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

2001-07-11 page 2 of 25

Day 2

During the night a light rain fell for a short while; otherwise the ambience always sounded like rain due to the bugs hammering incessantly against the tent, like miniature vampires crazed to get at us. The trees "protecting" our campsite were waving in the wind, and beyond them the lake was rough.

The morning's weather did not seem altogether favorable. That, and my stiff muscles had me feeling less than enthusiastic for departure. Jenny wanted to move on, and the constant drone of bugs had me at least wanting to find a camp with more wind. So I donned my bugwear and walked down to the lake's edge, where I found fresh caribou tracks. Scouting the shoreline a quarter mile ahead, I studied the sea state and determined that we could safely, if cautiously, paddle on.

The wind was dying and the lake waves were calming as we loaded the canoe.

We loaded the boat and shoved off at 10 am, and as we turned in to the river's entrance, we said farewell to Kasba Lake and hello to the Kazan River. This seemed like a major accomplishment in the wake of the previous summer's rebuff. The wind was blowing strongly again, and now wrestled the boat in every direction but straight ahead, requiring us to take a very conservative approach. Accordingly, we soon found ourselves wading the shoreline, pleased that our new home-made waders were working very well. The canoe had come equipped with a spray cover, and we tried to secure it; But it was old and stiff, and did not fit. Obviously it had shrunk, not having been used in a long while.

The first set of rapids proved to be a bit more than what we felt we could safely handle. So we waded along shore a ways, but the river was in flood stage and eventually became too deep and swift - even next to shore. So we hauled out and portaged this stretch.

The river was voluminous and swift, and we could not line boat because the water averaged knee deep at the bank and the shoreline was thick with alder. These thickets made it impossible to walk along shore, especially now at high water. The river was high on it banks and positively gushing. This is usually considered to be the headwaters of the Kazan, although other smaller lakes drain into Kasba, meaning that here the river is already quite large, comparable to something like the Meadowbank.

For an hour and a half we mostly waded, sometimes paddling a short stretch, until coming to a long, curving left turn. Here the strong current jammed against us at the right bank. Very slowly and carefully we waded the deep shoreline. Jenny clung to the bow for safety to keep her from being swept away, while I clung to the canoe with one hand and the brush with the other. The prospects of portaging were anything but appealing due to the unrelenting thickets covering the steep hillside above; however ultimately we concluded that this was exactly what we must do.

The intimidating whitewater notwithstanding, we could have sluiced the next 1/8 mile in a scant couple of minutes. Tempting though that option was, it seemed risky for the likes of us, due to the river's high volume and rapid flow. No doubt more experienced canoeists would tackle such a challenge in a minute, but we were being extra cautious. And so with a great deal of effort we unloaded the boat by heaving our gear bags one at a time up the bank and onto the spongy, moss-covered slope. After no little effort we managed to wrestle the canoe out of the water, heaving it against the current which was trying its best to sweep it away. The hillside above was maybe 150 feet high and to our good fortune in this one place it had recently burned in a wildfire. Immediately to one side were the unburned alders and they looked impenetrable.

To begin this portage we drug the empty canoe 50 yards up the steeply inclined river bank to where the trees were not so thick.

I scouted the hill by climbing to its top, where I arrived out of breath and now knowing the portage would be an undertaking. But at least I had found a line where we could drag the canoe between burnt trees. Returning to Jenny at water's edge I helped her finish unloading the boat, then we began dragging the canoe laboriously up the slope. I pulled the bow while Jenny shoved the stern. We pushed and shoved, heaved and grunted, sweated, switched positions and pushed and shoved some more, resting numerous times in between. Eventually persistence won over, and we gained the top. That done, we returned to our gear, loaded the frame packs, and lugged them and armloads of gear back to the top of the hill.

Gaining the hilltop 150 feet above the river.

"The white man and the savage are but three short days apart, three days of cursing, crawling, doubt and woe."
-Robert Service

From the hilltop we continued with our gear along a lengthy, forested slope that paralleled the river and bypassed the rapids. Our head nets and bug clothing felt as hot and sweaty as a sauna, and seemed as claustrophobic as straight-jackets. Our heavy loads soon became excruciating to carry - both on the shoulders and in the arms. We were sweating profusely, the bugs were swarming, we were completely out of breath, and our hearts were pounding. I thought of a quote from a Robert Service poem: "The white man and the savage are but three short days apart, three days of cursing, crawling, doubt and woe." And here we were, only one day out and already feeling like savages.

"The white man and the savage are but three short days apart..."

Then we drug the canoe and backpacked our gear along the river and down to safe water. The time lost on the portage was easily recouped by paddling an extra hour before making our evening camp.

Reaching water's edge near the bottom of the rapids, we dropped our loads and returned with empty frame packs to collect the remainder of our gear. Now knowing the portage was do-able, on this second carry we determined to place our feet more carefully to avoid the continual stumbling on moss-hidden sticks and rocks, to walk more gracefully. That, and to take frequent rest stops. This soon had us feeling more in control. The second carry done, we returned for the canoe and dragged it over the moss and grass, down the slope to our pile of gear at river's edge.

Here it was on on only Day 2 of the trip, and we were already able to effect a portage with only two gear carries. So we enjoyed a nice rest and picnic on the rocks, feeling the pride of accomplishment for a job well and safely done. We were very glad we had not chanced the river, tempting though it had been, for the mere sake of expediency at the expense of safety.

During the lunch break we soaked the recalcitrant spray cover in the river for 20 minutes, hoping the water would soften and expand it. Indeed we were then able to stretch the cover over the canoe and snap it into place.

Below the final unwadable rapid we put the boat into the water, then waded it 100 yards to calm water at the edge of a small lake. A fishing skiff from Kasba Lake Lodge darted impatiently from one fishing hole to another, its occupants ignoring us. But as we passed them by, the guide waved hearty although his three clients never looked up. Cowering in the cold wind they were evidently not enjoying their taste of the wilderness.

We paddled into another lake running southeast and met headwinds so stiff that we could hardly paddle into them. So we waded the boat along shore, and this proved to be the quickest method under the circumstances.

Here we saw something that startled us to the core. It looked like a capsized fishing boat far out on the storm-tossed lake. Immediately we stopped wading and jumped into the canoe and started paddling furiously. Two thoughts came to our minds: Was it safe for us to venture out into the lake in such boisterous conditions? And should we unload our gear first to make room for the hapless fishermen? After a quick few words we decided to give it a try, but knew that we did not have time to unload the gear because the people in the cold water would need our help fast. So we wielded the paddles full tilt, amazed at how fast we were able to go, directly into the strong wind. Such is the power of adrenaline.

These huge lakes and vast distances can play tricks on the eyes. Much to our relief, as we drew somewhat nearer we saw that it was not a capsized boat after all, but two fishing skiffs moored incongruously out on the lake. On the opposite shore we could now see a small camp with a few tents.

We returned to our original side of the lake, and before long reached its outlet. Here we resumed following the river as it meandered hither and yon. At times we labored against stiff headwinds, at times were shoved along almost effortlessly by stiff tailwinds, and at times there was no wind at all.

Reaching the next lake we studied the map long and hard, but could not determine our location. We took bearings to the edges of islands. We climbed a couple of hills for a better view. Still nothing made sense. This was not good because we needed to find the lake's outlet. Fortunately we were able to read the terrain far ahead and the water all around us. That, and a bit of searching afloat kept us on track. When I say reading the terrain, I mean searching for a low notch in a distant tree line or a sloping hill that looked like it might lead to a notch. And by reading the water I mean looking for odd waves in the wave-strewn seas that indicated, however faintly, the river's channel and flow.

Following a line of current (indicated by the rippled water) leading ahead through a gap between islands

At one point we discovered a creature of some sort out in the middle of a lake, but for a long while we could not tell what it was. Repeatedly it went from nothing, to something quite large and dark. Distances playing tricks on the eyes again, and finally we realized it was a moose - swimming, then standing on a shoal. It remained in the water about half an hour, then swam ashore and disappeared into the brush.

This part of the river was most enjoyable; a nice current with a few fast portions, interspersed with small lakes in a strikingly beautiful setting. Truly we were starting to enjoy ourselves. The sky was still smudged over and we received a few dollops of rain. The wind calmed a bit and the bugs came out.

The camping hereabouts was very scarce, as willows, rocks, brush, swamps, and stunted tree thickets covered the banks. Several small hills set back in the forest would have made fair - if buggy - camping, but reaching them would have required considerable effort, carrying gear and boat. We would rather put that same effort into forward progress, so we pressed ahead into the late afternoon.

Camp #2

At 5:30 pm we found a decent spot for camping, 30 feet from water's edge and three feet up a rise on the hummocky tundra - in an area not protected by trees meaning that it was pleasantly open to the wind. Once we had settled into the tent, I pulled out both map and GPS, and plotted a position that indicated we had not come nearly as far as I had thought. This is why the map had made no sense; I had been looking in the wrong area. I was reminded of the need to study the map regularly throughout the day, to prevent losing our way.

The story has 25 pages. This is page 2.
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