Canoeing Coppermine River & Pikes Portage

Yellowknife to Arctic Ocean

Northern Paddling Adventure #8

39 days, 960 miles, Jul-Aug 2005

Ray & Jenny Jardine

2005-08-07 page 33 of 40

Day 33 - Coppermine River

It rained much of the night and in the morning Jenny had to use the bailer to empty the boat, rather than just the usual sponging. I dismantled the tent very carefully to avoid the wet sand. We packed away the tent soaking wet, although I had sponged the outside of the fly and then shook it hard to removed much of the inside condensation.

We are using an aluminized ground sheet and this has been invaluable. It protects the bottom of the tent; on hot and sunny days we cover the tent with the aluminized side up and this greatly reduces the heat coming into the tent. In a pinch the ground sheet would serve as a covering for the gear or for us.

To avoid the wet sand, we placed the canoe at the waterline and loaded the gear directly into the canoe. The morning was very blustery, clouds hanging only a couple hundred feet above the river, obscuring the hills. Drizzle. Lots of wind out of the north-northwest which is our direction of travel, of course.

We set off at 7 am with a few extra layers of clothing for warmth. The temperature was in the low 40s. So began an arduous morning of slogging into the wind. The wind was so strong at times that our speed through the water was very low. However, the current was flowing at 1 or 2 knots and that made all the difference. Because of the chop we had to stay within 5 or 10 feet of shore. This necessitated our going in and out of every indentation.

At one point we saw two moose, a mother and calf, a couple hundred feet away in an estuary. They stood looking at us curiously for awhile. The mother took some steps toward us. But the moment she caught our scent she turned, and the two of them trotted away.

We saw a group of 7 or 8 swans on the other side of the river, swimming upriver with their backs to the wind. Because we were so close to shore we also could see innumerable moose tracks in the sand. Also wolf tracks. We saw a few ducks and ducklings close at hand in the grasses. They were not too alarmed and swam into the grasses where they disappeared from sight.

The wind kept building in strength and the drizzle and light rain was continuous. Eventually we were having great difficulty holding a course. In one area we were only moving about an inch per stroke for about 3 or 4 minutes until a lull allowed us to proceed. It got to the point where I could no longer steer by myself. Jenny had to draw right or left to keep us parallel to shore. The gusts were incredible. One of them hit so hard, like a bullet, it threatened our equilibrium.

Eventually we had to call it quits. All along this stretch, camping had been sparse. But we landed on a promising, somewhat solid bank, non-brushy and non-muddy. Climbing a short ways into the spruce forest, I found a lovely spot on cushy tundra, somewhat protected in the trees. The wind was gusting 45 knots and it was nice to be among the trees for the protection.

We stopped at 11 am. We spent a restful day sleeping, cooked a couple meals, discussed paddling technique, studied our maps. We have been in strong winds on river trips, but have never seen these microburst type gusts.

It rained lightly all day, and the temperature remained in the low 40s. We discussed what we could do to improve our paddling technique, and how we could better work together as a team. When Jenny is not reacting in the ways I would expect, with her paddling technique and so forth, I need to be more patient. But she is very strong and is doing a fantastic job. She cannot see me behind her, so her tendency is to let me do all the steering while she only paddles forward, like we are on a lake. Which leaves me, alone, to read the river and react accordingly. So Jenny will be working on her river awareness. We also figured that, in swift water and strong wind, the bow person needs to paddle on the side of the boat opposite shore, whether the bow is pointed downriver or upriver, as this will help drive the boat toward shore if needed in a pinch.

Camp #33, photo taken on the next day, early AM.

12 miles, 4 hours. Camp #33: UTM 11W 0612346 7359910 Map 86J

The story has 40 pages. This is page 33.
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