Canoeing Coppermine River & Pikes Portage

Yellowknife to Arctic Ocean

Northern Paddling Adventure #8

39 days, 960 miles, Jul-Aug 2005

Ray & Jenny Jardine

2005-07-16 page 11 of 40

Day 11 - Pikes Portage

We woke up at 4 am and saw the sky was clear so we realized we'd better get moving before the day grew hot. We left the tent pitched and we left over 3/4 of our bags of gear. We set off at 4;45 am. I carried the canoe and Jenny carried a small load on her pack frame. I went about 50 feet up the hill until I needed my first rest. I figured that once we reached Harry Lake, 3 miles ahead, we would have the canoe carrying figured out. But for now it was trial and error.

Next I tried some heavy padding on the thwart. With that I made it about 100 feet. After a couple more such stints, the solo carry appeared must less feasible. In other words, I had not trained for that specific exercise, for example by walking around the block carrying the canoe.

The blind leading the blind. Carrying the canoe atop our backpacks unfortunately covered our heads.

So we split Jenny's load, each carried half, and carried the canoe inverted over our heads, one of us at each end. this worked fairly well, especially because we could rest the canoe seats on the tops of the pack straps, and use the hip belts for added support. With this we hiked about 1.5 miles to the first bog. We set down our loads and put our waders on and carried across the bog. Reaching higher ground we set the canoe down, crossed the bog, then stashed our waders.

One of the problems with the canoe over our heads was we could not see much of the scenery. The front person could see only 8 to 10 feet ahead, and this is not much when you are in unfamiliar wilderness. We did see lots of animal tracks on the trail, mostly muskox along with moose, caribou and wolf. On the return trip we positively reveled in the beauty of the region. Through this area the forest was more sparse, with open, park-like areas. The soil was a sand and gravel mix, like an esker, with a few rocks and everything covered with thick lichens. The trees were of course birch, spruce - some looked like Englemann - also alder, and a few larch, with willows in the low areas. At one point the ground was covered with quiviat. There were no bones, so we figured this was just a comfortable place for the muskox to rest and shed some of the past winter's fur.

Charlton Bay visible ahead.

We were traipsing along at a good clip when suddenly a couple of dark, hairy animals appeared on the trail in front of us. There is no mistaking a muskox, especially up close. Simply a beautiful, magnificent animal. Both of them ran into the forest. Then a very short ways further on we saw five more. they lumbered casually away. I followed them with the camera. They had no young ones with them. They watched me warily, but with without alarm. When I got a bit closer, one turned and faced me in a stand-off attitude. One of the other muskox stepped on and broke a stick and that spooked all of them. They all charged away into the forest. But probably not very far.


Back at the tent we crawled in for a rest and a few snacks, out of the bugs. Then we packed up the tent and loaded our pack frames. Our second carry was massively heavy, grueling. We felt very much out of shape. The packs probably weighed close to 90 pounds. We took many stoop-over rests. By going slowly and persevering, we eventually reached the waders, crossed the bog and caught up to the canoe.

And so it went for the two miles. There was only one serious swamp, and both edges of the swamp were marked with caribou antlers, thanks to Carl Shepardson. The eastern set we propped up higher in order to see them better. The good part about our portaging system was it required only two carries. That saved us a lot of extra miles of backtracking.

The swamps were marked with caribou antlers.

We were elated when we crossed over some bedrock and caught a glimpse of Harry Lake. This first section of Pike's Portage had taken us 7.5 hours and we had gained 700 feet in elevation. The morning had remained mostly cool with some hot sun when the clouds parted.

An abandoned canoe at Harry Lake.

At the shore of Harry Lake was again lots of evidence of past visitors, including a faded green fiberglass canoe and two rotted wooden boats, circa 1930s or 40s. The joy of getting back into the canoe and simply floating was indescribable. We felt like ducks on the water as we paddled lazily out into the middle of Harry Lake. We were soon rid of the bugs, and with them gone we could finally relax, drink water, and eat. The water was almost warm, a perfect swimming temperature. What a contrast from Great Slave Lake where the water was so cold that leaving your hand in for more that a few moments was painful.

We paddled and lunched at a leisurely pace, noting what appeared to be an extensive camp on the western shore. We didn't see anyone. Nor had we seen any fresh human tracks on the portage trail, but a float plane could land here and lakeshore camp.

An abandoned quad on a sled.

Next came a quarter-mile portage to French Lake. This portage was pretty much level. Because it was short, we did it in three easy trips instead of two grueling ones. Along the way we went past an abandoned 4-wheeler on a sled.

On the way back for the next load, we stop to look at the 4-wheeler.

We paddled French Lake, then made a short portage to Acres Lake along the right side of the creek. While scouting this portage I spotted two more muskox. Both this portage and the previous one would be boggy earlier in the year. They were just starting to dry out, so we hiked in running shoes. We got a slight bit or rain late in the afternoon.

French Lake

Acres Lake

Camp #11 on Acres Lake

We paddled four miles across Acres Lake and landed on a small island near it's north shore, at 6:20 pm, and made camp.

After pitching the tent we went into the warm water with all our sweaty, sticky clothes on which needed washing as much as we did. And the clothes protected us from the bugs. The water temperature was very pleasant. We stayed in quite a while, scrubbing our skin and clothes, washing our hair, soaking the sweat and grime out of the clothes. Once out of the water, the clothes dried fast in the breeze. The bugs were too pesky to remove our clothes for drying.

Necessity is the mother of invention. How to take a bath, wash clothes, and avoid the fierce bugs - all at the same time.

x miles, 13.5 hours. Camp #11: UTM 12W 0618716 6960936 Map 75K

* * *

Pike's Portage, at the east end of Great Slave Lake, is an exceptionally beautiful and easy hike - as long as one has a canoe for crossing the many lakes en route. The total distance is something like 28 miles, and the trail is gently graded and in most places very well defined. The boreal forest is comparatively lush, and comprises black spruce, birch, and some larch. Despite the trail's many virtues, it is traveled by only one or two parties a year, if that. Historically, however, it was immensely important because it was the easiest way to reach the interior Barrens; and so was the primary trade, hunting and fishing route for the indigenous peoples, and later the main gateway for explorers, trappers and Voyageurs. Traveling this route has been a long-time goal of mine, and it was a genuine pleasure to finally realize that goal this summer.

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