Day 99

August 15, 2019

Point Lake

Today we arose around 5:00 AM, slept in a bit due to the rain, always a great excuse to stay in the bag. An entire battalion of mosquitos awaited us in our vestibules. They swarm in numbers unfathomable, like stars in the night’s sky. One can hear the steady hum of their combined buzzing while getting dressed, like a distant generator. We were told the bugs would be bad this far north, but no warning can properly prepare you for the assault. Without our bug shirts it is likely one or all of us would have gone mad by this point.

Granola with PB and coffee for breakfast. Most of us pour our piping hot coffee into our bowls and make a delicious mix. The PB melts, it adds flavor and give us the hot meal we have been missing since the oatmeal ran out.

We switched back to the original boats today: Paul & Axel, Zach & Bram, myself & James. Spending time in a boat with each member greatly strengthened our bond. Working together with someone in a canoeing capacity is a great way to get to know someone. You find out a lot about the other person as well as yourself. Extremely glad we decided to do that and also extremely glad to be back with young James. So much has happened since we were last together. To think we had originally planned to keep the same pairs for the entirely of the trip…crazy.

Wonderful and long day of Point Lake paddling, clocking in 39 miles and travelling through just about every kind of weather imaginable. Still and balmy early morning, which turned to cold and mildly windy later morning, which turned to warm and sunny lunchtime and early afternoon conditions caught a light spray of rain, then in the late afternoon overcast and the winds picked up substantially.

Paddling through the tundra is surreal. At times it feels like an ancient environment, I half expect to see a wooly mammoth or a saber-tooth tiger. Endless rocks, moss, shrubs and groupings of intermittent dwarf pines. This lake particularly has many more trees than I expected, all of them behind a cliff or tall ridge protecting them from the elements. The signs of the long winter are written all over the landscape. It is a place that seems to respond to the notion of human inhabitation with a confident smirk, followed by: “You may try.” Exquisite Beauty: Profound Indifference.

“Boys are hungry”


P.S. Boys are hungry.

Day 98

August 14, 2019

Starvation River

We began the day early, eager to knock our last day of portaging and to finally traverse into the Coppermine. We paddled the short distance out of the lake and into the river and were met with two falls portages. The river’s gradient was steep, providing an excellent view into the valley below. It was also a great change of pace to go downstream. Our third portage of the day ended up being semi-devastating, both long and filled with thicket traps and swamp. Between the steep drops were long sections of river winding through the stunning tundra landscape.

Starvation River

Later on in the afternoon, we ran into the final three bars before Point Lake. We portaged the first, due to an ominous calm at the beginning. We then ran the second and portaged around the third. It was a great feeling to put the boat down at the end, making the sixth of the day but also bringing our total to over 80 for the past two weeks.


Day 97

August 13, 2019

Big Lake, Height of Land, Starvation Lake

Today we summited the height of land. We are now in our final watershed of the trip, and we will follow its course to the Polar Sea. It is a major turning point for this section of our trip and I can finally say with confidence that the hardest days are behind us. The past fifteen days have been a gauntlet, but it only sweetens what is literally a watershed moment for the ardor and frustration it wrought.

We awoke at 4:30 AM, sleeping in just a tad after yesterday’s trials. We discussed our options to get into Big Lake over breakfast. We could either pull up some shallow rapids and then portage into a small arm of the lake, or we could portage up an ester and walk along it until cutting down into the lake. The majority decided to pull over and portage the shorter distance, much to Zachary’s chagrin. Fear of boulders and wet feet first thing in the morning can make a man go to great lengths to avoid them.

The morning was frigid but clear and by the time we finished pulling up the short rapid we were a bit warmer. The portage was more friendly than anticipated and Big Lake stretched out before us. We paddled 10 km in a cold side wind and reached the northeastern bay of the lake where we had decided to attempt our height of land summit. We chose this route because it offered fewer albeit longer portages.

We scarfed some nuts, took out the drone scout, and started humping over the barren lands. We elected to reintroduce our Methye system, going with six pieces of gear to what we believed to be the halfway point before splitting up, one group returning for the first load while the others continued to the end.


Bram, Zach and I took two boats and double load to the end. Turns out we had probably gone ¾ of the way before splitting up. We returned for the gear and everyone was at the pothole in less than two hours. The portage was probably 1.5 miles long, but it felt much easier than any of us were expecting. We had one more short portage into Starvation Lake and then did a floater for lunch.

The afternoon was sunny, the winds blowing. We threw up the sails and coasted to the end of the lake, camping on a small island before the river. I was even able to read my kindle while solar charging it while we sailed. 21st century canoe trip, baby. We dried our things and took a much needed afternoon rest. The boys are tired, hungry, excited. We are 8-12 days away. Wow.


P.S. Have not caught a fish in 40 days

Day 96

August 12th, 2019

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


Day 95

August 11th, 2019

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.

Views from Dogrib Rock


Day 94

August 10th, 2019

Awake at 6:00 AM and on the water by 7:30 AM. We had granola and coffee for breakfast. We did 4 medium sized portages into the tundra with the last one having a terrible ending. It was thick shrubbery. We did nuts then did a short portage into a pothole and did lunch. We entered a stream which we thought wouldn’t have any portages. We were wrong! There were 4 portages all not too long, but made the day extra hard. The stream was about 6 miles long and led to Winter Lake. We did a stretch across Winter to a nice island. We gathered enough wood for a fire and Axel made chili-mac. Delicious! It started to rain as we went to our tents which makes for great sleeping weather.




Day 93

August 9, 2019

Today we were wind-bound all day and it sucked a lot. Morale was not low, but the immobility took its toll. Boys seem to get more easily frustrated when our progress is stunted. It is not necessarily a case of cabin fever, more so the internal struggle one must endure as they surrender to the elements. The land is changing, the tundra; the barrens; the ceaseless expanse of moss, bushes, rocks, scattered trees, and water. It holds all the cards and carries no remorse or sympathy. We are powerless, thus we must wait.

Paul woke everyone up around 7:00 AM. Rain and wind that had lasted all night kept on strongly through the morning. Granola and coffee for breakfast. We hunkered down and ate in our bug shelter with the mesh door wide open since there were no bugs, not with this wind. I like to imagine all the black flies and mosquitos were either dying or pining over the fact that they could not reach us. It was a cold and wet morning but laughter still filled the air as we discussed a hypothetical plan of wintering over at Fort Enterprise: who would we use our satellite phone minutes to call in regards to log cabin building instructions? The overwhelming response was Timmy Heinle, the only man any of us know who builds log cabins. Ultimately we all agreed that we most likely would not survive a winter at this latitude and would undoubtedly be rescued before that ever became a reality.

After morning chow, everyone went back to their tents to read and/or nap while the wind howled and sporadic sheets of rain painted themselves across our bright orange neon tents. It is hard to imagine a better tent for these weather conditions. For all the bitching we did about the tent being too hot and not bug conducive, we are lucky to have them, now and back at Lake Winnipeg.

We are marooned on the south shore of Singing Lake, east of the stream that flows into Greenstockings Lake. If not for the relentless wind and rain, this would be a delightful place to spend a layover day. The tundra is truly exceptional, simply due to it vastness and desolation. The one word I could use to describe it is “unforgiving.” A place where creatures must survive not inhabit. When traveling through as we are, it becomes clear this is not an environment to hang your hat nor linger a while. The impending darkness and silence of winter is imminent.

Around 11:00 AM I got out of the tent, organized miscellaneous items in the bug shelter, read, boiled a large pot of water for coffee, prepared lunch (with great difficulty on account of compacted tortillas,) and stared into the expanse. Hoping to see any kind of wildlife I saw only birds struggling mightily, practically hanging on a string in their attempt to fly head-on into the wind.

PB&J and coffee for lunch, followed by afternoon activities of cards (500), reading, conversation, and inner turmoil. We have come so far and the end is almost within reach yet we cannot move forward. Devastation.

Zach made teriyaki rice soup for dinner, which was wonderful. We sat in the shelter and chatted about careers and life for a while. We questioned the weather and our sentiments toward movement tomorrow. Everyone is anxious to move but we have the provisions and the time (so we hope) to make the conservative choice. We can afford to stay here another day if the winds do not subside. If that is the case, we are in for the longest and most anxious day yet…cabin fever will likely emerge. Sentiments will change.

Cooke Custom Sewing Lean 3

Already I can tell I am getting a bit stir-crazy because I am writing predictions in the trip journal. We are so close. All has led to this chapter of our journey. The brutality of our stationary position is comical. Tomorrow we will give a tobacco offering. I very much hope I choose the right words and the Great Spirit hears us. Sunshine, warmth and kind winds. Boys are trying to make some moves.


P.S. Do not go gently into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

This afternoon, Zach had the idea for us all to read from his poetry book. It was an extremely enjoyable experience

Day 92

August 8th, 2019

The cold morning and the hint of winds, made getting out of the tent a chore beyond the usual lingering soreness and the wet clothes. The days are getting shorter and the extensive cloud cover made the scene quite dark, even though I elected to sleep in until 4:00 AM. We paddled up through the narrows into Greenstocking, knocking out a couple of short portages through the open tundra and puling up small sections of the river. The going was slow, as the headwaters of the Yellowknife have narrowed considerably into a shallow, bouldery stream. A couple of times, I was once again, up to my waist in the river although the fall-like weather made the decision more consequential. We paddled into Greenstocking-an increasing northerly side-wind and wet clothing provided a “welcome” into the tundra. The scenery, however, was spectacular. Looking out over the barren hilltops was enchanting and the sense of adventure tempered the misery of the conditions.

The wind kept picking up all day, but we made it across Greenstocking before lunch. While finding the portage trail into Singing Lake, we were forced to paddle through a small, shallow, boulder field. I elected to follow Ax and Bram’s push to the head of the portage trail, encountering a section that looked impassable but that held their signature white paint on the tops of the submerged rocks. I carelessly decided to continue and was met with a devastating “pop” from the middle of the boat. Scared we had put a hole in it, Quinn and I attempted to offload gear but the conditions up the river bed made for hazardous walking and I was unable to move to land without rolling my ankle and dropping the packs in the water multiple times. After some loud profanities, which I later shamefully apologized for, it was discovered that there was not puncture through the boat. We camped a mile or so later at the beginning of Singing Lake, not wanting to dare the ever increasing northern headwind. Did some gear inventory, epoxied the boats, and hit the bags.

Top of the Tundra


Day 91

August 7th, 2019

Yellowknife – Reindeer Lake, Dissention, Porphiry, Hunter

Big day today. Seven portages in total. We awoke at 4:30 AM to a cool, overcast morning. Bugs still unfriendly. Quick cold spell should destroy them, but at the pace we are going, they may stick with us until the end. We paddled to the end of Reindeer and portaged on the river right side over the first piece of land we have walked over that you could argue looks to be tundra. Much of the area is burned out, the shrubs grow low and mossy tussocks sprout from the flat landscape. We had another short portage into Dissention Lake whose reputation had preceded it thanks to George Simmons’ log from the ’68 Arctic Trip. We paddled almost to the end of the lake before stopping for nuts. The next portage was a bit longer, perhaps 1/3 of a mile. We portaged on the river right side and stayed on a ridge-line which provided good footing and a clear line of sight through the charred, standing wood. James and Zach had a steamy spat over the put-in, one believing the other had portaged further than necessary and created a riskier loading spot over exposed boulders. These things happen. Ill temper or resentful stewing may last through the next paddle stretch, but rarely even that long. We do a good job of explaining, communicating, and apologizing. Tiny failings happen on the portage trail. When you have a double-load or the boat over your head, but we know that we depend upon one another and every man is attempting to help us reach the ocean. It just doesn’t always feel that way when you have 90 plus pounds on your back, and you get devastated by a boulder field or holes in the moss.

We continued into Porphiry, paddling to the end of it before stopping for lunch. We crushed some PB&Js and began the set of four portages into Hunter Lake. During the first portage we split up, Quinn and Paul portaging river left, the rest of us river right. River left seems to have been the right call, as those lads beat us. I am total blanking on the fifth portage, but that is a good thing, as it was most likely short and not extraordinary. We avoided another short portage as we were able to line up some shallow current, providing an excellent change of pace. We portaged a longer trail on the river left side, hugging another ridge-line before crossing 100 yards of large boulders to load our boats again. Thank god I played the hot lava game so much as a kid, as one false step with the boat or double load and you are in a hole of pain. The last portage of the day, on the river left side, was short and easy. We got onto Hunter and decided to look for campsites. We had to paddle until just about the end of the lake before finding a low-lying ester with great tent sites on the left side of the lake. Bugs bad all day, but it was a great day nonetheless. Traveled over 20 miles before calling it just after 6:00 PM. It would have been great to get to Greenstocking Lake by today, the tenth day of the Yellowknife section, but we are still moving fast. Seems like we might only have 15-17 days left out here. Pretty wild. The nearer we get, the more excited I feel. This is our moment. We have all sacrificed and worked so hard for this, as have all our loved ones. Body feels better than it did a few days ago, but this section has been a shit-kicker. Next seven days don’t promise to be much of a reprieve. All I know is I need to catch a fish before all this is said and done or Wiper will kill me.


Day 90

August 6th, 2019

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.