Jenny loading the canoe.
The night had been perfectly calm, so hoards of bugs greeted us as we stepped out of the tent. Under clear skies we shoved off at 8 am into a pleasant morning, except that the bugs kept us in our bug clothing.
"the word "bravery" denotes flinging oneself into danger and hoping for the best. No, this journey wasn't like that. We were here, not out of bravery but skill borne of experience fueled with determination."
About four miles from camp we left the shoreline and started following a series of widely-spaced islands, paddling outside them. A couple of fishing skiffs were madly scurrying about, as though the fish were about to evacuate the entire area, and one of the guides pulled up for a chat. He related the news of two guys two days ahead of us, and a group of five girls three days ahead of them. When hearing that we, too, were paddling the entire length of the river, one of the greenhorn fishing clients, obviously fresh from the city, said: "You're brave." To me, the word "bravery" denotes flinging oneself into danger and hoping for the best. No, this journey wasn't like that. We were here, not out of bravery but skill borne of experience fueled with determination. We were here for love of the land and of life itself.
Canoe life at its finest. To fill our water bottles, we simply dipped them into the lake or river.
The wind freshened out of the northwest, then calmed again, and we spent the entire day paddling between islands spaced a mile or so apart. Most of the time we paddled in cruising mode - making an unhurried, rhythmic progression of strokes, lost in our own thoughts. One or two stretches proved a bit harrowing with rapidly increasing wind, but then the wind would die, leaving us slipping back in to cruising mode.
The map indicated a cabin situated near Caribou Point, and while passing by we could see that it was being used by a fishing guide outfit. Near the cabin the shore was littered with three boats, a banged-up aluminum canoe, and a number of empty fuel drums. I say "littered" because otherwise the island was very beautiful. But thankfully this was it; the landscape would remain entirely unsullied the rest of the way to river's end, still several hundred miles distant.
Past Caribou Point we continued following the widely-spaced line of islands which cut across the middle of Ennadai Lake. This lake is vast, and we were always amazed by how big these lakes are. From the vantage of a canoe, the sky often meets the water with no land in sight.
Standing on a high vantage on this small island, I am verifying a compass bearing to our next objective, a couple of miles across this part of the lake.
At the western tip of the largest (by far) island in the middle of the lake, we stopped for the day's only shore break. The next hop would be a longish one, and we wanted to check it out from a higher vantage, which in this case was a pile of rocks standing only eight feet over the water. Even from that height we could barely see the far shoreline 2½ miles away. I took a compass reading from the map, then pointed that reading to the distant land for visual verification.
With encouraging weather we started across, and to our good fortune the further we went the flatter the water became. By the time we arrived at the far land the lake was as quiet as the proverbial mill pond.
The scope and magnitude of the landscape here is categorically mind boggling. The Inuit who lived here had something that modern white man does not: land - unlimited land - and empty space. And this land is good. It is a tremendous resource, full of beauty, richly varied, clean and always fresh. The land is empty today mainly because of the mosquitoes and black flies, which, on a calm day such as today, are a constant, ever-present drone.
"Are you listening?" I wrote to myself. "Do not take used gear to the Arctic!"
Here we find a note in our trip journal, reading: "Are you listening? Do not take used gear to the Arctic!" It was something I had written to myself in the tent that night, with the intent of improving our circumstances on subsequent trips. The note goes on to say: "Our mosquito netting clothing, the mosquito Jackets in particular, which we had used on the Back River, are shot. Also my nylon shell jacket arms have shrunk 3 inches and the elastic has relaxed, so my wrists are spotted with black fly bite welts. I count 14 bites on the right wrist alone." These Arctic and sub-Arctic trips are very hard on clothing and gear, and we find it best to begin each trip with new. But how tempting, when preparing for a trip, to throw in several items that had worked well for us on the previous outing. Not a good idea!
Jenny taking a well-deserved break from paddling.
Late afternoon while paddling along the lake's arm we decided to try our luck at fishing. Trolling a lure we soon caught a magnificent lake trout about 20 inches long. This was too large for our dinner, and we knew the leftovers would not keep well in the heat, should tomorrow be as warm as today - in the mid 70's. Anyway, as Jenny lifted the fish out of the water it broke free of the hook and regained its freedom back into the lake. The time was nearly 7 pm and we were quite tired, so rather than resume trolling we headed for land and made camp.
Unfortunately, the early evening was still hot. The lake was glassy like a mirror, and conditions inside the tent resembled those of a sauna. The intense heat, deep fatigue and irritating bug bites made relaxing difficult. Due to the heat we ate a cold supper of instant beans and potatoes, with a fresh tomato and a grapefruit.
To me, there is nothing more beautiful than the pristine Barrenlands with its tundra and lakes. Just about every campsite is a real gem.
Despite any discomfort we reveled in the surpassing beauty of the scenery all around. We were camped on a tundra bluff about 20 feet above the lake. The ground was covered in small berries of several different types. Nearby was a point of land that jutted into the lake a hundred yards. A shallow, "sub-lake" sat incongruously close to the main lake and reflected a small stand of stunted spruce. Overall, the colors were sublime, with the blue lake, the green spruce, the white sand beach, and the verdancy of tiny tundra plants all around. Also near the tent was an ancient Inuit tent ring of the type found at just about any place along the Kazan suitable for camping.
About 8:30 pm a bank of clouds rolled overhead, providing wonderful shade and pleasantly declining temperatures. Jenny sewed a couple of patches on my mosquito netting shirt. Again today we had watched a seagull chase a bald eagle. Also we had seen jaegers. And today we had paddled past tree line, which here was surprisingly abrupt. Within a mere five or ten miles, we went from solid forest to open tundra. Personally, we much prefer the treeless tundra to the forested taiga. Maybe the Inuit did too. On the tundra the views are unlimited, the camping possibilities abound and are more open to the wind and breeze which greatly reduces the bugs. The caribou hunters on the open tundra can find the game without trees concealing the animals. And for the caribou it is probably safer having long-range views of their predators.
From the evening's journal: "What kind of difference can a person make in walking his or her path? And how can we relate our enthusiasm to those with no idea of what lies beyond? All our trips and experiences have changed us profoundly - but only on the inside. So the thought occurs: what is the point of a life of adventure, and more so, of seeking an enlightened consciousness? And then: People, such as the fishing client in the skiff today, cannot see the radiance in us because they are blind to that particular wavelength of energy in the overall spectrum of life. Those who are ready and searching for what to them might be a higher meaning will surely find it, and those who are not will not. Everyone has a journey through life, and whether it be the route of the Kazan or simply that between cradle and grave seems to make little difference outside the individual. But oh, how the radiance of certain journeys can positively incandesce."
Today's mileage: 30.