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

 
Monday July 16
The wind mostly gave up last night. When we got up at 5:45 it was moderate but still from the east so it was in our face. We headed over to the Tyrell cairn which is off course on a point due east from where our camp site. The Tyrell brothers were the first Europeans to explore this river in 1893. This is where they found huge herds of caribou and shot 20 to dry. They were just about out of food at that point.
 
 
The lack of food and the fact that the last Dene they saw on Selwyn Lake told them how ferocious the river was and that they would surely be killed and eaten by the Eskimos must have had mutiny a few days away at best. It is neat to think that, in 1893, the crew consisted of the relatives of people we know.

You see, as well as 3 Mohawks, he had a Francois Maurice and James Corrigal from Isle a la Crosse and John Flett from Prince Albert. All these last names are still all over the north of Saskatchewan. Interestingly, although Guy Blanchet did a section of this river in the thirties (I think) the next recreational trip wasn't until the 1950s when 6 Americans went from Black Lake to Baker Lake. The leader, Art Moffat, tragically lost his life on this trip.. If you do some rough guesstimate math you can figure that less than a thousand people have seen this river. I figure closer to 500. I only know 3 other Saskatchewan people who have done it, although there may be more.

Talked to a Single Otter from Tukto Lodge on Mosquito Lake and the pilot said he saw 40 muskox at the north end of Carey Lake. We never did see them. DARN !

Lunch of fresh caught trout and bannock on a gorgeous little tundra island. While I fried trout, Lynda found a Viking site where some hunter had been making tools from quartz. Lots of cast of pieces were scattered about. So neat to think that people were at this spot centuries ago.

We are now half way between Carey Lake and Markham Lake after running and lining all the rapids. WOW. Big stuff! My advice is to take the left channel where the river splits around an island. We viewed the right channel from the bottom and it is HORRENDOUS. The first rapid on the left channel is runnable river left. The next rapid is probably all runnable but being a single boat we ran the top river left, then I lined a bit and then we ran the bottom. From there on it is a piece of cake as they say.

Did I mention I identified myself to the pilot in airplane lingo? All Canadian planes are registered as CG-AAA or CF-AAA (where the AAA can be any 3 letters). So I called him as follows ... "Single Otter, this is BFWG"... He replied asking for the call sign again. Then I told him that I was a canoe and BFWG stood for Bald Fat White Guy.

On the topic of Tukto Lodge, Bob the owner can rent you canoes and has planes to fly you around the area for both put-in and pickup. As well, you can get from Winnipeg to the air strip at Kasbal Lake on a several times a week commercial big plane. Bob can pick you up on floats from there or you can leave directly down the Kazan River. There are lots of good rivers proximal to these camps and from my dealings with Bob and with Doug Hill who runs the lodge at Kasbal Lake, they are happy to do business with canoe people. I will give better information about both of these options to OUT-THERE when I get back to the real world. Pizza is about done so, gotta' run, kiddies.

 
 
Tuesday July 17
Actually met some other paddlers yesterday and forgot to tell you about them. Two guys from San Francisco are paddling from Wholdaia Lake to Nicholson Lake. They rented canoes from Bob at Tukto and he did the drop off and will pick them up in a few days were we now are at Nicholson Lake. The section of river from Carey to Markham is really pretty. All tundra on the south side and high rocky shield on the north side ... lots of colours in the rock from gray to black to pink to red, contrasting magnificently with the shades of green and yellow of the plant life.

Saw a pair of nesting peregrine falcons and there are now lots of Canada geese. Most are molting and can't fly. It is a riot to watch them scurry across the tundra trying to hide from us. The foxes must eat very well right now.

Great fishing for trout today and once again we had to eat fish for lunch. Bummer, huh? We were heading north all day and the wind was just a little south of east so we got a bit of help. That, with 7 hours paddling, got us 26 miles.

I noticed that the other paddlers we met were using heavy whitewater paddles for their trip. I did a bit of math. Figure 30 paddle strokes a minute = 1800 strokes per hour. We average about 3 mph so 700 miles = 233 hours of paddling (give or take) = 420,000 paddle strokes for our trip. Our Zaveral bent shaft paddles are easily 2 pounds lighter than our Carlisle whitewater paddles so I figure we would have to pick up 840,000 extra pounds over our trip. After that calculation, why would anyone not have a Zaveral paddle? Besides Bob makes truly nice paddles.

Markham Lake is all tundra now and the trees are just about completely gone. Great camping, and for some reason the black flies aren't all that bad tonight .. touch wood. Tomorrow sees us at some rapids where the only two sets of notes I read had people portaging here so it might be a slow day. Just a few more days to Dubawnt Lake, Tu-Bwon-Tue (phonetically), as the Dene say. This lake has a large importance to the people we know and is about the edge of their ancestral territory. Past there and we are into Inuit territory.

When Samuel Hearne traveled to Dubawnt in the 1770's he recounts being at Dubawnt and watching 600 Dene setting up camp each night That have been a sight. Read Samuel Hearne's Journal if you can find it, or get a copy of Farley Mowat's book "Coppermine" (which is a slightly edited version of the Hearne journal) if you want a good read.

 
Wednesday July 18
Ah, the best laid plans go oft astray. A HUGE violent storm hit last night from the east. Much thunder and lightning and really heavy rain.

I had to run out and collapse the kitchen fly lest we lose it. This is when you either love or hate your tent. We love the VE-25. Not a drop of water got in and the design is good for more wind than we got - and we got lots.

Unlikely we will be moving today but you just never know up here. There are still thunderheads moving through, and the thought of getting out of a warm down bag is strangely unattractive.

********

Now it is the next day (Thursday). We are up and have decided to try to move. The wind is still strong from the east but down somewhat at last so we might be able to sneak down the east sore of Nicholson Lake.

It may sound strange, but our decision is based largely on this fact: where we set up the tent, I have been sleeping with a huge boulder in my back and can find no way to get comfortable. Besides, there are no fish to be had from shore and Lynda keeps beating me at every card game I know. Isn't this the way all good wilderness decisions are made?

We have been hearing lots of sandhill cranes just across the bay but little else today. The skies are solid grey and it is as cold as a politician's heart at tax time. We are wearing so many clothes that we look like we are ready to go cross country skiing

Hope the rapids are easy, but kinda' doubt that. We may well be carrying later today ....

 
Thursday July 19
Well, the wind shifted to north east and we had to paddle directly into it for about 4 hours. It felt like we were crawling. Then we got to the rapids.

I was thinking we would have to carry, as the only other notes we had seen saw both groups carrying the second rapid. We ran the channel on the right of the island that splits the river.

 
 
It was relatively easy and saw us do a ferry from river right to an eddy on river left. One more ferry back to the right and we were through. The next one, where everyone we read about carried, looked awful but it turned out to be cheatable down river right with us tail in and backferrying around some boulders.

We stopped for lunch. I was thrilled that we had avoided a portage and that the rest of the river to the last rapid before Dubawnt Lake would be a float. By now it was really blowing from the north east, the ceiling was down to nothing, and we were getting a steady drizzle. This was not the kind of day that instills confidence when running rapids. Funny how a sunny day makes all rapids look easier.

After lunch we took off, ready for a float. Oops. We came to a double S turn that no one had even mentioned .... and it was screamin' big. Tons of volume right now and we had to do 2 front ferries through big pushy stuff. I actually got that "what the hell am I doing out here?" feeling on one ferry. It was no joke. If you dumped here you wouldn't get out for miles - if at all.

This must be really HIGH volume. Neither of the other groups mentioned this section. Besides, the dock back at Wholdai Lake was a foot under water. One group from Camp Widgiwagan said "the river picks up speed from here." Understated or what? It's like a huge freight train from Nicholson Lake. Very reminiscent of the Coppermine River at Sandstone or Escape Rapids ....big and pushy like crazy!

Anyway, we lived. We made 18 miles in spite of all the wind and scouting of rapids. We are now camped right beside river's edge in a spectacular spot. The weather is horrid, wet and freezing cold, sky gray and a fine mist of rain, wind strong and still from the north east. I doubt we will be moving tomorrow. Even if we did, the second we get to Dubawnt we would be stopped dead, and it's only 20 miles away. If there is ice on Dubawnt it will all be pushed against the west shore and we will have to wait for a west wind to move it. This is highly likely given that other groups, Tyrell included, have been stopped by ice in early August.

Besides, weather aside, this is a great place to be wind bound I caught 10 trout in about 15 casts and the last one was over 18 pounds. We are eating it with sour cream and chives, noodles and bannock. Nice and toasty under the tarp, all bundled up in fleece and warmed by a nice little fire from the Sierra Zip Wood stove. These are great little critters ... aside from the base which I immediately re-designed, it is an awesome idea for the tundra.

Time to eat more Thlewazane (Dene for trout)

 
Friday July 20
The question has sprung to mind more than once today ... " What the hell are we doing here anyway?"

It is just over 45 degrees, the skies are leaden gray, and a fine mist of rain has been coming down for the last 24 hours. The wind from the north east shows no sign of letting up.

 
 
On the plus side, we are warm and dry in down sleeping bags and a tent that laughs at this weather, we have lots to eat, and I caught a slug of grayling of which 2 chose to come to lunch.

Went for a walk in the nearby hills and found another nest of peregrine falcons. Should have mentioned yesterday that this section of river is truly spectacular. The south shore is a mountainous mix of cliffs and rock studded hills, while the north view is of tundra meadows. We could see for miles from the hilltop.

I think what makes this come to life for us both is the absence of people and development. With nothing to suspend your disbelief, you can easily see a band of nomadic Dene trooping along in their quest for Idthen ... caribou. If you want to read two good books about this land and its history get David Pelly's books "Thelon-A River Sanctuary" and "Kazan"

As nice as this is, I would like to see the sun again. We have one set of notes with us by the Harmuths. They were stuck about here for 5 days and then on Dubawnt for 6 more days. When Eric Morse did the first recreational trip on the Thelon, his party was stuck at Beverley Lake for 10 days.

Now, at 6:00 pm, there is a band of light sky on the east horizon. This is good .

I am still mystified about being able to sit in my tent and, type on my PALM, and then send e-mail with the GLOBALSTAR satellite phone. It still feels Star Trekkie to me.

 
Dubawnt River Map & Trip Outline
 
 

 

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