Canoeing Coppermine River & Pikes Portage

Yellowknife to Arctic Ocean

Northern Paddling Adventure #8

39 days, 960 miles, Jul-Aug 2005

Ray & Jenny Jardine

2005-07-30 page 25 of 40

Day 25 - Coppermine River

We awoke to the sound of a light east wind causing a flapping of the tent-fly. The sky was smudged with cirrus and the bugs were mostly absent. We set off at 7:00 am and sped off west across Lac de gras with a nice tailwind shoving us along.

We rounded the big island to the south and reached the first big crossing. The wind was building but still manageable so we set off southwest across the two-miles wide channel, then rounded the next point.

We paddled a few miles along the shore. The wind was gradually building. We stopped in the lee of a small island to fit the spray cover and to put on more clothes and our waders.

Shore break to fit the spray cover and to put on more clothes.

In another 9 miles the wind was approaching 20 knots and in front of us was a half mile short-cut across a 90-degree bay. I was feeling reluctant. We were in the lee of the land. I told Jenny that the seas would get big real fast if we set off across. She wanted to go for it, so we did. By the time we reached the far shore the wind was 25 gusting to 30. The waves were 3 to 4 feet. It was to the point where we had to keep the stern into the wind to avoid a broach.

At one point I decided to get off my seat and kneel on the floor. This is no easy task in my waders because the seat doesn't leave much room on either side. So for a few moments while I was wrestling with that, the boat started to go broadside. Jenny starting squawking at me to get the stern back into the wind. This was the roughest lake water we had ever paddled in a canoe. But it didn't seem to bother Jenny.

When we finally reached a pull out and I turned into it, Jenny, looking disappointed, said, "where are we going, what are we doing?!" She wanted to keep going! The lake was covered in white caps, with surf smashing the shore.

So we landed on a slab and had lunch: the last of the peanut butter and jam with crackers and cheese. Jenny bathed while I scouted around. The wind was slackening somewhat so we figured we'd be ok. So we set off again.

In another mile we rounded the main peninsula in 15 knots of tail wind. We paddled the gap directly to the outermost point. The final 15 minutes of this was pretty wild and the wildness continued for the next 5 miles.

This part of the shoreline was challenging because of the clapitus bouncing back at us. There were a number of good pullouts that we could have used,. The wind was southeast at 20, whitecaps were everywhere.

Beyond the constriction we got a nice short fetch and following seas.

Beyond the constriction, the waves were much reduced. Near the lake's outlet were three very small but new cabins. No one in evidence. At the end of the lake we rounded the final point and started experiencing a favorable current pulling us along, the first of the trip. After 25 days of travel we have reached the Coppermine River.

The outlet of Lac de Gras and the headwaters of the Coppermine River. Shown here is the head of the first rapid.

We had seen a couple of gaggles of Brandts geese on Lac de Gras, but no other animals. The river's outlet was difficult to see, even from close. It made a hard left and sluiced through a remarkably narrow slot. We pulled out on the right and noticed quite a number of canoe scrape marks on the rocks, blue, green and red. Now for the first time on the trip we are in an area that is commonly canoed.

The bugs today were absolutely fierce, mainly black flies bashing into the clothes, we were just getting hammered by them. We take this to be a good sign so late in the season. Hopefully it means more good weather to come. We need another 10 days to 2 weeks of good weather to finish the trip.

We portaged the first rapid 100 yards on the right. This rapid emptied into a small lake area.

The first rapid empties into this small lake.

There was a perfect fishing hole at the bottom of the rapid. I figured it was probably fished out, but decided to try anyway. My first cast was an easy-going trial. The second cast I flung out into the current, let it drift a bit, then reeled it in.

The third cast was a repeat of the second, when I caught a fish. The lure was a barbless, 2-piece plastic minnow. The fish fought hard and I landed it on the large rock I was standing on. I thought it was too small. Jenny said, no, it was just right, 22 inches. I asked if I should catch another. She said no, this one is perfect.

We cleaned the fish, then as we paddled away, a seagull came in for the feast of entrails. We paddled the very short distance across the little lake section, then pulled out again on the right. Portaged several hundred yards through willows and put in at the bottom of the rapids, then paddled another short lake section to where the river made a hard left turn and went through a narrow defile.

This rapid didn't look like much from the canoe, even standing up. We were tempted to run it, sight unseen. In retrospect this would have been a big mistake. I decided to play it safe and scout it. I saw there was more to it than first appeared. Even so, there was a nice, easy, but narrow run on river right, so we ferried across, lined up and had to draw left and right a few times to miss some rocks. The rapid was 75 yards long and we made it with no problems. It was actually very fun.

We paddled a mile on the next lake. The sky was black with ragged-bottom clouds, curtains of rain in the distance. We wanted to reach the next rapids before making camp. But we also wanted to get camp set up before the onset of rain.

So we pulled out on the right bank at 7:00PM and made a fast camp. I had just pulled the gear bags into the tent when the first drops of rain fell.

31 miles, 12 hours. Camp #25: UTM 12W 0488492 7161899 Map 76D

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