Day 1
  Day 2
  Day 3
  Day 4
  Day 5
  Day 6
  Day 7
  Day 8
  Day 9
  Day 10
  Day 11
  Day 12
  Day 13
  Day 14
  Day 15
  Day 16
  Day 17
  Day 18
  Day 19
  Day 20
  Day 21
  Day 22
  Day 23
  Day 24
  Day 25

Canoeing the Kazan River

Kasba Lake to Baker Lake

Northern paddling Adventure #7

25 days, 560 miles, Jul 2001

Ray & Jenny Jardine

2001-07-24 page 15 of 25

Day 15

At 3 am we were awakened by something stirring on the beach. At first we could not decide whether it was a seagull, a duck, or what. Before long we had a mated pair of ptarmigan cooing, clucking and cackling ten feet from us in the tent. Everything is bigger by half in the far north, and these ptarmigan were no exception. They were about the size of small ducks. Of course we started answering them in their language, imitating the female with the higher pitched, softer intoning, and the male with his raspy sounds. All was deemed safe, so the brood was called over whereupon six mid-size chicks wandered over and joined mom. We spoke quietly to them in English and they decided this was the place to be. Hours later they were still there, pecking at who knows what, down by the water's edge. Also at this early hour of 3 am the sun was rising and spreading a beautiful gold-red streak across the horizon beneath a heavy blanket of dark clouds. After taking it all in, we returned to sleep.

Rising at 7 am, we gathered handfuls of willow driftwood and burned our trash accumulated in the last 15 days. The wood was plentiful here, so we incinerated the paper and plastic, picked out the remaining bits of foil, then eradicated the site by scraping the ashes a few feet into the water. Anything that would not burn we carried with us, for example empty fuel bottles and the battery-powered mosquito swatter used the first few days and consigned into a gear bag as essentially useless.

We set off at 8:15 am into one of the most gorgeous days imaginable. The rains of yesterday had cleansed the world and left it sparkling. With 10 knots of wind astern and a slight current we sped along the length of the lake. This lake was the first in a series of lakes laden with sand bars, as indicated on the map, however no sand bars were in evidence presently, due to the early season high water. At the end of the lake the map indicated a short pair of rapids and we found them split into two channels by an island. We stopped at the head of the island and I scouted both sides. The river right channel was an impressive cascade of gushing spume, and the portage on its river right looked to be a long struggle through the willow. We selected the left branch on its right, and so lined the boat through the first couple of small rapids, paddled across the head of a big sluice exiting to the right, landed on a big, flat rock, lined the boat through a smaller sluice on the left and then paddled a big section of fast moving water to the left bank. This we paddled nearly to its end, then we lined the boat around the corner and then to avoid an angling sluice that probably would have engulfed the boat, we dragged it out of the water some 10 feet over the smooth rock and down into a pool. From there we dragged it carefully down more zigzagging pools finally arriving at the next lake.

Lining a small set of rapids.

Our predecessors in the red and green canoes had taken much the same route, as indicated by the colorings left on the rocks. We had added more red to theirs. The next section was lake and some river to another set of marked rapids. The first marked rapid was split by an island - we selected the left branch - and paddled the entire section which wound beautifully among big, polished rocks and cliffs. And that was the end of the marked rapids on the river en route to Yathkyed Lake.

The weather was ideal, the bugs were mostly absent, and we can't remember a day we had enjoyed more. We kept repeating over and over, "This is so beautiful!" A trip like this is balm for the soul. It purifies you of the superficial and packs the life back into you. Yes, the first week or so might be tough, but there comes an adapting, a melding of spirit and wilderness. The mind begins to let go of its complaints. Thoughts of home start to lose their pull. Also thoughts of the future subside - anxieties of what to do after journey's end. In essence we are living more in the eternal glory of the moment. We are soaking in the beauty that is everywhere all around us, the river, lakes, and the tundra. It is a land that goes on forever, and the essence of the journey is in its flow.

Eider ducks

The map showed the next lake mostly silted in, with a narrow channel running its length. Again we saw no exposed sandbars, though we did follow the submerged channel because we found it flowing. The wind was 10 knots dead astern and the channel showed itself as a slick, shiny highway. Anywhere not in the channel was roughened chop.

Eventually the lake/river made a wide bend to the right and this was where the going got tough. In the course of 15 minutes we went from tailwinds to headwinds, from slick water to an oncoming chop made tumultuous by the effect of wind against current. So began a long and concerted effort to reach Yathkyed Lake, proper. At times we thought the chop was going to stop us for the day. But we kept turning headlands gradually to the left and putting the wind ever more slightly on the quarter. The lake itself was running with non breaking chop up to 3 feet, which could have been dangerous should the wind suddenly increase. But the wind fluctuated repeatedly from 12 knots to less than 5 knots: blow-stop-blow-stop.

So we held on, crossed one large gap of about a mile, and then at 4 pm we threw out the fishing line. In a lake this huge, the fish are not everywhere present. Still, in the next half hour I caught 4 fish. The first was the smallest lake trout I had ever seen up here, a mere 12 inches. I released it to grow up. Fish 2 and 3 were too small also. Finally the fourth fish was a reasonable size so I kept it. At the end of a bulbous peninsula we stopped on a rocky headland looking for a campsite. To our dismay we found a number of old fuel barrels. Also we could see a station of some sort on one of the distant islands.

We fished awhile from shore and Jenny hauled in a medium sized trout to complement the one I had caught. So with the day's catch in hand we re-boarded and paddled the next gap of 1-1/2 miles, steering for an obvious beach. At long last we seem to be leaving the tall, dense stands of willow behind. For the past day or so, the land had been covered practically everywhere in willow, which like a cancer had choked out the tundra. Such a profusion of willow had also reduced the possible camping spots to the bare minimum. But here the tundra was largely willow-free, and the camping abundant. As we approached the beach we frightened away a large gathering of geese: at least 200 adults and mid-size goslings. On behalf of their young ones they all went running across the tundra, away from the water. We were sorry to dislodge them, but knew they would do just as well elsewhere. As for ourselves, we were weary and in need of a place to camp.

At 6 pm we landed on the gravel beach and dragged the canoe out of the water.

We had cleaned the fish previously so as not to bear-bait our campsite any more than necessary. I cut the fish into pot-size pieces, washed them carefully, and by then Jenny had the stove roaring. After cuppas she cooked the fish in three pot fulls: tonight's dinner and tomorrow's lunch.

The bugs were down to easily manageable proportions, so we sat on the tundra drinking cuppas and enjoying the view out across the resplendent lake. Like many lakes we have paddled, this one is so large that the far shore hides below the horizon. As always, we finished the day with a sponge bath inside the tent. 34 miles today.

Another beautiful campsite.

The story has 25 pages. This is page 15.
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