Day 78

July 25th, 2019

Great Slave Lake, Burnt Island

This lake continues to inspire us all in a way I will never be able to explain.  It is definitely the most beautiful body of water I have ever had the pleasure to paddle.

We woke up around 7:00 AM to the sound of constant crashing waves against the Precambrian rock shore that marked our campsite.  The winds had continued all through the night, fueling our dreams with their white noise. We were wind-bound.  

We ate breakfast and over-caffeinated ourselves with two big pots full of coffee.  We all spent our time off alone, but together. Reading, laundry and writing filled the morning.  Just 4 miles north sat Caribou Islands, but they were just out of reach.

We ate pancakes for lunch and the winds died and the waves retracted into the depths of the knowing lake.  We struck camp and made it on the water before 2:00 PM.

For the next seven hours, we paddled across 27 miles of Great Slave Lake through dead still air and water.  The colors changed around us as clouds moved in and haze from a fire clogged the northern horizon. This was a paddle I will never forget.  We paddled to a northern wind as clouds threatened storm, camping around 9:00 PM on Burnt Island with a nice tent-site.

Cliffs of Great Slave


Day 67

July 14th, 2019

Athabasca River

I am terribly dehydrated right now, as I drank less than 3 liters of water all day.  I succeeded in not drinking any unfiltered water from the voluminous, silty river we have paddled on the past two days.  So at least that is a small victory. The river water is muddy brown, and it is impossible to fill an even somewhat clear nalgene.  If it was only the sediment, that would not be a problem. It is the stories and advice from our magnanimous hosts last night that swayed my decision to avoid any unfiltered water.

James and I fell asleep in the “Man Cave” – a sparsely furnished cabin with two beds, a desk, and a furnace.  I fell asleep quickly but James woke me up at 8:30 PM to inform me that some people had just arrived at the cabin by boat.  We heard Zach talking to them, so we didn’t get too worried. At around 11:00 PM James and I awoke to mosquitos feasting upon us, as there must have been some broken seals in the woodwork.  We fled to the tents and slept soundly the rest of the night. We woke at 4:45 AM and were greeted by Norm, the owner of the land, before we finished eating. We got some info about the rest of the Athabasca and the Slave River.  It is apparently supposed to run faster than the Athabasca, which I can hardly believe. Dora, Norm’s wife, told us the river was 6 to 10 feet higher than normal! The hosts gave us 6 water bottles and let us fill our nalgenes from their clean drinking water. 


Day 66

July 13th, 2019

Athabasca River

The swollen waters of the Athabasca carried us over 54 miles today, camping before 4:00 PM.  The morning started out with a light drizzle that developed into a full rain powered by a cold north wind.  The rain ebbed and flowed until after lunch and a tobacco offering to the great Athabasca. The rest of the afternoon the sun graced us and warmed our cold hands.

Just past 3:00 PM a clearing on a hill blessed us on river right – only the second camp-able site we had seen all day and way better than last night’s.   It turns out that the clearing is part of Athabasca Chipewyan Reserve. From what we can tell, this area, outfitted with a couple cabins an awning and a tastefully decorated outhouse, welcomes all travelers of the river.  Although the hosts were not home, we felt that the posted signage permitted us to stay the night.

P.S. We broke out the water filter for the first time today.


Day 60

July 7th, 2019


The Methye got us all today in some ways but at least we got most of it too.  After 8.3 miles of forward progress made, but 16 miles total walked, we camped at Rendezvous Lake with blisters, cramps, swollen knees and sore backs, with only 4 miles to go tomorrow

We started the portage headstrong and hopeful, attempting a one load Methye.  This involved overloaded Granite Gear, double loading, with boats and double loading the tin.  We loaded the boats to paddle up the stream, but our way was shut by a substantial beaver dam and we didn’t want to wet our feet before the 12 mile task ahead.  So we turned around, unloaded and began the portage on the left of the sign. Quickly water breached our boots as we stumbled through a mossy bog, encumbered by 140 pounds of arctic gear. 

Methye Break

A scare about a half-mile in made the decision to do the rest of the portage in 1.5 loads easy.  Quinn bent his knee awkwardly after slipping on a makeshift plank bridge. So a mile in we pivoted to our back-up plan.  We all walked five miles in, swapping around gear every half-mile. Then James, Quinn and I went back to where we left the 3 other packs.  While Zach, Ax and Paul walked to the lake with two canoes and the tin.

Both groups had it tough but we met back at mile 5 at the same time!  For the last 3 miles we swapped gear every half-mile, giving everything in us to make it to Rendezvous.


Day 49

June 26th, 2019

Churchill River

Had a mix-up with the journal yesterday so I’ll be taking this one.  We woke up at 4:00 AM. Daddy once again served up some delicious oatmeal and strong coffee.  He added some cinnamon to the pot this morning, making for a lovely smelling cup that reminded me of the fragrant coffee from yesterday.  It’s all about routine and repetition baby, the two R’s.

We paddled across Dipper quickly and into another marshy paddle up the Churchill, where rocks are dwindling, and campsites are few.  Nothing like the Churchill we had grown to love. The talk of the morning was James’s sudden onset abdominal pain, so we stopped for an hour-long mid-morning nut break.  James chewed on some Pepto. He was better by our next stop.

The day was spent paddling, portaging and pulling up rapids.  We all seem very excited to get off the Churchill, to save our boats and our boots.  The pulling up these past 4 days has been slippery, wet, crushing and tedious. However, looks like we’ve camped past the last “real” rapid of the river, but don’t count your eggs.  Our campsite is called “Cross Island” named for the large metal cross that has impregnated its shore. A spray painted sign welcomes us, and we all feel very safe her, except Paul.


Day 30

June 7th, 2019

After a casual, but hefty breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, toast potatoes and french toast, we finished packing the gear and brought it down to the lobby of the hotel.  A nice man offered us his truck to portage back to the river. Paul, Zach and I portaged the boats. We struggled, as we hadn’t portaged, really, in weeks.

On the river, we sweated through our first summer day paddling heavily loaded boats up the Saskatchewan River.  We talked to some locals fishing on the river who told us we could stay on their property up the river. We stopped to camp at a cabin that may or may not have been the aforementioned cabin.  Alfredo spaghetti with tons of pork sausage for dinner.


P.S.  Tonight’s dinner was the only dinner we did not finish! We left about one heaping spoonful, which was buried by Axel…after a valiant effort.  The meal consisted of pasta, alfredo, milk powder, cheddar cheese, parm cheese, pork sausage, bacon, pemmican, summer sausage, butter, oil and spices. It was wild!

After dinner some fishermen rolled through asking who we were since we camped on their friend’s property.  Arch & Guy said, “Ben probably wouldn’t mind if you camped here.” Then they offered to host us tomorrow night.  Perhaps we will do that. Thanks Ben, Arch & Guy!

Canadians are very kind.  It’s awesome!


Day 24

June 1st, 2019

At 12 a.m. I sat awake in my bag. The air was calm. All of a sudden, a huge gust of wind broke the still of the night. Every hour from 2:30 to 7:30 a.m. I set an alarm to wake and listen to the wind and the waves. They crashed on & on. At 7:30 we made coffee & broke camp to try to make the final push to Grand Rapids, the end of Lake Winnipeg. The waves were large, but manageable & we turned off the lake after a good stretch. Spirits were high as we reached a dam. We started up an ATV trail before happening on a road. We decided to stop and ask a driver for help. They gave us a ride 2.5 miles down a road to the other side of the dam, Cedar Lake. We made some good distance, pushing hard to make the Pas in 3 days to meet Buck. So far it looks possible. Wind dependent. It’s great to have Winnipeg behind us with a new challenge. Hitting it hard again tomorrow.

Day 6

May 14th, 2019

36 miles in ripping NW headwinds.

On the water at 6:00 a.m., we are getting marginally faster each day. We started the morning with a short stretch to the dam. The workers were nice enough to let us portage through their site as a short cut. The weather and scenery were beautiful today, but the winds blew hard. Luckily, the swift current of the Winnipeg River kept us moving at a decent pace.

We started looking for camp at 6:30 p.m. and found a small site within the hour. However, Axel and Paul looked around the corner to find a paradise campsite with infrastructure. Unfortunately, the other two boats had already unloaded. Paul waved us down and we reluctantly agreed. The campsite was worth it though.

Today was the toughest day yet, and the first day we really earned 6,000 plus calories.