up a lot but it was very hard to tell just what was going to happen. Looking at the sky south of us we were hard pressed to tell if it was just smoke or if a huge storm was building or both. We took off running to the west and soon realized that what we were looking at was both a thunderstorm and the haze from nearby fires.

Tom in the rain
  Then suddenly we saw a huge lightning bolt. We counted to 24 before we heard the accompanying thunder, which told us that the storm was still a long way off, so we kept paddling. We were right on the edge of the storm front and the sun kept trying to break through. When it did it was an ochre orange colour as it burned through the fires smoke. The thin shaft of light spread toward us and as its yellowish light danced on the choppy water it was truly a sight to behold.

The oddest thing was that when we looked ahead and to either side we had what would have been blue skies were it not for the smoke. Yet directly behind us was this gray wall of impending doom. One could have easily expected the flying horsemen from the Lord of the Rings to appear at any second. We finally got onto our line, where we had to turn 90 degrees and head north for about 3 miles, when the wind started to pick up. We headed to Tate Island and by the time we got close we were surfing 2 foot waves, racing along at about 5 1/2 miles per hour! We tucked around the corner and found a great spot out of the wind and set up camp. We finished a delicious supper, Bear Creek turkey and dumplings, and we were it the tent ready for some well deserved rest when out of nowhere the wind comes in straight form the west, switching from the southeast where it started this morning, Well thank you very much, we have to scramble out naked into the violent storm that is blowing hard with a curious warm wind. The tiny channel we are in is alive with whitecaps within seconds. The light is a hazy diffused sort of yellow-red. We have to collapse the kitchen tarp before it blows away. Since we are camped on bedrock we have to haul rocks to guy out the tent - tent pegs in this situation are useless. Back into the tent and finally to sleep at 9:30. The storm rages all night. We have thunder and lightning with only a 3 count separating them - very close! The sound rings in our ears and the air has a strange smoky ozone smell. Pouring rain falls off and on all night. All in all quite a night, thank God for this bombproof Northface Tent! In fact it's been quite a trip over the last 2 weeks. The weather has been so unpredictable and violent. It is like it is wrestling with itself and can't decide what to do. So today I was just about ready for anything. Wicked winds, pouring rain, horrid cold... just about anything but not what we got. It was a gentle north to northeast wind all day long. We didn't get going until 8:00 and quit at 4:30 and still managed 25 miles.

When we stopped for lunch it was Pike again today. I can hear you all moaning, "Poor Tom and Bill". We paddled all day through narrow channels and beside islands. Of interest is that they are "spilling water" over the Whiitesand dam and the lake is down a good 3 feet. We actually had to portage under the bridge at Southend. In any case due to the lower water the rock islands have the most interesting pattern. It looks like someone has taken a ruler and drawn a line parallel to the lake 3 feet above it. Above the line the rock is encrusted with black rock trip and yellow green caribou moss. Below it all you see is bare granite. The bare rock is white to gray to ochre and contrasts beautifully with the foliage above the high water line. This low water allows for excellent lunch spots. You can almost always paddle the canoe up onto a smooth ledge 6 to 8 inches beneath the water. Lift out the kitchen pack and there you have it. Oh by the way, the pike was caught on the second cast at a pit stop. The forest is now predominantly black spruce and a bit of birch. No poplar at all and the jack pine are few and far between.

We are now within 8 miles of the Swan -Blondeau route between Reindeer and Wolloston Lake. From where I now sit it is a certainty I would have seen David Thompson with his Chipewyan guides (now called Dene), Kosdaw and Paddy had I been here in 1796. We are in a narrow channel that you have to paddle through to get to the Swan River. Thompson was the firs white man to see the Swan Blondeau route long know to Kosdaw's people.

It is so interesting to think of all the history surrounding the spot where I sit. Tomorrow will be a little different than we are used to, but we are strong, fit, well fed ... and most importantly our load is a lot lighter than when we started.

It's not long now until we head north, Lynda. Oh and Karin, Tom has all manner of plans for canoe adventures which of course include you. Like you didn't know that would happen!

Bill on calm water
Tom Lining a Section of the Swan River
  Day #15, Monday June 24

We got away about 7:30 and with ten miles to go Reindeer just had to show us who was still boss. The wind got really strong but as we were running straight west and it was tending from the south we could still paddle. It was a tough 10 miles! Because the lake is so low we had to portage across a narrows between two islands. The water level, as I mentioned before is a result of the release at the Whitesand dam.

  Anyway, at about 10 we got to the Swan. We moved up to the bottom of the first major marked rapid on the 1:50,000 scale topographical map, paddling almost all of the way. We had a quick lunch of fresh bannock, tea, and curried potato soup... ah, thank you Bear Creek.

After lunch we lined up the rapid. It went really well as lots there is enough water that we could pull over everything. The Swan is as pretty as her namesake and. It is on average 25 to 50 meters wide (except for a few lake like expansions). The banks are solid with black spruce and grass. At the 8 places we had to line, the river has steep about 3 to 4 meter drops. Each drop is littered with boulders and lining is a chore due to the slippery rocks. The banks of each of these rapids are lined with huge stately white birch that branch out over the river. This isn't a place where the lining is bad due to alders and willows. In fact you are as often as not 30 feet from shore. All together great fun even if we both got the requisite number of bashed shins and twisted ankles. Worst of all was the periodic up to your chest surprise as you walked into a huge hole. We made great time and we are now on the banks of Swan Lake at a narrows. The entire south shore has been burned but for the tiny little spot where we are set up camp. According to some notes I got from Ric Drediger, Eric Morse camped at this very spot. As no doubt did countless hundreds of Dene. And perhaps even Paddy, Kosdaw and Thompson. More recently perhaps Nora Lueken and Fred Darbyshire sat in this very spot and thought of what their winter's trapping on Close Lake might fetch, when they got back to Big river. The thought of these folks coming up here in huge wood and canvas canoes with a winter's supply of material and food puts our trip in perspective.

Lots of Cree trapped this far north coming in each winter from La Ronge or Southend or Stanley Mission. The late Bart Dzeylion knew some of them.

From "The Dene Elder's Project" edited by Lynda Holland
"I know the Cree guys' names. They were William Mckay, Jimmie McKay, Miles Ratt and his father Joseph Ratt, Joe Ratt, Sedley Clarke, William Clarke, Thomas Clarke, George Clarke, and Alec Clarke, Tommy Clarke's old man. They all moved here (Wollaston Lake)"

Wouldn't it have been something to show up here on Swan bake in the thirties and find a bunch of your friends.

Supper tonight is Damn Good Chili and I promised Tom a cake as he did so well today. This was actually WAY easier than we expected. BONUS. But we still have the Blondeau River and lots of carrying until Compulsion Bay on Wollaston.

  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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