Canoeing Coppermine River & Pikes Portage

Yellowknife to Arctic Ocean

Northern Paddling Adventure #8

39 days, 960 miles, Jul-Aug 2005

Ray & Jenny Jardine

2005-07-29 page 24 of 40

Day 24 - Height of Land

The night was wonderfully still and quiet. At six o'clock in the morning, the heat of the sun drove us out of the tent. The fly was covered with dew. We spent a few extra minutes drying the fly, then set off at 6:25 am.

The lake was flat calm and it was nice to have the sun directly behind us, instead of glaring in our eyes. We paddled close by three seagulls protecting their nest which they had built on a solitary rock about three feet in diameter and about two feet off the water. We saw one downy chick scurry behind the rock, down the backside. We made our way to the large round section of the lake, then paddled to the very end. Here was the start of our portage over divide and into the Coppermine River drainage.

Hauling out for the day's first portage.

Climbing a steep hill.

On the crest of the first hill, looking back at Thonokied Lake. Notice the caribou trail. They like to hang-out on these high points where the breeze is much better for blowing the bug away.

Navigating by map and compass.

What ensued was a succession of lakes and portages. The first portage went up 100 feet altogether across a broad expanse of tundra with willow and hummocks. As usual, caribou tracks and trails were everywhere. The footing was generally challenging and required slow, careful going. We each had our magnum-sized loads on our backs and we hand carried the canoe with Jenny at the stern while I led the way, referring to my compass often. This first portage was half a mile. Then we paddled the first lake, about one mile long and surprisingly deep with fish.

One of the small lakes mid-portage.

Working our way up another hill.

The second portage was 2/3 miles long, and it climbed another 50 to 100 feet. And this was our high point, although not technically the height of land yet. This portage finished with a long steep descent into the next small lake. This lake was 1.25 miles long, again with fish.

And then over the height of land to a smaller lake. This lake looked like a tarn with rocks all around it. From there we made a mistake in following the drainage to the next lake: it was boggy and marshy with tall willows and large hummocks. Another mistake was that I saw another survey marker out on the peninsula of the next lake so I made a beeline for it and that put us in a gnarly area of rocks.

My pet peeve against survey markers in the wilderness caught up with me and we had to make a long traverse out of that area and over rocks in the water.

Scouting a difficult traverse over a patch of rocks, difficult because of the heavy pack loads and canoe.

The next portage was half a mile, followed by a half-mile long pond. The next portage was half a mile over difficult terrain, hummocks and thick willow. With each portage we became more tired and so each successive one seemed more difficult. Typically we would walk for about 40 yards before we would set the canoe down and rest. We left the packs on our shoulders for these rests. The packs were so heavy it was an ordeal getting them on and off.

All of the small lakes had unique landings and exits, mainly because of the rocks and some bogs. Typically we shouldered our packs while standing in the water on slippery, algae-covered rocks. Then at the next lake we'd wade in far enough to set the canoe down floating, then we set our loaded backpacks into the canoe.

Twice during the portaging Jenny took a nasty tumble - once into the water and once onto the canoe. Her problem was not being able to see the terrain at her feet, because the canoe blocked her view. She had to second-guess, pronto, where the secure footing might be. And the problem with falling such as this, is it is very difficult to get back up with the heavy pack on, even with someone helping. A more serious problem is the danger of injury of the person - and to the canoe, should he or she fall on the canoe.

It was very hot with only a waft of breeze. We sweated profusely. the bugs were thick, requiring us to wear our bug clothing. And the bogs were regular enough to require us to wear our waders the entire way. Most of the walking was on dry ground and we could have worn shoes.

We took all the portages slow, so it wasn't a huge ordeal. We stayed positive minded about it. We were very pleased to be able to do the portages in one go. The idea of having to go back each time for a second load had no appeal.

We used our gps on the first lake to make sure we were at the right place. Otherwise we used the compass and that worked quite well.

Mid-lake, studying the map.

Some canoe trip. I can hardly even see the water, it is so far away.

We had been portaging between small lakes all day, and because we carried all our gear on the pack frames, we could move our entire outfit in one trip. So each time we simply placed the packs into the canoe for the crossing of each lake. The continual in and out of the canoe jostled the loads and threw the bags a little more off kilter each time, and in this photo the bags are only barely hanging on. But no need to adjust them now because we have nearly reached the final lake. Since I am always in the front position I had not realized that Jenny's bags were about to fall off.

For the second half of the portage we were going downhill for the first time on the trip. We had crossed the height of land. So that was a major milestone. The last lake was quite silty. We saw sandstone, the first we had seen. With the final portage over rough terrain, we finished off on a beautiful rock slab on the shore of Lac de Gras, at 2 pm. The portage had taken 6 hours.

We have reached the shore of Lac de Gras, the headwaters of the Coppermine River.

Here on the lake's shore there was a slight breeze and not too many bugs. There was a deep pool right off the rock slab, so we washed our hair and faces and it felt wonderful. There was a large mining camp just to the northeast by the esker. A major eyesore, but it paled in comparison to the mine which was visible up ahead. We were very thirsty and dehydrated but decided not to drink the water from this part of the lake. It was somewhat turgid and too close to the camps and mines.

We paddled west along the north shore of a large island, made the crossing straight west a couple miles to Pointe de Misere and then southwest across the wide bay to the next point. On the right shore was the largest eyesore we have ever seen in the Barrens, the diamond mine operation with building, roads, vehicles and huge mountainous tailings pile. Words cannot express our disgust. The earth was being exploited and permanently scarred, all for glittery trinkets and of course the fortunes that these greedy corporations make off them.

We followed a channel inside a group of islands, trying to ignore an even more massive scar across the way to south. While I paddled, Jenny washed some clothing. We made another 1.5 mile open crossing, then at 8 pm we stopped for the day on a small island, unfortunately still within earshot of the mammoth dump trucks. Nevertheless, the evening was gorgeous: sunny and warm, and a bit buggy.

Camp #24, Lac de Gras.

25 miles, 13.5 hours. Camp #24: UTM 12W 0529863 7157054 Map 76D

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