Canoeing Coppermine River & Pikes Portage

Yellowknife to Arctic Ocean

Northern Paddling Adventure #8

39 days, 960 miles, Jul-Aug 2005

Ray & Jenny Jardine

2005-08-06 page 32 of 40

Day 32 - Coppermine River

We awoke early, 5:30 am, but fog pervaded the scene. The next time we woke, 6:30 am, the fog was dissipating, so we set off at 7 am. We finished lining the rapids, a couple hundred yards, then paddled across the lake. Then it was another few miles of slow to medium river to the next lake.

Early morning, we're being extra cautious.

At the north end of this lake is a large island. The right channel is much shorter. We paddled into the right channel and found it very shallow, although current was flowing into it. We eventually found the deeper channel and followed it around the island without problem.

When paddling for hours and hours ... and hours, sometimes you got to take a break.

The next several miles were fast and easy, with many small rapids which we ran without difficulties. For the next 6 or 7 hours we glided along. There were 3 sections where the river widened and terminated in boulder fields. The first was at 619/7317 and it was fairly easy.

The second one, at 618/7327 went on and on for about 2 miles. We lined most of it on the right. It was easy lining.

The third one was at the mouth of Fairy Lake River, and this is where our day became adventurous. This one took us 3 hours to get past. We had been running the rapids fairly well and we got a little over-confident. We took too big of a bite. We were going around the first island to the left, but close to the island. Big mistake. We should have stayed on the river left. Coming around the end of the island we totally messed up and were inadvertently sucked into the channel between the first and second islands.

In the process we had to negotiate some much more dicey water than we would have liked, steering around a number of rocks at speed. We did ok, to our credit.

What happened was, we were paddling along the first island with the intention of jumping the second gap to the top of the second island. I underestimated the river's speed. In retrospect, we could not jump a gap like this. We started across, realized we were being sucked into the channel, turned around and tried to claw our way back out to the head of the first island - and failed. In part because Jenny wasn't following my lead to switch sides, and she continued to paddle on the left. So I couldn't turn the boat left because I needed to apply full ahead. By then there was no time for her to draw or switch sides. So the only thing to do was go with the flow.

We spun the boat bow downstream and then drew left of right to avoid rocks. This was in fairly good sized rapids. Not huge, but certainly much larger than we would have tackled by choice. Fortunately we made it through. Lesson learned there was, stay away from the islands and hug the very far shore in rough water to avoid being sucked into channels.

We followed the left shore of the island down to the bottom of the island. We landed and I climbed up on the island for a good look around. From here, the many channels joined and there was a clear line through it, but it looked very dangerous.

At this point we were fairly stranded. To the east was the first channel with very swift whitewater. To the west was the second island. I could not see around the island to see the channel beyond that. So we paddled back up the second channel a ways and ferried across west to the second island.

I climbed up on that and looked at the third channel and could see that it would be out of the question to cross it: too many rapids, whitewater and too swift to take a chance.

So we ferried back across the second channel to the bottom of the first island again, then lined up the first channel along the shore of the first island. This took a lot of tugging on the boat because the water was so fast. Here on the island was a huge field of ice, several acres in size.

About half way along the island we reached the base of a big set of rapids in the first channel. Had we come down the first channel, that would have been a portage. But there was a small length of river here, between the upper and lower rapids where we could ferry across.

This we did, with a bit of wading in the intervening shallows. Reaching the river bank, we were quite relieved because we had felt trapped out on the island. From here we lined the canoe down the right bank, which was steep and unsure footing, about 1/3 miles. We finally reach the end of the rapids.

Those 3 hours were very strenuous for both of us, with all the precarious lining up and down. Jenny waded and shoved and tugged and pulled, while I managed the line. Jenny had a tough job, but she is good on her feet in the water. Then we paddled about three more miles of easy, but slower water.

Others had not been so lucky.

All day had been calm and buggy with quite a bit of sun. A beautiful day. And the river and surrounding hills were gorgeous. But in the late afternoon the sky grew overcast and dark.

A huge field of ice, several acres in size.

Note the edge of the icefield.

As we were looking for a campsite we saw a moose on a small swampy island. When she saw us she swam away, back to the main shore. We could see the bugs were bothering her, she shook her ears constantly. We also saw a flock of very pretty birds, we hadn't seen this type before. They looked like terns but larger, black on the leading edges of the winds, broad tail with a black tip, white underneath, gray on top. They were not very afraid of us, they flew close by.

Camp #32. (That's our bailer to the right of the canoe.)

We searched a fair amount and finally at 7 pm. found a small, steep beach, and pitched the tent on a small level patch of sand in the willows.

We scurried quickly to pitch the tent, and Jenny cut boughs for a doormat, to keep the sand out of the tent. We had just finished setting up, with our gear in the tent, when the first dollops of rain began to fall. Then just as we zipped the tent door shut, the deluge let loose.

We were very glad to in our fragile shelter, warm and dry. The rain was intermittent for the half hour. Jenny didn't feel like going back out into the bugs and rain to cook, so we ate some meusli and a pudding.

We were very pleased with the day's run and most of the river had been enjoyable. We learned a lot about paddling. We had been trying a number of methods for following close to shore with rapids and rock bars and the one that is working the best is to point the stern 30 degrees toward shore and back paddle so that we are back ferrying in to shore. With this we can go around rocks by easing out a bit, and we can come in to shore when the current is very swift, by back paddling. Using this method we can also punch in to an eddy behind a rock bar. This is the only way we have found that can safely do that.

41 miles, 12 hours. Camp #32: UTM 11W 0620416 7345069 Map 86J

The story has 40 pages. This is page 32.
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