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 27
So the wind is so strong today that it threatens to blow our tent away with us in it and it is snowing.

Well, not really. In fact, it is about 75 degrees F. and the wind is from the south and would blow us along nicely if we weren't already camped for the day. We stopped at noon after finishing up the tail end of the portage this morning and paddling about 8 miles to Canoe Point on Grant Lake.

 
We are both absolutely wiped and need a time out so we invented the weather in the opening paragraph and are using it as an excuse. Like the government people, we are taking an EDO (Earned Day Off)

On the topic of portages, I wondered about the need for the "Deluxe" vs. the "Standard" Ostrom barrel harness, so I brought one of each along to compare. They are gonna' get the "Regular" back and I am buying 2 of the "Deluxe" harnesses. Lynda loves the Nanibijou pack as much as she hates the Dubawnt Canyon portage, and that's LOTS. Good gear makes all the difference and, the way I look at it, when you compare the price of the trip to the price of the gear you might as well have the best you can buy. Yesterday, had we been offered $2000 for the Ostrom gear we are trying, there is no way short of violence anyone would have gotten it. $5000, maybe.

Canoe Point is a gigantic sand esker/hill that splits Grant Lake. The hill is such a prominent landmark that we could easily see it 10 miles away from our last night's camp. From the top of the hill you can literally see forever. Standing there, you can imagine hunters waiting patiently on the crest of a ridge looking for the movement that would be the first caribou of the fall migration. The east shore, our side, is very reminiscent of what remains of the unplowed prairies in the south of Saskatchewan. There are very few rocks and the soil is a sandy mixture that supports some hardy grasses. Many spots are bare sand blown out into depressions. You can see the shimmer of rapids on the small tundra creeks that feed into the mighty Dubawnt.

The west shore, to the north, is flat and covered in a random mixture of boulders. The esker we are camped beside runs for miles to both east and west. It would be so wonderful to be able to hike it as the Dene and Inuit hunters used to. Few people realise how dependent the Dene were on walking. The so-called Inland Caribou Inuit of the Kazan and the lower Dubawnt walked lots but as they were descended from an ocean-going people who used all manner of water craft, they used kayaks. In fact, Tyrell, on his Kazan trip was surrounded by over 20 kayaks on one occasion.

The Dene followed the caribou migration so they had to cover large distances on foot. To cross the many rivers that the herds crossed on their way to and from the calving grounds, they used small canoes that they carried with them. And were they tough people? Father Alphonse Gaste walked with them from present day Brochet Manitoba to Dubawnt Lake in the late 1800s. He nearly died on his single trip and blamed later ill health on this one adventure. The trip he made, as a young fit male, was an annual trip that these people made with the young and the old, the infirm and the healthy. To them it was just what they did to stay alive.

Now here's a weird one. I was typing away and I heard what I think is a Cessna 185 doing a take off roll. So I called on the VHF on 126.7 and talked to a Jim Bisset (spelling?) from Sudbury. He is camped with his wife at Beverly Lake on the Thelon River where they are doing some fishing and touring around the area. They will be back to Beverly in under an hour. We are still 6 or 7 days away. Today I think he has the right idea.

Can you imagine how much trappers appreciated airplanes when they could get out to their trapline in hours where it used to take weeks if not months by canoe? The fixed wing float plane opened the north and it still is a vital part of the day to day for those who live out on the land, or as we say in La Ronge, "for those who live in the bush."

 
 
Saturday July 28

On the water by 8:00. Light overcast with not much wind to deal with. The river is fast for a few hours and since there is no wind and we are well rested, we did a 32 mile day ... and that's with one almost 1/4 mile portage past a vicious ledge. We are now camped on the east shore of Wharton Lake beside a huge roughly 200 foot high moraine (that's what I call them, although, on the map, it is a raised beach.) This is identical to last night's camp and, in his book, Tyrell called Canoe Point a "remarkable white sand-hill or moraine, three hundred feet in height." We saw 2 pairs of peregrine falcons as we paddled away this morning and although I couldn't spot their nest site, it appears that they are nesting on the side of the sand hills. Strange. I thought they only nested on rocky cliff faces.

We paddled several rapids today. The first one out of Grant Lake was big and pushy and fun. Then a long 1 mile debris rapid which was easy but took lots of "boulder avoidance." at one point we were both looking downstream and l not paying attention to matters, and we wedged right up on top of a flat topped boulder. It was too deep to get out. Did we look stupid as we tried to rock the boat off.

Stopped on a few eskers to look around. Every esker and every beach has fresh caribou tracks although we didn't see any animals. The sand where we are now camped is covered in tracks.

I haven't even looked at maps for tomorrow but I seem to remember that we have a bunch of rapids as we leave Wharton and work along to Marjorie Lake. This is where we decide which way to go to Baker. Our choices were the 30 mile longer Thelon or the Kazan which required one big portage. We have decided that even though we really like the Ostrom gear and the light Novacraft canoe, we are a little tired of portages so we are opting for the longer Thelon route.

Somewhere on the right bank of the river between Grant Lake and Wharton

Lake is where Tyrell met his first Eskimos (as he called them). On first sighting the canoes, the Inuit man was nervous and placed all the women and children in his skin teepee. As Tyrell says "Our canoes were no doubt taken to be Ik-kil-lin <the Indians > from the south, their hereditary enemies, so they expected no good from us." Tyrell's men were as terrified. "Our own men, recalling to mind the stories of the savage Eskimos who would undoubtedly eat them, were scarcely less fearful than the solitary native, who as we drew nearer, was observed through our glasses to be nervous and trembling." After a great visit where they shared the Inuit's food and gave them "presents of beads, tobacco, matches and such things." Louis of Tyrell's party said, "They are not savage, but real decent people."

What I would give to have been able to be with Tyrell's party.

 
Sunday July 29
We had rain off and on last night and all the mosquitoes of the arctic took refuge under our fly, or so it seemed. We woke and thought it was raining until we figured out it was just millions of our blood-sucking pals. Lynda reflected at breakfast, "I wonder how long it would take a Buddhist to start swatting these guys and the blackflies?" Not long, I'd guess. I shook out the tent this morning and when everything was into one corner I took out over half a cup of dead blackflies. No, they didn't go into the pancakes.
 
The weather cleared as we set off at about 8:45 and the wind slowly built from the east under big fluffy white clouds. It is so amazing on days like this to be surrounded by a complete 360 degree circle of weather. It seems like the sky just goes on forever.

Tricky navigating today as we kept going on and off different maps while we wound our way through a maze of islands and peninsulas. The compass would be pointing north one minute and then all other directions in the next half hour. You need four 1 to 50:000 scale maps to get from Wharton Lake to Marjorie Lake. I usually just use 1:250,000 scale maps on our trips but I have started taking the bigger scale for tricky areas like this.

Tyrell had lots of trouble getting out of Wharton and talks about travelling almost the entire shoreline before his brother discovered the outlet near a giant white quartzite mountain. We saw the mountain and if someone had no maps the directions would go like this. "When you get into Wharton, go over to the east shore and follow it north. Look for the giant white mountain and turn right." No kidding. This would get you through the lake.

There are two main routes out of Wharton, one south and one north. We took the north channel, a gorgeous fast narrow 10 mile stretch of twisting S turns. The banks were 30 feet high and there was a lovely vista around each corner.

I thought I saw a golden eagle on a rock at one eddy and it turned out to be a bald. They do look funny sitting on the ground when you are used to seeing them on the tops of dead trees. Later at another corner we saw a pair of golden eagles.

We pushed into the east wind off and on today and even so ended with about 27 miles. Fresh caught trout for supper at our camp half way along Marjorie Lake on the west shore. I felt like having some fish so at a rest stop I made one cast and got an 8 pounder.

One set of rapids tomorrow, the set where Art Moffat drowned, I think As I told you before, he led the first recreational canoe trip on this river in the 1950s.. Of course we will scout the rapids.

From there we have one 10 mile lake and then we get river all the way to Beverly Lake.

470 miles down .... 230 to go! I know we are getting near trip's end, relatively speaking, as I am already thinking of all the choices for next year. I can't believe how quickly this trip is unfolding. It seems like yesterday that we started.

 
Monday July 30
We were up early so I could do the CBC radio interview at 7:00. The one blessing of this is that we get an early start every Monday. We got away at 7:30 into a mounting east wind that had been blowing all night and grey skies that threatened rain. The wind didn't help for the first two hours, but as soon as we turned to the northwest onto the river it was more or less behind us, although it kept moving around to the northeast all day.
 
Marjorie Lake is poor camping but once you hit the river again, there is a camp spot every few feet. We got to the exit rapids and Lynda was worried, rightly so, as Art Moffat died here. One set of notes says portage river left while the other set says right. A final article I read says they "piled up their canoe" here. We ran the top river left and then front ferried above some nasty stuff on the left side to an eddy on river right, On a hot sunny day, with more than one boat, the bottom right side can be done, but on a cold, wet day with one boat it ain't worth the risk. I found a way to line the bottom. It worked, so at least we didn't have to carry.

This is a deceptive rapid. It looks very runnable river left from the top -- and it would be so easy to get sucked over the ledge on the left side. As I looked at the series of holes and ledges on the left side, I could only imagine the terror that Moffat's group must have felt as they saw what they were getting into, and then as two of their three canoes capsized. It would be a horrible, long, cold swim even on a hot sunny day. It was late in the season when tragedy struck this party and it is only a miracle that more of them did not die of hypothermia.

It rained on and off all day, and the wet and the overcast brought out the most vibrant colours ... lime greens, yellow greens, yellow sand beaches ... simply gorgeous. We were snug and dry in our Northface gortex with our legs out of the rain under the Northwater spray cover.

We saw the twin mountains that Tyrell described. The hills nearby look for all the world like terraced gardens in China. The vertical elevation in this area is quite breathtaking. At one point, a mature male caribou walked onto the ridge and stood silhouetted against the dark foreboding sky. WOW. What a sight. We also floated by two golden eagles on river's edge.

We are now under the kitchen tarp listening to the rain. Camp is up and spaghetti cooking. We are in dry fleece and sipping herbal tea with honey. Warm sleeping bags beckon. Could life get any better? Not for us it couldn't.

The river is fast and we ended the day with 28 miles. I have to get out another map, but I think we will be on Beverly Lake tomorrow. It's funny. Last year we were both nervous about the big lakes, Beverly, Aberdeen and Shultz. This year, they beckon like old friends. Mind you, these are old friends that can get in your face at times.....

 
Dubawnt River Map & Trip Outline
 
 

 

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