Bill Layman & Lynda Holland's 2001 trip, on the
Dubawnt River in the North West Territories & Nunavut.

Tuesday July 03 / Wednesday July 04 / Thursday July 05 / Friday July 06 / Saturday July 07 /
Sunday July 08 / Monday July 09 / Tuesday July 10 / Wednesday July 11 / Thursday July 12 /
Friday July 13 / Saturday July 14 / Sunday July 15 / Monday July 16 / Tuesday July 17 /
Wednesday July 18 / Thursday July 19 / Friday July 20 / Saturday July 21 / Sunday July 22 /
Monday July 23 / Tuesday July 24 / Wednesday July 25 / Thursday July 26 / Friday July 27 /
Saturday July 28 / Sunday July 29 / Monday July 30 / Tuesday July 31 / Wednesday August 1
Thursday August 2 / Friday August 3 / Saturday August 4 / Sunday August 5 / Monday August 6 /
Tuesday August 7 / Wednesday August 8

 
Friday July 13
So I just realized it is Friday the 13th ... but it must be working in reverse for us or perhaps we paid for it last night. You see we finished our supper of pike and rice (I caught an 8 pound beast!) and the wind went dead as a door nail at 8:00 so we decided to do a night paddle. It worked fine for an hour and then the cold breath of Hades hit ... the wind that is. It started to pick up bit by bit until we were running at 45 degrees with easy 3 foot swells (the odd one breaking over the cover).

We weren't in any danger as I had my eye on a series of islands we could have run to if need be, but when we finally tucked behind an island and I had a look with the binoculars, I couldn't see anywhere in sight to camp that wasn't just plain horrible. If the esker where we were in the morning was a 5 star hotel and the tundra island an overnight motel where you just want a clean bed, this spot was a room in a flop house for crack junkies.

 
 
It was tight black spruce bush and deep hummock Labrador tea bush. I had to execute several of the former just to get a place to put the tent. The shore was a jumble of loose angular moss-covered boulders and there was nowhere to unload the canoe so I made a makeshift ramp with the dead trees.

The upside was that it was really comfortable to sleep but I was glad to say my good-byes this morning when we hit the water at 6:15 with no breakfast. Lynda is such a happy camper without a jolt of caffeine in the morning.

Stopped at 8:30 for coffee and granola under a gorgeous sky with light to moderate northwest winds that petered out as the day went on. We are now within an hour of the entrance of Barlow Lake. The north end of Boyd Lake is spectacular tundra. High banks on each side of a winding river so that you get head on views as you aim toward each new turn. Small round boulders on many shorelines and lots of places to pull the canoe up and lunch or camp behind gravel beaches. Hillsides covered with sweet gale (I think) at the water's edge and then a mixture of cranberries, juniper, Labrador tea, and tundra birch covering the higher drier upper slopes. Everything is in miniature so it is no more than inches high.

The dark green of the occasional stand of tight knit black spruce that huddle together for protection are still to be found, but they are thinning out quickly. The yellow and brown of the odd patches of sand and gravel contrast with the greens of the vegetation. Boulders, car-size on down, are dropped at random across the landscape. It is very much what you find when you hike up a mountain into the taiga ... the only missing element is snow and I suspect we will see some or ice soon enough.

We expect to see caribou any day, not herds but the males that linger behind as the females move north to calve. I caught some lovely grayling at lunch and we feasted on them with bannock and tea. It is hot enough today that we both just jumped into the river for a bath and are now sipping tea under the kitchen fly where we are immune from the merciless attack of the ever present hordes of black flies. We can see the river racing by and I have to tell you that we had about 3 rapids today that were a riot. S turns with 2 to 3 foot waves you had to ferry through to get from inside corner to inside corner. The boat is a dream in rapids and we had a great time playing our way down the river. I know there will be some REAL serious rapids ahead from all I have read but today was fun fun fun and good practice.

Covered about 30 miles today and it went fast. Life is REALLY good and neither of us can think of anywhere we would rather be. (Lynda says Greece would be fun, too.)

 
Saturday July 14
WOW... what a day of extremes. But I must start backwards and tell you about the "right now". I have seen black flies before and I have seen them REALLY bad but this is a world's record for us. We are camped along the east edge of the river at the north end of Barlow (we made 26 miles today) Lake and after about 20 minutes of struggle have the camp up and are sitting under the kitchen fly.
 
 
Black flies, for those who don't know the devils, always gravitate to the ceiling and to the corners when enclosed in a tent or under a fly. They just love to crawl on the fly screen. Well here's the picture. While I was putting up the tent I was COVERED in them and the droning noise was beyond belief.

Just the act of quickly putting the sleeping bags and other gear into the tent allowed well over a THOUSAND inside. GAWD, what do the caribou do and what did the Dene and Inuit do without benefit of DEET and fly screen do? Where I sit under the tarp there are easily 5 thousand in each corner of the fly on the inside and many thousands more trying to crawl in. With several swipes of my hand down the corner I was able to crush enough of them to partially fill my cupped hands. I actually measured them in a small plastic measuring cup and it was well over the 1/2 cup mark, and that was just the few that I killed. There are easily ten times as many under the tarp with us. WOWWWW ...for the unprepared this would be a nightmare. They should run SURVIVOR up here. I doubt you would make a night without encephylactic shock setting in.

Walking down to the canoe is like walking through hail. If you reach up and clap your hands you kill about 50 a time. Anyway, where we sit life is fine and we are starting supper .... sea-food fettuccini tonight with trout pieces. YUMMY.

The other extremes today were weather and wildlife. About one hour after we hit the river I spotted a brown moving shape in the distance. One always gets excited and hopes for a muskox or a grizzly ( We still haven't seen the latter) but are usually happy enough to see a moose. This turned out to be a bull moose that we got to about a 150 feet from before it vanished along the island in the same direction we were floating. A cow got up to follow her mate and as we rounded the corner, there they were swimming across the river directly in front of us with a new-born calf in hot pursuit. The light was bad but I got some great shots of the bull running up the bank. Then about a minute later as we were talking about how neat it was to see 3 moose, we found 2 one-year-olds swimming across the river chasing their extended family. Five moose in five minutes. In all my years of canoes and working in the bush, this takes the cake for me.

The last extreme for the day was the weather. It started slightly overcast and gray and then a nice tail wind came up and blew us about 6 miles down Barlow Lake with Lynda hanging on to a jury rigged sail. Then, just as it started to sprinkle and the wind died we found this spectacular tundra island lunch spot. We had just taken out some fleece and gortex and were getting ready to rig up the kitchen tarp to stay dry when the sun poked out. In five minutes it was about 85 above.

After lunch we paddled in dead calm that felt and looked like we were moving through a giant bowl of jello. By the time we hit the north end of the lake some huge thunderheads were rolling in on us and just as we got the gortex out again. It hit us like a freight train. I could hear the wind moving at us. It sounded just like a low flying jet and I could actually see a squall line moving across the dead calm.

Within seconds rain drops the size of golf balls were hitting the lake, while, to our left, we could see clear blue sky and sun. Two perfect rainbows formed on the water, both seeming to originate from the canoe and angling away into the rain . Within a minute the two rainbows were moving away from us and soon were arched in the sky in front of us where I am used to seeing them. WHAT a day.

I haven't even told you about the tent adventure we had last night. You'll just have to wait for that one. To close, we saw 7 Actic loons today (we are in the Actic, after all) and had a pair of common loons dancing in front of us to try to distract us from their two young ones. Life is very good.

 
 
Sunday July 15
So here's the tent adventure story from a few nights ago. First I have to preface this by saying that I really like the new VE 25 tent that Harry Stimson and Rick Wood from Northface arranged for me to try, but those who want to use it on the tundra take heed. Two nights ago it was real hot out and the tent was kinda' warm, so I fell asleep naked lying on top of my sleeping bag. I mean where's the harm when you're in a bug proof tent and there are only a few mosquitoes floating around inside?

Anyway, I was in the "more asleep than awake" state. I could hear the odd mosquito humming around and would wait until I felt it land and then whack it without really interrupting my dream. But even in dreamland I was getting just a little tired of the humming and slapping, so I reluctantly woke up to see what was going on. I looked over at Lynda and she was lying there all squirreled into her sleeping bag with a real serious contemplative look on her face.

"So where the hell are all the mosquitoes coming from?" I asked.

With a look of total puzzlement she replied "I just don't know. It's so weird. I mean I thought we had killed them all and I checked to see that all the doors are shut."

Feeling pretty confident that it wasn't spontaneous generation of "mossies" I sat up to take a look around. Doors shut. No holes in the fly screen. Then I looked up and saw the roof vents open. But they're fly screened so no problem there. OOOPPPSSSS. Back up to the vents again. Lynda had opened the 18 inch zipper that you can use to get your hand outside to adjust the vents on the fly. The thousands of mosquitoes trapped under it were pouring in. They must have been excited when they saw 190 pounds of naked flesh just lying there for them to feast on, don't ya' figure? Is it possible that Lynda did this on purpose to poor little ole' me?

Anyway, Harry and Rick, here's my idea. In this day of liability issues and all the warning labels on everything you best get on this quick. How 'bout a SAFETY WARNING TAG on the outside vent access zippers? "WARNING! FAILURE TO OPERATE THIS ZIPPER IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE OWNER'S MANUAL CAN RESULT IN SEVERE BLOOD LOSS AND ANEMIA I!"

I was itchy for a few hours after that!

As for today, we are stopped dead at the entrance to Carey Lake at 10 where a strong east wind has us pinned down after 1 1/2 hours of paddling. The first rapids leaving Barlow is BIG and with the wind was tricky. We slid down river centre and back ferried into an eddy on river left. From there we did a really aggressive front ferry to river right through 2 to 3 foot breaking waves to an eddy. It was all really straight ahead from there but the wind was strong enough that we had to paddle REALLY hard just to get down the river. The camping along the north shore of the river between the two lakes would be truly spectacular. Lots of little eddies. Behind them are gravel beaches in front of flat tundra fields. Lots of grayling leaping about us as we sat in the eddies. I caught a 6 pound trout and lost a 10 pound or better pike.

With this wind, I wonder how long we will be stuck here. It could be days, or it could be calm as glass in an hour. Lots of parasitic jaegers ( I think that's what they are ) flying along the river's edge feasting on black flies. Even now with this wind the black flies are hitting my jacket hood by the hundreds and it sounds like rain. Someone told me that some idiot group wants to ban DEET because it's bad for my health. Before they do, I'm gonna' buy a 45 gallon drum of it.

Forgot to mention that a pair of ptarmigan starting clucking around the tent at about 3 last night. There's a noise that would have you reaching for a shotgun if you hadn't heard it before. It's now 6. The wind just picked up to gale force and then switched at about 90 degrees to almost south. It brought in some huge rain clouds, so we wrestled the tent up and dug in. No sooner had we finished getting ready for the violent night that we suspected was ahead than it went almost dead calm. It started to rain and the black flies started in earnest again. We could pack and race out of here but we are set up and say to heck with that. Perhaps an early start at 6 or thereabouts tomorrow.

And before all the above sounds like whimpering, I gotta' tell you that a bad day on the tundra is better than a good day in the city. It's pouring rain now, but we have curried trout with couscous on the go and the tea is steeping in the pot.

 
Dubawnt River Map & Trip Outline
 
 

 

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