Canoeing Coppermine River & Pikes Portage

Yellowknife to Arctic Ocean

Northern Paddling Adventure #8

39 days, 960 miles, Jul-Aug 2005

Ray & Jenny Jardine

2005-08-09 page 35 of 40

Day 35 - Rocky Defile

Low hanging clouds and some fog. Chilly but no wind. We set off at 6:30 am and just around the corner from camp were two moose.

Loading the canoe at water's edge.

The type of duck that flee by swimming furiously, in effect running on the water and flapping its wings against the water very rapidly, we call moto-ducks. They look like small motorboats, kicking up the spray behind them. Thus they proceed away from us at quite a distance. We see them often and only when they exhaust themselves will they turn and hide in the reeds or simply stop and sit there, like regular ducks, as we paddle past. But it takes a few miles for them to reach exhaustion. On the river we have seen them perform this routine on and off for 10 or 12 miles. Throughout this section of many sand banks and sand bars, the moto-ducks often lead the way, showing us the route. They know the best way and they know where the fastest water is.

This area is also full of estuaries and it is a haven for waterfowl of all types. Ducks, geese, swans. We saw two groups of swans this morning, one of 7 and the other 5. They are large birds and brilliantly white - and the whiteness stands out for miles.

We saw a seagull perched on a treetop near the water and Jenny happened to notice it's chick at the waterline, a furry ball of gray that blended in perfectly with the rocks.

A ways further we saw a grizzly bear prowling along the shoreline. It, too, was visible and stood out against the background for a long ways, with a very dark coat against the light shoreline. The river was very wide here so we did not get close enough for a good look.

Just downriver of Big Bend we paddled past a solitary caribou standing on shore, watching us go by. It was in its winter coat, the color and the richness of its coat was absolutely gorgeous. The animal looked regal. We are used to seeing them in their tattered summer coats, looking rather thin and scraggly.

We saw a half dozen bald eagle, plus one extremely large eagle, possibly an immature golden eagle. It was perched on a branch near shore as we paddled close by.

Five miles before Big Bend there was a nice little run through a constriction. Perhaps because of all our lake paddling we have become very attuned to flat, level water. On the river when going through a fast section, the entire river slopes downward and to us this slope is very noticeable. We have a strong sensation of sliding downhill, reminiscent of the first downward hill on a roller coast ride, but of course not that pronounced but still intense.

fitting the spray cover at Big Bend.

At Big Bend there was a bit of light rain so we fitted the spray cover.

Below Big Bend the river was quite swift in many places, and we made excellent progress. A couple of times we stopped to inspect some rapids. A couple times we lined a short bit, more for leg exercise than for safety.

Approaching Rocky Defile.


At 4:30 pm we reached Rocky Defile and pulled out on the right, a little early just to be on the safe side, then lined on the right until we could line no further.

Preparing the gear for the portage.

Climbing the hill with our outfit.

We pulled out and loaded our packs for the portage. These rapids looked intimidating and we could not imagine anyone running them, but of course lots of people do. A few people have drowned also. These rapids run through a deep canyon and the portage goes up and over.

The portage was about one-third mile, a good trail but very wet. We made the mistake of wearing running shoes rather than waders. Once on top, there are several places where you can walk over to the edge of the cliff and look down at the raging river.

Rocky Defile and the Coppermine River.

Eventually the trail led down to a beautiful sand beach. Here we found more fresh boot tracks of the canoeists just ahead of us.

I grabbed the fishing pole and spent a long time getting over to the edge of the last rapids, crashing through brush and scrambling over rocks. Because of the rain in the last couple hours, the bushes were quite wet.

Eventually I reached my intended fishing spot. The river was racing past it, at least 15 knots. I threw the lure in and within just a few moments all the line had peeled out, off the reel. It wasn't a fish; but the current tugging on the lure, almost like I had caught a fish. I tried half a dozen times with my standard 2-segmented minnow lure, with no results.

Then I tried Jenny's blue moon and got a good couple of bites, but with a small fish that lost interest. Because of the heavy cloud cover the sky was pretty dark. I figured that was why the fish weren't biting.

Finally I tried my red and white spoon, thinking that might show up a little better. I cast, let it drift down, letting out all the line. I reeled it in half way and caught a fish. It put up quite a fight. Every time I had it almost in, it ran back out, pulling the line with it. I am using 17-pound test line, so I have to be careful not to set the reel tension too high.

After about 10 minutes I landed it, a beautiful lake trout, 30 inches. I found a fairly easy way back to the beach. Jenny had the canoe reloaded, ready to go. I cut the fish into pot size chunks, Jenny washed them put them in a plastic bag, then we shoved off at 6:30 pm. As we were preparing to leave, a seagull flew in for the fish head and scraps. Amazing how they know.

We did not fit the spray cover and so it was a bit dicey, out in the rougher water with a strong tailwind. Less than half mile from the beach we crossed the river and landed on the left bank, at 7 pm. After scouting around we found 2 possible tent sites. One was on the gravel and rock bank, very handy. The other, which we selected was very snug, up in the trees. A longer carry but well worth the outstanding protection from the wind.

There were virtually no bugs, so while Jenny cooked the fish I spread our gear out to dry before the next round of rain had me scurrying around collecting gear. My final chore was a sponge bath, stripped down, in a light rain, scrubbing vigorously with a had towel.

Jenny had found a protected spot behind some large spruce for cooking, dressed in all her rain gear. By then the wind was positively howling down on the beach. We were glad not to be down there and grateful to have a comfortable and secure campsite under the trees.

The rain persisted most of the night. Overall it was our easiest day of paddling, thanks to the current. We had to be very attentive in maneuvering the canoe, but it was not very strenuous.

Camp #35

43 miles, 12.5 hours. Camp #35: UTM 11W 0535830 7436332 Map 86N

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