Canoeing Coppermine River & Pikes Portage

Yellowknife to Arctic Ocean

Northern Paddling Adventure #8

39 days, 960 miles, Jul-Aug 2005

Ray & Jenny Jardine

2005-07-23 page 18 of 40

Day 18 - Ptarmigan Lake

We loaded up our pack frames and at 6:30 am portaged 100 yards through the scrub willows. Then we returned for a light load on the pack frames and because the spray cover was on, we hand-carried the canoe.

We put in for a third-mile crossing of a wide portion of the river, more like a tiny lake, then had to do a lot of wading along the shore along the next section of fast water counter-current and rapids. The water level was low, with rock gardens everywhere.

At one point I slipped on an algae covered rock and went half into the water. I came back out as quick as I went in. At least the water was not numbingly cold, and the tight waistband on my waders kept me dry from the waist down; but the morning was very cold and windy.

The next section of lake and river was 1.5 miles long. The rapid shown on the map we lined and waded on the left. And with that we were in Ptarmigan Lake. The wind was light northwest but very cold.

We made a 1.5 mile jump across a bay then followed the left (west) shoreline. The wind gradually increased and by the time we were half way along the lake we had to go back into every bay to avoid the fetch. We would go half way in to every bay and the cut the rest (inside corner).

At one point we saw a large bald eagle perched on a tall rock near shore. It sat there and watched us go by. We also saw a sole caribou in the willow near shore. We had nearly gone past before it noticed us. When it saw us, it became curious and walked toward us, then stood there and watched us as we paddled away. The wind was quite strong offshore, so we doubt it could smell us.

Another place we watched a wolverine chasing birds - ptarmigan it looked like. The birds would stay just ahead of the wolverine, fly and land, fly and land, as if leading the wolverine away from chicks.

At another place we saw what we think might have been a wolf. It was whitish, it was down by the water's edge and it ran up and over the hill. We didn't get a good look, it was some distance away. But it was much too white in color for any other animal we know of in these areas.

At the end of Ptarmigan Lake we had to wade just a bit, in a couple places, to get the canoe up the fast water.

I was having trouble staying warm all day. I was wearing plenty of clothing, but I was chilled to the bone, shivering. So we stopped where there was a small amount of dead willow branches. Jenny made cuppas on the stove while I collected wood and built a warming campfire. We removed our waders and warmed our feet, hands, and legs and dried our mittens. It was wonderfully reviving. It was the first time I had been warm all day. The fire was at water's edge and before we left we poured many gallons of water on it, using our canoe balers.

The sky was thickly overcast all day. We are wearing our rain jackets with our fleece mitts and over-mitts to cut the cold wind. Jenny also wears her life jacket under her rain jacket, and it kept her warm.

We crossed the channel at Caribou Narrows to avoid a wide, windy bay on the left, then in about one mile we crossed back again on a diagonal, back to the left side. This where we saw the wolf, and here also appeared to be the real caribou crossing. On the left bank there are numerous, well-used caribou trails coming down the slope to the water's edge. Curiously the crossing is not at the narrowest point.

Late afternoon the sky darkened with clouds mostly to the west. It looked like major rain, but we got only a very light spatter.

All though this area we had very stiff and cold headwinds. We clawed our way along, against the current, feeling quite tired. At 6:30 pm in the vicinity of Tyrrel Point (the map didn't specify exactly where that is) we landed ashore and made camp. Just then the sky cleared somewhat, enough to let large patches of sun come through and we were astounded at how beautiful the tundra is when sunlit.

Jenny heated water for hair washing and sponge baths, then after our mini-baths she cooked spaghetti for dinner and grains for tomorrow's breakfast.

One person pours while the other person scrubs.

All around us is so much beauty, intricacy and detail in the landscape. We never tire of looking at it, but our eyes get very fatigued looking at it constantly. We've never noticed this type of eye fatigue anywhere else but in the Arctic, because there is so much to look at. Also, part of the eye fatigue could be caused by the cold and wind constantly hitting the eyes.

29 miles, 12 hours. Camp #18: UTM 13W 0388211 7072519 Map 75O (75 Oh)

The story has 40 pages. This is page 18.
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