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Whitefish & Lynx Lakes, NWT: 2022

Thursday, July 21. We woke early and looked out of the tent. Overcast and breezy, with some whitecaps out on Lynx Lake. Chilly at ten degrees C (50º F). Much better than yesterday’s brutal weather, though. We decided to make a break for our new pickup spot. We snacked on a granola bar, broke camp quickly, and shoved off the beach at 6:30 a.m.

The paddling conditions remained mostly acceptable for the first hour, after which the wind intensified. I steered the canoe close to shore, even when rounding boulder-clogged points. Twice I jumped out of the canoe to drag and push us free. These constant battles with the wind, waves and boulders were wearing on me, both physically and mentally. As we approached what was the last point before our destination, I yelled out “Get to shore!”

“We can’t land here, Michael. There’s way too many boulders in the way. We can’t get to shore.”

“I don’t mean right here. Let’s go along the point to the beach down there. It’s not too far out of our way. I gotta rest.”

After 10 minutes on the beach, we launched the canoe, and headed back toward the point, beyond which rolling, breaking waves ran before the wind. We would be broadside to those waves when we rounded the point. I didn’t want to be exposed to breaking waves in deep water, so I turned the canoe to be in shallower water, as close as possible to the point.

“What are you doing, Michael? We’re gonna broach on those rocks! Go out farther.”

“I can’t”

“You have to.”

Of course Kathleen was right. When I said “I can’t,” what I really meant was “I don’t want to.” We had only this one last point to round, and then we could head directly to our pickup spot. But, for the first time on any wilderness canoe trip, I was suddenly worried about a capsize, which could initiate potentially fatal hypothermia. Of course hanging up on the boulders, being bashed by strong rollers, could produce the same fatal result. We had to go out farther.

Besides, Kathleen and I have never capsized on a wilderness canoe trip. When people realize that we usually paddle by ourselves, they often ask, “What if you capsize? What if you lose your canoe and gear?"

I always say, “We never capsize.”

“OK. But what if you do capsize?”

“We never capsize. I don’t believe in it.”

“But what if you do?”

“But we don’t.”

“But what if you do?”

“I hear about people on their canoe trips who capsize, and then laugh about it. Capsizing on a wilderness canoe trip is not funny. It’s problematic. Perhaps even dangerous. Kathleen and I don’t capsize.”

“But what if you do?”

“But we don’t.”

Theoretically, this banter could last hours, weeks or even months. In reality it seldom persists longer than 45 seconds.

Anyway, we paddled the canoe farther out, and turned parallel to the rolling, breaking waves. I stroked as hard as I possibly could, with a great deal of anxiety. We rounded the point, turned the canoe landward, and rode the following sea to shore. That wasn’t so bad after all. Likely took less than two minutes. As I always say, “Kathleen and I never capsize.”

We pulled the canoe out the crashing waves, and sat down to rest. I retrieved the GPS from the map case. It said that we had arrived at 8:15 a.m., less than two hours after leaving camp this morning. It also said that we were 500 m (1,640 feet) away from our destination. So I and the GPS strolled left down the beach. Getting farther away. Then we strolled right, down the beach. Still getting farther away.

Stephen recommended we be at 62º 19.58.’ N, 106º 03.1981’ W

My GPS indicated that we were at 62º 19.6.’ N, 106º 02.5’ W

The satellite phone indicted that we were at 62º 19.36.’ N, 106º 2.3’ W

So my GPS believed that we were a smidge north of our destination, while the satellite phone argued that we were slightly south of our destination. Both the GPS and the satellite phone indicated that we were east of our destination. Whom to believe? Well, we were on an open, wishbone-shaped island, with an esker and lots of sand, just like Stephen said.

“I’m pretty sure we’re at the pickup spot, Kathleen. Let’s set up camp.”

After about thirty minutes, we were comfortably ensconced in a truly great campsite. Perhaps even better than our previous favourite camp at the Lynx Creek esker. And certainly vastly superior to our last camp at the usual drop off spot for paddlers heading down the Thelon River. If I were being dropped off for a Thelon River trip, I would want to be dropped off here.

I waited for Kathleen to finish her daily morning bible readings, and then called Stephen to let him know that we had arrived.

“That’s good to hear Michael. I’ve been getting calls every ten minutes from people wanting to be picked up. But the weather yesterday was very bad, and not conducive to flying. The forecast today is also bad. I’d like to come get you today, but the pilot won’t fly under these conditions.”

“Don’t worry about it Stephen. We’re happy to wait for our scheduled pickup tomorrow at noon. This is a great camping spot. We’ll just hang out here until tomorrow.”

“OK. Call me around three if you’ve seen any blue sky. Otherwise, call me tomorrow at 8:00 a.m.”

Just before hanging up, I gave Stephen our coordinates provided by the satellite phone, and by my GPS.

We saw our first patches of blue sky around 10:00 a.m., while enjoying a relaxing bannock breakfast on the beach. Afterwards we retreated to the tent, which we had pitched in a spot completely sheltered from any direct wind. The tent survived yesterday’s strong winds, and deserved a rest. Kathleen and I napped peacefully until 12:15, and woke only when the sun shone upon our faces. This was going very well, indeed.

The sky had cleared even more by one o’clock. We boiled water for a pot of tea, and sat on the beach waiting for three o’clock, when Stephen expected our weather report. W didn’t want to call Stephen though. We didn’t want to tell him that the weather was great for flying. He might suggest that we be picked up today. We didn’t want that. We wanted to stay right here. Besides, we wouldn’t want to reach Yellowknife so late in the day. If the pilot left at three, we wouldn’t reach Yellowknife until nearly 10:00 p.m. We much preferred to be picked up tomorrow. This campsite saved the trip for us. Exactly what we wanted for our last Barren Grounds adventure. Yes. Let’s just sit here and treasure these moments.

We always take a tripod on our wilderness canoe trips. Kathleen suggested taking a picture of us together, treasuring our last moments on the Barren Grounds. She screwed the camera to the tripod, framed the picture, and selected a ten-second delay. She scampered back to sit down beside me. The camera clicked, and the resulting image showed two happy canoeists.

“Might be the last time we relax on a Barren Grounds beach, Michael.”

“Well, that’s what we believed before we came. We do look happy. It was all worth it.”

I called Stephen at three o’clock. “It’s sunny Stephen, and mostly clear.”

“I talked to my pilot, Michael. He doesn’t want to head out now on such a long trip.”

“We don’t want to come out now, anyway, Stephen. Tomorrow is perfect.”

“OK. Call me first thing in the morning to report the weather.”

We heated water on the stove to bath and wash our clothes. We try not to take any unnecessary clothing. For example, we usually take just two pairs of underwear. When the one we’re wearing gets dirty, we change into the fresh pair. In the afternoon we washed the dirty pairs, draped them on a white spruce tree to dry in the sun, and changed into the fresh pair. After all, we will be going to town, to Yellowknife, tomorrow. Got to look and smell as best we can after 17 days on the Barrens. Kathleen showered at the Lynx Tundra Lodge, but I didn’t. Nevertheless, I felt quite presentable.

While lounging of the beach before supper, we saw a snowshoe hare on the opposite shore of the bay. It looked bigger than a snowshoe hare, but what else could it be? We hadn’t seen much wildlife of this trip. A single moose opposite the Lynx Creek Esker. One herd of seven muskoxen, plus a lone muskox through the picture window at the Lynx Tundra Lodge. Kathleen saw two wolves while we were paddling early on in the trip. We had seen many Arctic Terns, and again wondered how they are able to hover so expertly. While I was out this afternoon collecting firewood, I saw a Yellow Warbler and a Killdeer foraging along the beach. Kathleen believes she saw a Gray-cheeked Thrush, a bird that neither one of us had ever ween before.

(Note: When I returned home, I searched the internet to find out how Arctic Terns hover so well. I was unsuccessful, but did find the following information at oceanwide-expeditions.com. “Arctic terns have one of the longest-known migratory routes of all animals. Terns that nest in the Netherlands can travel over 90,000 km (55,900 miles) per year. Arctic terns travel an estimated 2.4 million km (1.491 million miles) in their lifetimes. That’s three round-trip flights to the Moon. Arctic terns do not spend the whole route of their migrations flapping their wings, but instead glide much of the time. Actually, they are such good gliders that they can even sleep while gliding.” Wow!!)

Kathleen cooked beef stroganoff on the fire, and then burned our garbage, which is mostly used bannock baggies. I started our campfire easily with the crowberry collected on the morning of July 12, at the Lynx Creek esker. This was our first fire since then, nine days ago. Have I mentioned how rainy and miserable the weather has been?

We make small campfires, just big enough to cook the meal, heat wash water, and make tea. This is out of both preference and necessity. Wood is scarce on the Barren Grounds, and must be conserved. Small sticks get the job done. After supper, Kathleen enjoyed one of her favourite camping activities, playing with, and poking at the fire.

While Kathleen played and poked, I wrote in my journal. My pen suddenly ran out of ink—a terrible situation. I have to write in my journal. I brought a backup pen, but didn’t know where it was.“I’ll loan you my pen, Michael. But you have to give it back.”

I scribbled hard, hoping to resurrect my ink-less pen. That didn’t work. “Try heating the tip with your lighter, Michael. That sometimes works.”

So I did, and ink flowed out of my pen. Son of gun! Kathleen knows everything. Two minutes later the ink stopped flowing. “OK, Kathleen. I’d like to borrow your pen.”

Before bed we brushed our teeth. Going to town, to Yellowknife, tomorrow. Time to observe all, or at least some hygienic niceties.

In the tent, Kathleen took a picture of the remaining 1/4 of my 1:250,000 topographic map. Lucky that we were barely on that 1/4.

To bed at 7:45 p.m. Twenty-four degrees C (75º F). Completely calm and still, just like the evening we paddled out of Whitefish Lake to the Lynx Creek Esker. This is why we came.

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First Patches Of Blue Sky At 10:00 a.m.

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Sheltered From The Wind

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Relaxing On A Barren Grounds Beach

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Was It A Large Snowshoe Hare That Hopped Down The Esker?

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Beef Stroganoff Cooked On A Fire

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Burning The Garbage

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Small Wood Gets The Job Done.DSC01489.JPG
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Zoom In To Note Red Arrow Pointing To Our Location, Upper Right Edge.DSC01502.JPG
Lynx Lake, July 21, 9:53 p.m.
 
Possibly an Arctic Hare? They are seriously big bunnies.


wjmc
Back in Yellowknife (Yes. We did finally get back after one more unexpected adventure.) we were talking to a native guy who immediately said Arctic Hare. But that’s in the posting for July 22.

Thanks for reading, and for your input!

Michael
 
Friday, July 22. (Part I)

I called Stephen at 8:11 a.m. “The weather is calm and clear, Stephen. Should be no problem landing here.”

“That’s great. I checked the coordinates that you gave me yesterday. They seem a bit off from the pickup spot. The pilot will fly around looking for you. Should be there around noon.”

For breakfast, I prepared what was likely our last Barren Grounds bannock. As always, I opened the bannock baggy, and poured in just the right amount of water. I then closed the baggy and kneaded the bannock to reach optimum consistency. I then bit off a bottom corner of the baggy, and squeezed the bannock mix into the buttered skillet. I worked carefully and slowly. The last Barren Grounds bannock had to be perfect.

With just the right amount of wood and heat, bubbles usually appear in the top of the bannock in about 15 minutes, indicating that the bottom of the bannock is done. I then slide the bannock out of the skillet onto a plate. I then cover the plate with the skillet, and turn it over. The cooked side of the bannock now faces up, while the uncooked side faces down in the skillet. The bannock is ready to eat after approximately another 10 minutes of cooking.

For some reason, fissures developed in this morning’s bannock near the skillet edge in only a few minutes. Perfection seemed to be slipping away. The bannock might not slide onto the plate, and then turn over, completely intact. I tended the fire and watched the bannock apprehensively. When bubbles appeared, I slid the bannock onto the plate, covered it with the skillet, turned everything over, and put the skillet back on the fire.

“I’m sorry, Kathleen. But the bannock is all broken apart. It’s not perfect.”

“That’s OK, Michael. It’ll still be delicious. And once we cut it into four pieces, you won’t even know that it was broken.”

“Yes I will. I wanted our last bannock to be perfect.”

After breakfast Kathleen photographed fireweed in full bloom, while I wrote in my journal. The snowshoe hare again hopped down the esker to the water’s edge. It looked so much bigger than a snowshoe hare. “Maybe it’s not a snowshoe hare, Kathleen.”

It does look bigger, Michael. Do jackrabbits live this far north?”

“I don’t think so. It also looks darker than either a snowshoe hare or a jackrabbit. We’ll have to check this out when we get back to Yellowknife.”

At eleven o’clock we broke camp and organized all our gear on the beach. We turned the canoe upside down to make its red hull more visible to the pilot, who should be arriving in about an hour. Kathleen wandered around taking pictures of our beautiful location—a perfect spot to end our last Barren Grounds adventure. I mostly just sat on the beach.

The plane appeared pretty much right on time—eight minutes after noon. The plane circled around a couple of times without ever dipping towards the water. “What’s he doing, Michael? Why doesn’t he land? I don’t like this.”

“He’s probably just looking for the best place to taxi into the bay.”

But I was wrong. The plane circled one more time, and then disappeared to the north. What the heck was happening!?! We could still hear the plane, which seemed to have landed and seemed to be taxiing toward us. But then nothing but silence. The plane must have stopped somewhere. But where? And why?

I called Stephen on the satellite phone, but there was no answer. “What should we do, Michael?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t expect this. How can this be happening to us again?”





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Preparing Our Last Barren Grounds Bannock Breakfast

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Fissures Developing Near Skillet Edge

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Hoping For A Perfect Bannock

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Imperfect Bannock Still Delicious

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Fireweed In Full Bloom

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Writing In My Journal

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Snowshoe Hare (?) Again Hopped Down The Esker.

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Enjoying The Scenery

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A Beautiful Last Morning On The Barren Grounds

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A Beautiful Last Morning On The Barren Grounds

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We Broke Camp At Eleven.

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Waiting For The Plane

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Gear Spread Out For The Pilot To See



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Here He Comes!

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There He Goes!?!?
 
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Those plane shenanigans certainly are a mystery. Did the pilot not see you because your location is slightly off? Did he see too many rocks in the shallow water and not want to hazard a landing?

Why didn't Stephen answer the phone when you called? Was he busy talking to a confused pilot? Did he step out back for a smoke? Abducted by aliens?

Will Michael and Kathleen ever make it off the barrens?

I can't wait to tune in for the next exciting episode to find out!

I'm also wondering, after you found this perfect beach, if you tell Stephen about it and it turns into their new drop off/pickup location.

Alan
 
Those plane shenanigans certainly are a mystery. Did the pilot not see you because your location is slightly off? Did he see too many rocks in the shallow water and not want to hazard a landing?

Why didn't Stephen answer the phone when you called? Was he busy talking to a confused pilot? Did he step out back for a smoke? Abducted by aliens?

Will Michael and Kathleen ever make it off the barrens?

I can't wait to tune in for the next exciting episode to find out!

I'm also wondering, after you found this perfect beach, if you tell Stephen about it and it turns into their new drop off/pickup location.

Alan

Those are all good questions, Alan. They are answered in the next posting. I didn’t intend to break July 22 into parts, but the whole posting apparently exceeded the maximum number of charcters.
 
That bay looks too small and shallow for the plane. Perhaps the orientation doesn't suit the wind direction? I will just wait feeling a little apprehensive wishing I'd made more bannock for my tea.
 
Friday, July 22. (Part II)

After a few minutes Kathleen said, “ Michael! I can see the top of the wings on the other side of the point. The plane must be waiting for us.”

“You’re probably right. Let’s load the canoe. I hope he doesn’t fly away.”

We hurriedly threw all the gear into the canoe, and paddled over to the esker. We beached the canoe, and started walking across hummocky terrain to see what the pilot wanted. We soon gave up. “It’s too far Michael. Besides, what if he wants us to portage all our stuff to the plane. I don’t want to do that.”

“Me neither.” I called Stephen again. Still no answer. Back in the canoe, we headed northeast, stroking hard.

(Note: You remember that we planned this trip to have no portages. We intended our last Barren Grounds trip to be easy. It would take us three trips each to portage our gear and canoe to the plane. Moreover, we didn’t bring the harness for portaging the 60-litre blue barrel. Without the harness, we would have to hand-carry and drag the blue barrel. This would probably require both of us working together, which would add another portage trip across hummocky, boggy, uneven terrain. Such an arduous task would be a truly horrible way to end our last Barren Grounds trip.)

We paddled around the first distant point, but the land still stretched away ahead of us toward a second distant point; however, we soon found a short, shallow, narrow, boulder-strewn opening. We both hopped out of the canoe, and struggled to pull, push, squeeze, and drag the loaded canoe to reach the other side. We were now likely on the same water as the float plane. We headed back southwest, hoping to see our pickup plane soon.

After about 45 minutes since leaving camp, we found ourselves opposite the esker from its other side. “We might be close to the plane, Kathleen. Let’s get out and have a look.”

We beached, and scrambled up onto the ridge. Indeed, there was the plane, way off in the distance. We couldn’t see the pilot, and wanted to make sure that he knew we were coming. Like virtually all canoeists, I carry a sound signalling device, which is both prudent and legally required. My device is a whistle attached to the zipper of my PFD. I had never used it in 35 years of canoeing, but now, finally, was the time. I blew hard, very hard. But no pilot waved back in response. I blew again. And again. Always very hard. No pilot ever appeared or waved back. Perhaps the sound of the whistle didn’t carry that far.

“Maybe the pilot didn’t hear us, Kathleen. Let’s head back to the boat. I’ll call Stephen again.” Back at the canoe, I dialled Stephen on the satellite phone. He answered this time. “The pilot flew away again this morning, Stephen. We heard him land, and we have been paddling around trying to find him. We’re getting close now. Could you call him and tell him not to leave?”

“Sure. I just got back from flying a client. I’ll call Mike right away.”

I hung up and looked back toward the plane. The pilot, now known as Mike, was motioning to us to continue heading down the shoreline. This was good news. (Note: I just wrote that I “hung up” the satellite phone. That phraseology, of course, harkens back to the old days of land lines. People don’t literally “hang up” cordless phones or satellite phones. I don’t know the proper wording for ending conversations on modern phones, so I’ll stick with “I hung up.”)

Back in the canoe, we continued down the shoreline. Mere minutes later strong wind assaulted us with rolling, slightly menacing waves. Just another day on the Barren Grounds. For the next 30 minutes or so we paddled hard, without speaking, focussing on the final stretch. We finally rounded the last point, and drifted into a sheltered, calm bay, where the pickup plane waited for us, now only a few hundred metres (yards) away.

We had reached the plane in about 95 minutes after leaving this morning’s camp. Mike motioned for us to snug up against the pontoon, where he stood while we handed him our gear to load into the plane. He lifted and chucked our heavy packs seemingly effortlessly. Must be great to be young and strong.

Still standing on the pontoon, Mike remarked that “The lakes are low this year. A lot more rocks are showing.” He pointed to some rocks along the shore.

“There were too many rocks to land where you were camped. I’ll fly over so you can see.”

I climbed into the co-pilot’s seat, while Kathleen crawled over our gear into a rear seat. We attached our seatbelts and shoulder straps while Mike tied our canoe to the pontoon. Moments later, Mike lifted himself into the pilot’s seat and commented, “You took the long way around.”

I had no idea there was a shorter way around. We came the only way shown on our map. I should have asked Mike to point out the shorter way. But I didn’t. I just said, “You had the advantage of seeing it from the air.”

Mike didn’t respond. Maybe he did expect us to portage all our gear and canoe to the plane. He probably would have helped with the portage. He likely had other obligations waiting for him in Yellowknife.

“Did you happen to hear me blowing the whistle, Mike? I’ve never used it before.”

“Yeah.”

Mike taxied out to more open water, and opened the throttle. The plane gained speed and lifted off at 2:30. Mike flew over our campsite, dipped the wings, and said, “See all the rocks?”

I looked down, but didn’t see “all the rocks.” I’m not a float plane pilot, so didn’t actually know what I was looking for. I just sort of nodded my head. Mike also flew us over our windbound camp of July 18, 19 and 20—the “usual" drop off spot for people paddling the Thelon River. Very uninspiring by comparison to our last camp. Mike also flew us over the beginning of the Thelon River, but didn’t seem to align the plane to ensure that we got a good picture. We then turned west toward Yellowknife, as Kathleen captured our last few images of the Barren Grounds. Despite the unexpected challenges and struggles of our trip, we were glad we came.

We flew mostly in silence. But Mike looked familiar. “Are you the pilot who flew us to Old Fort Reliance in 2017? His name was Mike.”

“Yeah, that was me. I didn’t have a beard then.”

“Do you remember that the propeller quit going around when we were looking at the topographic map?”

“Yeah. That’s the only time it’s ever happened to me.”

(Note: In case you don’t know, Old Fort Reliance is at the east end of the East Arm of Great Slave Lake.)

The scenery below was vast, empty and unchanging—Barren Grounds in all directions. We eventually flew over the Snowdrift River, which looked much bigger than I remembered from our trip in 2001.

Three hours later we landed at Ahmic Air in Yellowknife. I stepped out onto the dock where a pile of gear was waiting to be loaded into Mike’s plane. A young woman, excited about her upcoming flight, asked me “So, did you have a great trip?”

I had just been reflecting on all the difficulties of our trip, and foolishly blurted out the truth. “It wasn’t great. Probably the hardest trip we’ve ever done. Bad weather. Lots of wind, thunder and lightning.”

The young woman looked crestfallen, and wandered away. I should have said, “Yeah. Great trip. You’re gonna love it out there.” Sort of like when casual acquaintances ask, “How are you today?” You say, “Fine.” You don’t say, “Terrible. I’m old and my legs are giving out.” People will walk away from you. Maybe they won’t be crestfallen, but they will probably remind themselves never to ask again, “How are you today?”

I retrieved our keys for the car, and drove over to our canoe and gear that Mike had already unloaded. Standers-by all wanted to help. A small woman asked, “Want me to carry your barrel?”

“That’s OK. I got it. Thanks.” She probably thought an old man like me would appreciate help. While Kathleen was on the internet looking for accommodation, I got all the gear loaded. Kathleen had now returned to stand at the bow of the canoe. As we contemplated our two-person, overhead canoe lift, a man suddenly stepped in to help. But he stood near the centre of the canoe, facing the centre, as he reached for the gunwales. Yikes, I thought to myself. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. That’s not how one does a two-person, overhead canoe lift. We’ll probably drop the dang canoe—probably scratch the side of our car. Without a word, the small woman who had offered to carry my blue barrel slid quickly to the bow of the canoe. She reached over with her right hand to grab the far gunwale. Her left hand gripped the near gunwale. Without a word, we lifted the canoe to our thighs, flipped and raised it above our heads, and placed it on the canoe racks. “You’ve done that before,” I said. She just smiled.

Kathleen now flung the tie-down straps over the canoe. A young man wanted to help, but he didn’t yet know the technique. Together all three of us got the job done. The young man, and the rest of his group, were waiting to fly to the late Max Ward’s luxurious lodge on Redrock Lake. They were returning to the lodge for a reunion, where all of them had previously worked. (Note: All the articles I recently googled refer to Red Rock Lake. My topographic maps all indicate Redrock Lake. I’m sticking with the latter.)

After securing the bow and stern to the frame of the car, we were ready to go. “Did you get us a room at the Chateau Nova Hotel, Kathleen?”

No. They were completely full. When I was looking for something else, Mike walked by and said that everything in Yellowknife is booked, and that we should just go over to the campground. But I did get us a room at the Explorer Hotel.”

“Sounds good.” (Note: There was no way I was going to stay in a campground. I wanted a real bed that night. I would have cruised around Yellowknife, knocking on doors, before I would stay in the campground. Someone would have invited us in. Northern Hospitality.)

Before heading to the hotel, we stopped at a liquor store to buy brandy, sherry and wine. Near the checkout till, a woman and native man were selling lottery tickets to raise money for seniors. We wandered over to say hello. “I would buy tickets, but we don’t live in Yellowknife. We live in Saskatchewan.”

He asked what we were doing in the Northwest Territories, and we told him the whole story. “I been out to Whitefish and Lynx Lakes. Great country. Did you see much wildlife?”

“No bears. No caribou. Eight muskoxen. Lots of Arctic Terns. But we did see an animal that we thought might be a snowshoe hare. But it looked too big to be a snowshoe hare.”

“It was probably an arctic hare.”

So now we knew. We’ll study up on the arctic hare tonight in our room.

We checked into the hotel, and carried our luggage to the elevator, where a sign was posted on the wall. The hotel’s phone system had gone down in the recent storms, and for safety reasons, no one was allowed to rent a room unless they had a cell phone. Probably the same storms that had pummelled me and Kathleen out on the Barren Grounds.

We moved into our room, and poured a glass of wine. We chatted a bit about our trip, and then texted Donna that we were back in civilization. A few minutes later Donna sent a picture of Shadow relaxing on their couch on July 20. He looked so happy and content. We hope that he remembers us, and that he wants to come home.

We then strolled to the quiet, comfortable pub, where we shared a bottle of white wine, with fish & chips, freshly caught in Great Slave Lake. To be clear, the fish was freshly caught in Great Slave Lake, not the wine or the chips.

Back in our room, I emailed Dan Wettlaufer, owner of Lynx Tundra Lodge. “Dan. The paddling conditions on July 15 were very poor, so we stayed an extra day. I assume that you would like us to e-transfer another $400.00. Please advise.”

Dan responded two days later. “Hi Michael, Sounds good. I’ll update your reservation. Yes, please e-transfer.”

We ended the day with a nightcap—sherry for Kathleen, brandy for me. We then crawled into our bed so voluminous that I sometimes hardly realized that I shared my bed with the world’s preeminent Barren Grounds paddling partner.



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Thelon River In Background?

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We’re Going To Miss The Barren Grounds.

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In Fact, We Miss Them All Ready.

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Shadow Resting On Bill And Donna's Couch.
 
Mike remarked that “The lakes are low this year. A lot more rocks are showing.”

I was going to ask, when viewing the almost identical Lynx Creek Esker Camp photos from 2001 vs. 2002 in post #61, whether you thought the lake was noticeably lower.

So you end the trip report in bed, the same place from which I read the entire thing. I think it was quite brave of you and Kathleen to undertake this maybe-last trip, and righteous. Thanks so much for taking such meticulous time to share it with all of us here.
 
Hope we get to read the drive home and the reunion with Shadow too?
I enjoyed your adventure to the to the North. I certainly hope that some fly in or drive to base camp canoe trips are in your future. I for one would like to read about them, am certain that I would not be the only one either.
Thanks for taking us along.
…….Birchy
 
I was going to ask, when viewing the almost identical Lynx Creek Esker Camp photos from 2001 vs. 2002 in post #61, whether you thought the lake was noticeably lower.
I didn't think the lakes were lower, but they could have been low in both 2001 and 2022. Ken, the caretaker at the Lynx Tundra Lodge, also volunteered that the lakes were lower this year.

Hope we get to read the drive home and the reunion with Shadow too?
Absolutely. The canoe trip is not over until we get home!

Saturday, July 23. For breakfast, I treated myself to Eggs Benedict. Kathleen dined on a breakfast quesadilla of scrambled eggs, green onion, tomato, lotsa mixed cheese, sausage and bacon in a flour tortilla with ketchup-infused mayonnaise with a side of salsa and sour cream. Kathleen could eat only half, and saved the rest for a snack on the road. (Note: I didn’t actually remember all those details of the quesadilla. Kathleen just googled the hotel’s menu. It was a great first breakfast back in civilization, nearly as fantastic as a perfect Barren Grounds bannock!)

After breakfast, we packed up, and drove over to Ahmic Air. In January of 2020, I had put down a non-refundable $3,000 deposit, but still owed a balance of $4,881.56 for the flights. Then COVID-19 arrived, and the NWT closed its borders.

In March of this year, I checked on Ahmic Air’s webpage, where a message from Stephen encouraged people to pay the full amount for flights now, or risk even higher prices in the summer because of likely increasing fuel costs. I called Stephen to say, “We’re a little uneasy paying the full cost now, Stephen. The NWT might close its borders again. Or something else might happen to prevent us from coming.”

“Don’t worry, Michael. We had a deal in 2020. That’s the price you pay when you get here.”

“OK. Hopefully we’ll see you in July.”

When we arrived at Ahmic Air last night, I chatted briefly with Stephen, who was getting ready to fly out somewhere. “You know, Stephen, fuel prices have gone up a lot since 2020, and you had two make two trips to pick us up. I’m happy to pay more than the balance. How about $6,000?”

“Nope, we had a deal in 2020. That’s what you pay.”

“That’s pretty generous Stephen. How about an even $5,000. That’s an easier amount to write on a cheque. I don’t know for sure where my chequebook is right now, though.”

“OK. Why don’t you bring a cheque by tomorrow morning.”

(Note: The current prices for flights to Whitefish Lake and Lynx Lake Outflow to the Thelon River are $4,834.73 and $5,571.83, respectively. Add in the canoe tie down fees, plus the 5% GST (Goods and Services Tax) and the total comes to $11,136.89. Stephen’s total charge to us of $7,881.56 was very generous, indeed.

When we arrived at Ahmic Air this morning, Stephen was out flying, so I left the cheque, on his desk. I also left our rented satellite phone on his desk, as CasCom//Northern Communication would not be open on Saturday.

We then headed down the highway to Hay River. Rolling along, we reflected on our trip. “You know, Kathleen, when we were pinned down by wind and lightning, I was thinking that we were on a canoe trip from heck. But actually, it was just a canoe trip from reality. For me, that last camp, with its beautiful scenery and calm weather, changed my entire perspective. We had a great adventure, and we got some good stories. Might be kinda nice to go back to the Barrens again.”

“It’s a lot of driving to get to Yellowknife, Michael. I was getting kinda bored just sitting in the car on the way up. And the floatplane flights are pretty expensive. But I’d kinda like to go again too.”

The highlight of the drive was seeing bison as we drove through the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary northeast of Fort Providence. We took pictures this time.

This boreal reserve of 10,000 square kilometres (3,861 square miles) is home to Canada’s northernmost population of bison. “Lumbering bison grazing along the side of the road is an almost inevitable sight for travellers in summer. Drivers should also be ready for unexpected delays from the massive animals lazily crossing, or snoozing, on the highway.”

We checked back in at the Ptarmigan Inn in Hay River. I called Stephen, who confirmed that he had the satellite phone and the cheque for $5,000.00.

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Morning Camp At the Explorer Hotel In Yellowknife

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Morning Camp At the Explorer Hotel In Yellowknife


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Kathleen And I Would Kinda Like To Go Again.

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Lumbering Bison Grazing Along The Side Of The Road.

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A Highlight Of Today's Drive.
 
Thanks for this trip report, very nice pictures and story telling. While I have enjoyed reading about the far north, It always looked too difficult for me to have ever wanted to do a canoe trip there. The special gear, the wind, the cold, the transportation difficulties and the costs all made the barrens someplace I should probably scratch off my to do list.
As another 74 year old, I like your grit and determination, I see another trip north for you. Well done.
 
As another 74 year old, I like your grit and determination, I see another trip north for you. Well done.
Thanks, Robin. High praise indeed coming from an accomplished tripper like you!

So here comes the final posting of this trip report.

Sunday, July 24. When we arrived yesterday, I stopped for gas at the Esso station on the Mackenzie highway. On this trip, gas stations normally asked for prepayment right at the pump. For convenience, one can punch in an amount more than needed, with a refund issued to the debit or credit card when the tank was full. For example, I could request $50.00 worth of gas, even though the tank needed less than $50.00. I could then drive away, without needing to actually go inside.

This gas station, however, required a prepayment to be made inside. I went in, and requested $50.00 to be charged to my debit card. I went back out and pumped about $30.00 worth of gas. Out of habit, I then just drove away, forgetting to go back inside to change the charge to my debit card for the actual amount of pumped gas. This morning, on the way out of town, I stopped at the Esso station hoping for a return of the surplus prepayment. It was Sunday, and the station didn’t open until 9:00 a.m., still 30 minutes away. Too long to wait.

Kathleen suggested that “You’ll probably get your money back when they review their transactions. They’ll see that their records don’t balance.”

That seemed logical, but we’ve now been home for 3.5 months, with no reimbursement to my debit card. It’s only $20.00. But that’s no justification to give money away so carelessly. Lesson learned, I hope.

Road construction south of Enterprise included approximately 30 km (18 miles) of loose gravel. I don’t remember what the speed limits were. Could have been only 30 km/hour, but certainly no more than 50 km/hour (30 miles/hour). During that entire stretch, we met only one 18-wheeler coming toward us. Guy must have been barrelling along at 100 km/hour (60 miles/hour) or more. I pulled over to the right as far as possible, and slowed to a near stop, all to no avail. The 18-wheeler showered us with gravel, and cracked our windshield. The crack lengthened throughout the day. We replaced the windshield back home, and also needed to reset the front camera. Total cost was just under $1,000, which was not covered by insurance. That loss of $20.00 doesn’t seem like so much now.

As always, we stopped at the Northwest Territories Visitor Information Centre. We walked in and were surprised to see about a dozen Muslims. Except for one older couple, all the women were dressed in full, black burkas, and the men sported full beards. Other than the native attendant behind the desk, no other people were there. Just Muslims.

Kathleen and I had never before been in a room with just Muslims. We were momentarily taken aback. But hey, they were viewing displays and drinking coffee just like all the other visitors we had previously met in the centre. I walked over to the older, clean-shaven man, and asked “Are you from the Northwest Territories?” (Note: I strongly suspected he was not from the Northwest Territories. I just don’t like to say, “Where are you from,” as though I think the person is an “outsider.”)

"No, I’m not from the Northwest Territories,” he replied. I’m originally from Guyana, but I now live in New York.

“I went to New York about 30 years ago to visit my Aunt, who lived in Manhattan. She once told me that it was a sin to die with any money left over. On our first night she suggested that we go to Sardi’s restaurant for dinner. I said, ‘Paula, I’ve heard of Sardi’s. The guests on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show often had dinner at Sardi’s. It’s probably expensive. I have cash in the safe at the hotel. How much should I bring?’” She said, “Bring it all.” “We just had a Caesar salad. Quite good, and not too expensive.” Have you ever eaten at Sardi’s”

“No. Too expensive.”

“So what brings you to the Northwest Territories?”

“I came out to Surrey, British Columbia, to travel with my family. I’m the grandfather of some of the people here. We’ve already been to Yellowknife, and we’re going to Banff next. After that, we’re driving our bus across Canada to visit all the provinces.”

Kathleen had sat down at a table with the Muslim family in the only empty chair. The group was immediately interested in where we had been. Kathleen pointed out our canoe route on a wall map. Everyone eagerly crowded around while Kathleen showed images of our trip. Dare I say that this Muslim family showed more interest in Canada than most residents of Canada, which completely contradicts prevalent stereotypes.

The restrooms at the visiter centre were out of order, just as they had been on July 2. The attendant told us that “There’s an outhouse a couple hundred metres (yards) down the road, put there by a highway construction crew. You can use that. They don’t mind.”

We met two older, native women at the outhouse. “Are you from around here,” I asked.

“Yes. We’re from the reserve in Hay River. We’re going on a a pilgrimage to see the Pope in Edmonton. I missed seeing the Pope (John Paul II) when he visited Fort Simpson (in 1987). I don’t want to miss out again.”

“Are you hoping for an apology for the Residential Schools?”

“Not really. It’s not his fault. He wasn’t Pope, then.”

“Were you taken away to the Schools?”

“Yes. I was only seven then.”

“That would be horrible,” Kathleen said. “At seven I never wanted to be away from my family, for any reason, for any length of time.”

“Was it very bad at the schools?”

“Yes,” she said softly.

I thought I saw tears welling up in her eyes.

“One has to forgive, though. One can’t have pain in your heart forever.” It reminded me of Karen, at the Lynx Tundra Lodge, who forgave the young woman who accidentally ran her vehicle off the highway, killing her partner.

“But the children should have been returned to their families. They needed to be buried correctly, in the proper ceremonial clothing. Not just dumped into a hole in the ground.”

I mentioned the Muslims driving across Canada to see all the provinces. “All the women are wearing burkas. Unusual to see in the Northwest Territories.”

“Yes. Their clothes are weird to us. But they are people just like us.”

We registered at the High Point Inn and Suites in Peace River at 4:30 p.m. “You know,” I said to the desk clerk, “the last time we were here, there was an older guy walking around in the hallway wearing only his shorts. We now refer to this place as the clothing optional hotel.”

“Yeah. I remember that. He was not really a problem. Just drunk.”

I wondered, just briefly, how many drunken, naked old guys could wander the halls before being considered problematical.

Kathleen and I strolled down the road to Mr Mikes, where a young man showed us to our table. “Your waitress is Marley, and the soup of the day is barley. I can’t bring you any alcohol, as I’m only 18, and haven’t taken the courses. Marley is 19, has taken the courses, and can serve you alcohol.”

A few minutes later, Marley arrived to take our order.

“So your name rhymes with the soup of the day.”

“Yeah. My father sometimes likes to call me Marley-barley.”

“Is that why he named you Marley?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Is your father a fan of the reggae band in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Bob Marely and the Wailers? Is that why he named you Marely?”

I don’t think so. I have an aunt Marlene. I think my father might have named me after her.”

“Have you ever heard of “Bob Marley and the Wailers?”

“No.”

I wondered who Marley might remember from by-gone eras.

“Have you ever heard of Bob Hope?”

“No.”

“Have you ever heard of Bing Crosby?”

“No.”

“Have you ever heard of Humphrey Bogart?”

“No.” (Note: Marley was enjoying the conversation just as much as me. She had just never heard of these celebrities of generations long past.)

I then tried a more indirect approach. “You know Marley, when our daughter was about 10, in 1976, she once asked me, “Daddy. Did you know that Paul McCartney was in a different band before Wings?” This triggered no response or guffaws from Marley, who I think had never heard of Paul McCartney, Wings or the Beatles. Hard to believe, I know.

“How about a more recent, very famous Canadian rock band, Marley. Have you ever heard of Bachman Turner Overdrive?”

“No. I mostly listen to country music.”

“Who are your favourites.”

“Well, I like both Hank Williams Senior and Hank Williams Junior, although I like the older stuff better.”

Marley was born in 2003, the current century. Her father was born in 1964, the last century. My father was born in 1925. Also the last century, but on opposite sides of World War II, in which my father fought. My grandfather was born in 1896—two centuries ago, and before the first world war, in which he fought. Marley and I certainly grew up with entirely different experiences and perspectives of the the world. But we still enjoyed sharing our interests in music. We told her about Arlo Guthrie, performing with the iconic folk singer, Pete Seeger. Arlo sang ‘I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You,’ made famous by Elvis Presley in 1961. As tribute to Seeger, Arlo called it a folk song.

We googled the video. “You might like it Marley. As tribute to Hank Williams Senior, you might call it a country song. That way, you might like it even better.”


Monday, July 25. Eight hours on the road; 730 km (454 miles) from Peace River to Lloydminster. A long and boring day. But also informative. Tomorrow, Pope Francis will be visiting the Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage National Historic Site of Canada, approximately 80 km (50 miles) northwest of Edmonton. Numerous signs along highway 43 warned motorists to expect major delays.

I had never heard of Lac Ste. Anne, but learned that “A long-established annual meeting place for Aboriginal peoples, this lake became a Catholic pilgrimage site in the late 19th century. Since 1889, First Nations and Métis have travelled here in late July to celebrate the Feast of Saint Anne. This saint, widely revered as the mother of the Virgin Mary and the grandmother of Jesus, embodies the grandmother figure honoured in many Canadian Aboriginal societies. Lac Ste. Anne is an important place of spiritual, cultural, and social rejuvenation, central aspects of traditional summer gatherings for indigenous peoples.”

Even Kathleen, a devout Roman Catholic, had never heard of Lac Ste. Anne. As they say, travel is educational. Even when travelling in one’s own country. Please click for more information.


We registered again at the Hilton Hampton Inn, and then walked over to Browns Social House. In sharp, disappointing contrast to our visit on June 30, none of the female servers displayed any cleavage at all. Oh well, I can still enjoy a bottle of white wine, which we ordered as soon as we were seated. The restaurant was packed. Service was very slow. After about 15 minutes, a waiter stopped by to say, “Your wine is almost ready.” Interesting. I didn’t know wine needed to be prepared.

Kathleen and I were content to wait. We had no appointments or commitments. Directly across from us, a woman sat alone. No servers had visited her table after seating her. After about 20 minutes, no one had taken her order. She looked perturbed, and began to scowl. Eventually she got up and left. No servers seemed to care. New patrons quickly took her vacant table.

Kathleen and I should be home tomorrow. Very much looking forward to seeing Shadow.

Tuesday, July 26. Kathleen and I will be home today. Only 570 km (354 miles) to go. Kathleen and I don’t talk much on road trips. We mostly just roll along in silence, lost in our own thoughts.

“You know, Kathleen, I don’t really remember much about the trip, except the two times the pickup plane flew away.”

“Yeah. I’m looking forward to downloading our pictures when we get home. That will help.”

“I hope Shadow is happy to see us.”

“Me too.”

In fact, I was a bit worried that Shadow might prefer to stay with Bill and Donna. They’ve been feeding Shadow morning and evening, as that’s what they do with their dogs. We feed Shadow only once a day, in the evening. Bill and Donna sometimes feed him scraps from the dinner table. We never, ever do that. Shadow often sleeps on Donna’s bed at night. We never let him spend the night on our bed. We also never let Shadow sit or lie on couches. Apparently he spends much of his day on Bill and Donna’s couch. Yes, Shadow just might prefer to continue living the good life with Bill and Donna.

Kathleen and I arrived home in the late afternoon, and discussed whether we should pick up Shadow today, or wait until tomorrow morning. The discussion lasted about 8.3 seconds. To make room for Shadow, we chucked all our gear into the garage, and drove over to Bill and Donna’s. Please open the video to share in the joyous reunion, a true highlight of our last canoe trip on the Barren Grounds!

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Together Again!
 
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