August 7th, 2019
July 26, 2019
Great Slave Lake
Unsure of the mileage we clocked today, as we all fled to our tents after dinner before I could consult Paul, who has a handy watch which tracks just that kind of thing. I would guess we paddled around 20 miles, leaving ourselves just 15K south of Yellowknife. The rain has begun pattering above my tent as I write this. I’m glad we finished dinner as early as we did.
We awoke at 6:40 AM, sleeping in because of our late night and sleeping in further because it was raining when Paul’s breakfast alarm alerted him. The sky and light were gray, the weather cool and the rocks slippery. We paddled in light rain until lunch, island-hopping our way up the northern shore. The rain besieged us before we could even begin digesting our lunch. Paul and I were able to inspire the other lads that with courage, strength and calories, we could indeed paddle in the rain, and they reluctantly crawled from beneath the boughs of a small tree and we slipped and slid our way down the treacherous, wet rock and back into our boats.
The afternoon rain started bad and only got worse. We paddled for 2.5 hours after lunch but at around 3:00 PM a northern wind blew in and we decided to call it a day. Everyone was soaking wet and a few were shivering in their soggy clothes while erecting tents.
Bram cooked up some scrumptious, hot ramen in his vestibule using the stove (clever guy) and we hit the tents before 5:00 PM. It should be an early wake-up tomorrow as we try to beat the winds and reach Yellowknife.
This lake, while cold and uncomfortable today, is as epic a body of water as any I have ever paddled. I can only hope the tundra can stir my soul as this lake has. With the red, rock islands and the boundless horizon – the lake seems to fall into the sky. The North is special. This journey is special. These guys are remarkable. They impress me everyday, all in their own way. I cant’ wait to see what this final chapter holds for us.
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.
July 24th, 2019
Great Slave Lake
We were up at 3:30 AM – chocolaty oatmeal for breakfast. The sun was starburst red. We paddled in between a few islands, sheltered from the wind. As we rounded an island more densely covered with trees, we saw a baby moose and its mamma booking toward the shore.
We made it to Wilson Island by lunch and climbed to the top of the tallest point to get a view of the crossing to Jackson Island. There were a few whitecaps and the winds were blowing moderately so we opted to hold out until conditions improved. The group used that time to relax, recline, read and rest. I found a plush spot nestled under a willowy bush and a mound of soft moose moss. The view of the lake was marvelous. The water is clear with a hint of emerald and rocks ranging from jagged to smooth dot the horizon.
Bram prepared delicious chocolate chip pancakes for us and asked me to rank them from 6 to 9. They received a 9 from me.
By 1:30 PM, the winds had subsided and the way forward was clear. We paddled a stretch to Jackson, passing a beautifully secluded beach on the north side that struck Quinn’s fancy – unfortunately, we had our eyes on the crossing to Caribou Island so we passed it to go ½ mile further down Jackson where the crossing distance is shortest.
Whitecaps filled the space between the two islands so we are now camped at Jackson at a unique spot where our tent sites are on top of a large hill with sweeping views of the lake.
Quinn made mashed potatoes and pemmican/sausage gravy for dinner – Que Rico! Now at 5:00 PM we all head to bed in anticipation of our 2:00 AM wake-up.
July 23rd, 2019
It was a quick morning for the Source Runs North boys this morning, possibly due to bugs. We arose at 3:30 AM and got on the water at 4:25 AM. We had oatmeal and coffee for breakfast then did a beautiful stretch straight into a Lion King type sunrise. The haze does wonders to the sun every morning. We did several stretches to Grant Point with the first couple stretches with some light wind. We stopped for lunch around 11:45 AM and discussed doing the 10K crossing to The Terrible Islands. We first voted not to do it in case the winds picked up. We got back in our boats to go look for a campsite but the lake and winds were calm. Axel wanted to revote since we both saw it as a window and might regret not taking it in the future. We all decided to do the crossing and made it in about an hour and a half. It set us up to hopefully crush the lake in 4 days. We did another couple stretches through some awesome rock islands to a campsite with some not so good tent sites but stopped to camp anyway. We had chili-mac for dinner.
We logged 32 miles today. It feels great to be in the position we are in and to get the biggest crossing on the lake out of the way.
July 21st, 2019
Authors Note: There seems to be a pattern developing here…please believe that it is not intentional neglect. It is simply too darn hot to write in the tent in the evening. Once I finally lay down, 20 minutes of thermo-regulation is necessary, demanded even. I shall adopt the “Write Anywhere BUT the Tent” method; we’ll see how long this lasts.
Today we arose at 3:30 AM. Horseflies went to bed, but the mosquitos were waiting for us. Not awful, but enough to do a quick stretch on the river before our floating breakfast which was a delicious batch of oatmeal and coffee. The haze from the fires north and south of us sets an ominous tone, especially this morning as a red sun rose behind a curtain of clouds and smoke. As it steadily ascended above the tree line, it began to burst with blinding orange illumination – a gentle reminder of its power.
Needless to say, it was another hot day. Horseflies showed up a bit later, around 9:00 AM, and never revealed the multitude of the day before. The Slave River can be summarized by: dark water, sparse campsites, heat, and horseflies – the worst horseflies I have ever seen or imagined.
For lunch we had our last bit of salami with parm cheese and tortillas. I’m always sad to see the lunchmeat go – PB&J from here on out. We pressed on into the afternoon heat with Great Slave Lake on our minds. Although it is nice to flow downstream, the group needed a change, and clean water. We rounded the last bend of the river around 3:45 PM everyone perked up and paddled harder with the lake in sight.
Massive lakes like Great Slave and Winnipeg are both beautiful and intimidating. They hold the ability to awe a person coupled with the power to frighten.
At the mouth of the river we surpassed 2,000 miles. It was a special moment and truly signified the blessing of Great Slave Lake.
Thai noodles for dinner were excellent. There was a minor dispute during set-up regarding tent sites and their proximity to the shade, not only where the shade is at that moment in time, but also where the shade is going to be as the earth rotates around the sun. It was a hot night, per usual…nevertheless, a great day.
July 21st, 2019
We woke up to the faint but visceral smell of forest-fire and a slight hint of haze. We decided to eat breakfast on the water and make some miles. As the sun rose, the extent of the haze became more apparent; not terrible but clearly impeding visibility. After about an hour we ran into Mike Ranta and Steve again. They offered us some coffee and we said goodbye one last time. We spent the morning paddling into the haze as the temperature quickly rose. By 9:00 AM the horseflies were out and worse than ever. The sediment in the water made swimming undesirable, and eventually many of us decided to drink the water without filtering it. The haze cleared up by mid-day but we were all resigned to sweat and swat horseflies all afternoon. Made 54 miles and camped at 4:30 PM on a grassy knoll.
July 20th, 2019
We broke camp from the Fort Smith boat launch at 4:00 AM and had a relaxing breakfast on the water. Some of the boys are giving silty Slave River water a go, but I’m switching to the gravity filter. We pushed hard all morning. We paddled through a cool mist that clung to the river as if it were tethered to it, but that dissipated before we finished our first stretch. It was a scorcher after that.
We found out that the horseflies wake up just before 9:00 AM, our usual nut break time. They have been bugging us this past week, but they were particularly oppressive today. We paddled hard all day, falling just seven miles short of our top daily distance, finishing 62 miles closer to Kugluktuk.
Yellowknife, our last stop in civilization, might only be a week away. We draw nearer to the Yellowknife River – the crux of our trip – with every paddle stroke. Firmly oriented north now, our path forward is straighter than ever. Visions of the approaching tundra glaze our dreams. We are so close now.
P.S. It would have been a very straightforward day had we not discovered a 5 liter margarine explosion in a nut sack after we got to camp! So devastating. We spent our evening wiping and cleaning all the nut and pemmican bags. Not a fun way to end the day. Pretty funny, but less so now as this was the third such instance this trip.
July 19th, 2019
A big day for Kooch history. Day 72 of a trip. Never has this happened. Unfortunately, we did not achieve anything as epic as would seem fit for such a momentous occasion. We slept in and decided by majority rule to take a layover in Fort Smith. Paul and Quinn walked an hour across town to Tim Horton’s. The rest of us lazed around until after lunch at Leif and Natalie’s. We then all met up at the museum of the North for some lessons in history. Dinner was fiesta night with ground beef taco meat for an extra umph. After dinner we shuttled our gear and bodies to the boat launch so that we could get on the water bright and early in the AM.
July 18th, 2019
Shooting the rapids between Fitzgerald and Fort Smith always seemed like a pipe dream, but Leif, an American kayaker, Fort Smith local, and our guide, helped make it a reality. We shuttled to Fitzgerald in the early afternoon, linked up with Justine, Ben and Kira, some canoe enthusiasts, and began the day (we also bumped into Mike Konta again).
Cassette is the first rapids set and we shot far right. From the beginning the water was pretty big. We carefully followed Leif who navigated us through the winding, rocky, sneaky and spicy channels. I could not believe I was shooting some of the stuff we went through. Under any other circumstances I would have portaged half of the stuff we shot. Not normal circumstances. I was with the boys and Leif had me fired up about everything. The river is so wide at some points and there are actually rapids gushing through every inch of it. At one point we ferried into a set of islands in the middle of Pelican Rapids, the biggest set of rapids I’ve ever laid my eyes on and I was just in awe of the power of the river. It felt like being in the belly of a beast. There were waves the size of barns. We paddled down the eddy line right beside them and I had the sense that we were edging our way alongside a deathly train you didn’t want to get in front of. Paul and I had a fun swim after swamping 3/4 of the way through roller coaster rapids. We punched through the hole at the top, but submerged through a monster wave train. By the end, after slicing through the last section of rapids, I had an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. What the hell did we just do?
We finished the night off at Leif and Natalie’s place, sharing stories with other paddlers and oozing with mirth.