The Coppermine river gave us her all and shined in all her splendor our last full day of this epic adventure. Tomorrow we will find ourselves in Kugluktuk, after just a 20 mile paddle, but today we got to bask in the glory of all that the Great Spirit has created in this lush river valley rushing amidst the barren lands of the North.
Today started with sunshine, then a quick rainstorm then back to sun for the remainder of the most epic day of the trip. We paddled a stretch to Muskox rapids, which we scouted. Nothing too tough, just big waves. After Muskox we encountered never ending whitewater through a towering, wide, copper colored gorge. We shot everything, only stopping to land-scout the named rapids. Sandstone rapids gave us no trouble and we continued on our way. Finally we came to “Escape Rapids,” supposedly, the most challenging run of the river. We scouted from a steep cliff river left, and decided to shoot for it on river right. The waves were big and a little spicy, but our trusty spray-deck kept most of the water out of our boats. It was a thrilling run through an “S” curve and did definitely require some technical maneuvering. It was my favorite shoot of the day and it brought us right to a lovely campsite with an incredible view. Words cannot describe how beautiful this day on the river was, but I can say it was my favorite day on a canoe trip ever and that’s out of about 350 other canoe days in my life.
Our first full day on the river gave us a glimpse of her character. The water is high and seemingly shares our interest in descending quickly into the polar sea before the freeze-up. We slept in to avoid rain but eventually it was unavoidable. The rain continued in a light, ceaseless drizzle all day making us cold, wet, but not too grumpy. We had quinoa with special brown sugar cinnamon apple chunks for breakfast, it began our almost 40 mile day through numerous rapids.
The high water forced us to portage past a very large rapid early in the day, but the rest of the rapids were not as daunting. We shot everything else, only having to scout from land a handful of times. The rest of the shoots we trained down picking the line as we went.
After the last marked set, Quinn tried fishing because he knew camp was our next destination. After about 5 minutes, he hooked a 20-inch trout that gave a good fight. Unfortunately, it took at least another hour and 10 km to find something suitable. So, Mr. Trout got a free boat ride along our painter for longer than expected. Dinner was delicious and filling as we broke into our “extra” food for the first time tonight. I guess we’re feeling like we’re gonna make it soon.
Up at 4:00 AM to the first frost of the fall! Finally the skies cleared up for the night to allow the temps to plummet. These cold temperatures permitted us to enjoy a bug free morning until about 9:00 AM. We paddled across Little Martin Lake to a gorgeous sunrise and our first look at the barren-lands in the sunlight. It was glorious.
Out of Little Martin we pulled up one set of rapids and portaged around another two short ones into the next pothole. Here we decided to opt for the more risky option to follow the Winter River all the way to the next large pothole in a round about fashion instead of doing ½ mile and a ¾ mile portage straight north into the same pothole. We thought our Winter River option would pay off because although it was more round about, we hoped to avoid portages. We were incorrect. Five hours later three tough boulder portages later, we came it to the next pothole. The first half of this five-hour fiasco was a relaxing one hour paddle up a stream. It looked promising and we were all cautiously optimistic. Then the river widened into boulder fields unnavigable by canoe. So we portaged and pulled up instead.
Once we reached the pothole we still had five portages to get into Big Lake, our goal for the day. However, we only completed four and decided to camp right before the last one. Arguably, the most exhausting day of the trip. Definitely top 3. I’m going to sleep now with mashies & pemmican gravy in my belly
Up at 4:20 – beautiful sunrise against a thick gray sky. We paddled a short stretch to the Winter River and portaged on the right side. Put in was adequate and the trail was fair – a blend of tundra and taiga. In ½ mile we made another short paddle to the next set and portaged on the left. The put in was thick shrubs and we loaded our boats on the shore and shoved them into the water fully loaded. We had nuts in the pothole and enjoyed a welcomed flash of sunlight. After nuts, we portaged the next set on the right side, roughly 1/3 of a mile into the pothole adjacent to Dorgib Rock. Aside from James, the group hiked to the top and soaked in sweeping panoramic views of the area – my legs were burning on the ascent. We continued north taking another portage, a tricky put in resulted in Axel describing it as the worst portage yet. From his account, there were tightly packed scrubs and hard-to-see boulders lasting 30 yards. We made it into the next pothole and had lunch. Lunch was the most abbreviated one yet, lasting maybe 20 minutes. We pulled up the next set on the left and lined up a few more unmarked bars into Little Marten Lake.
The landscape is almost entirely tundra now and explains the moniker “barren-lands.” Boulders abound and scattered rocks dot verdant hills. We are currently camped on the interior of a crescent-shaped sand esker in full exposure of the strong winds, which for us means no bugs. Chicken dumplings for dinner failed to sate the group, so a couple rounds of extra nuts were gobbled down. The group quickly disbanded to their tents this evening after chores were completed, mostly the result of extreme fatigue. The level of difficulty of these past few weeks has caught me by surprise and I find myself daydreaming of home more than ever. I deeply appreciate the moments when I remember how special our trip is and how mystical the land we are traveling through can be.
A cold, dark morning greeted us at 4:00 AM. Hot coffee and cold granola awaited us. The coffee station was a “hot” commodity this morning as it really took the bite off the cold. The weather persisted from the day before – scattered showers and wind from the northwest.
We paddled through a strong biting wind all morning with intermittent spats of rain wetting us. Paddling through the strong, wet winds left the paddler with a numb face familiar to any skier. We portaged at the end of Upper Carp once and attained some fast water to get into Reindeer Lake. The afternoon’s paddle was more of the same weather, but with frequent cameos made by the sun to brighten everyone’s mood. We camped at 3:00 PM on a very open low esker with burn out. Bug-tent reading and naps for an hour, then dinner. In the tents by 6:30 PM as the mosquitos, gnats and blackflies began to swarm. Hopefully, we will finish the Yellowknife tomorrow.
Awoke at 4:30 AM, the usual Guy breakfast is ready from Paul – fascinating oatmeal. We got on the water around 6:00 AM and headed to our 7th portage of the nine lakes. There was a decent trail that went up a ridge and down to a swampy pothole then toward the lake. We then had a short 150-meter portage into our last lake. We paddled over to find the portage and had nuts. The trail sucked. It was marshy and mossy which made it extremely hard to walk. It was 6 miles. We got back up on the river and headed up to a marked bar and did a short portage. We then went up to the first Carp portage and ate lunch and I walked the trail. The trail seemed wonderful and fine so I went back to the beginning. We ate PB&J and SB&J and started the portage. The trail started out great but was terrible by the end; you would go up a ridge and have to make your own way down to a boulder field to our put in. This drained us all!! Luckily there was a western wind so we sailed some of lower Carp Lake to our campsite. We made camp at 4:45 PM and I made spaghetti for dinner. Space camp was also held which I was a big fan of. This trip and section are flying by which is bittersweet but sort of getting sweeter since this section has been incredibly tough; but not so tough you would get sore.
We broke camp at 5:45. Bugs were not bad. Morning was cool & pleasant. We paddled to the end of Rocky Lake and were met by a long steep waterfall and rapid. We portaged .3 miles on the river left side until reaching a calmer section of the set that we could put in at. We pulled up roughly a mile. It was slow-going, but not too bad. We reached another set, lining up the river right side, then ferrying across to the portage over a rocky boulder field. A bit sketchy as the rocks were treacherously loose. Quinn fell with the wannigan at one point. We pushed further ahead, lining or paddling when we could, until reaching a waterfall. We ate lunch and portaged over it. After another hour of paddling and lining, we reached the waterfall belowFishing lake at 2:30 pm.
Bram and I wanted to camp at the falls, as fishing had been what we considered a goal for the day. We got there much faster that anyone could have anticipated , and it seems everyone was still in “go mode”, as they pushed off into the lake before we had a chance to talk about it. We ate some nuts and pressed on for 45 min. until deciding we should cook dinner and then look for a campsite. This frustrated me, as I either wanted to camp and the waterfall or continue paddling for at least a couple hours longer. I voiced my frustrations, but definitely did it in a way that felt unfriendly, or perhaps hostile. Other group interactions devolved from there, but we got it worked out before cleaning our bowls.
We are absolutely crushing this section of the trip, as we have been this entire time. It really hit me today though that our time out here is coming to an end. It will be hard to slow down on the Coppermine. We have only so many more waterfalls left to camp beside, so few nights by the fire. It is amazing and saddening. My god, how fast it has gone!
I will cherish this trip forever. I hold all these men in the highest regard. I have loved everything about this enterprise. We have come so far. We have almost reached the Land of the Midnight Sun.
P.S. For how tough this trip is, we have had so few negative interactions with another. Others might not be able to get away from someone fast enough after 85 days, but for us it will be harder to separate.
The day broke with an immense mist enveloping our entire panorama view of the lake. We paddled through the disorienting mist to the end of Sito Lake until reaching the ever-steep Yellowknife River inlet. We decided to begin pulling up the river instead of searching for a possible portage on a winter road in the big bay east of the river inlet. We pulled up the river until it became impassible, so we began the search for some semblance of a trail. We found the beginnings a trail on river right, but it quickly petered out. We spent the next 2+ hours cutting and stamping out a trail that brought us into Clan Lake. We paddled through Clan and Moberly Lakes without a stop until the next brief portage.
Lunch was hit bologna sandwiches with cheddar cheese on a tortilla. Post lunch was a slog. We paddled, pulled up and portaged many drops, ledges, and waterfalls before finally making it to Rocky Lake after 12 hours of paddling. We are beat.
Woke up around 7am and had a nice slow morning in the B&B. We checked out around 11am after watching Nelk boys on T.V while eating our breakfast. We went to the Wildcat café for lunch, which was amazing. We headed to the Jackpine Paddle outpost to pack the food we bought, and pack away our dry sacks. We had a nice conversation with Matt and David and a few other locals about our trip, and pushed off around 3pm. We paddled all the way to the first set of rapids and camped around 6:20. We logged 10 miles, and had chili mac for dinner with hot dogs. Well, sort of chili mac, as Axel forgot to add chili powder . So, it was “add it if you want it”. It’s great to be this far into the trip. We can smell the Coppermine. #Letsgetterdone.