Coppermine River, Point Lake to Kugluktuk

CanadaNunavutArctic
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Allan Jacobs
Trip Date : 
Additional Route Information
Distance: 
500 km
Duration: 
16 days
Loop Trip: 
No
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
1
Total Portage Distance: 
1200 m
Longest Portage: 
1200 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Advanced
Lake Travel: 
Advanced
Portaging: 
Not applicable
Remoteness: 
Not applicable
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Unknown
Route Description
Technical Guide: 

Point Lake, through RedRock and Rocknest Lakes, on the Coppermine River to Kugluktuk on the coast.

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

Editor’s notes:
Ted Mellenthin is a highly experienced and capable white-water paddler; some of the rapids run on this trip should be portaged or lined by most recreational paddlers. Rocky Defile has claimed at least three lives, Escape Rapids is dangerous and Bloody Falls must be portaged. Several other rapids require careful scouts.

Title: Tundra Summer

Year: 2003

Route: Coppermine River, from Point Lake to Kugluktuk

Distance, duration: about 500 km, 16 days

Author: Freda Mellenthin

After a last minute packing into the wee hours the night before, we were finally on our way towards Yellowknife on July 5th. We had to take turns driving all day, because we were both overtired from lack of sleep. While the car was gobbling the kilometers, we both came up with things we still needed and could purchase in places like Prince George, Chetwynd, Grimshaw and High Level. We both got haircuts on the way, as there had been no time to get them at home with all the building and fencing we had to finish. After endless driving we crossed the Mackenzie River by ferry to find a good campsite on the right side of this mighty stream. That night, the mad, dancing mosquitoes in front of our screen door made us realize that we had reached the true north. There was the sound of a light drizzle caused by the insects bouncing off the camper walls.
In Yellowknife we went straight to the cargo office of First Air with the complaint of the extremely high cost of $900 to fly a canoe back out. We ended up with a promise to fly out our canoe from Kugluktuk for a third of the price. Then we visited three charter air companies to obtain quotes and dates to fly into Point Lake. Air Tindi came back with the most feasible price and a convenient date. We are flying out tomorrow at noon.

Thursday, July 10

We spent the night in our camper in front of the house of our friends the Jasper’s where the car will stay during our absence. We bought a twelve-gauge shotgun plus ammunition, registered with the RCMP and arrived at Air Tindi on time to fly out at
1:00 pm with a Cesna 185. The Clipper canoe was attached to the pontoon, and all gear, two barrels, two portage bags and three small dry bags were stowed in the small plane. The pilot, Jeff Robertson, young and confident, flew us out to Point Lake at 180 km /h on a two-hour flight. The tundra stretched below us as we flew over lakes, ponds, rivulets and scraggly trees. When the pilot landed us on the shore of Point Lake, I felt as if we had never left the tundra, everything looked familiar. We were back home again although a year had passed after our last visit. We were very tired from the trip and the noise in the plane. Quickly we put the tent up and slept for six hours while the wind whipped up big waves on shore and the regular splashing sounds followed us into our dreams. At midnight, with the sun still high up, we made some soup and tea and then slept some more. All regular worries had left us, as we had no more influence on anything at home and only had to adjust to the rules of the north. The laughing love call of a loon was the only sound now.

Friday, July 11

We woke up at 4:30 and started paddling at 6:30. Today would be the day when we'll try out a 17' Clipper canoe for the first time. The company "Western Canoeing and Kayaking" is sponsoring us this year and lent us this great canoe with cover to try out in extreme conditions in the north, and we feel mighty honoured by such an offer. We loaded our gear without any problem of fitting everything into the canoe and were off on our first paddling day. It was a cold, crystal-clear morning with a beautiful cloud pattern. The immense sky reflected in the water and gave the sensation of floating across the horizon. As I was looking down, the illusion of an infinite depth created by the reflection of the clouds in the water made me dizzy. We paddled without any wind and covered the first 25 km already before lunch. The Clipper canoe, fast by nature, ploughed through the water without much effort, an easy five km per hour. We saw three motorboats in the far distance. In the afternoon a very cold wind came up and the choppy water slowed us down, although the Clipper lies low in the water and takes the wind well. We put in another 15 km and paddled until 5:15 pm, quite an achievement for a first paddling day!
40 km

Saturday, July 12

We slept almost twelve hours while the beating sound of the waves followed us into our dreams. We had breakfast in bed, snuggled up in our new double down sleeping bag. Outside it was very cold with intermittent rain, sun and wind. We were windbound and slept on and off until 2:00 pm. I guess we had to catch up on sleep we could not afford at home. In the late afternoon we went on a three-hour walk around the next bay and up on a distant hill. We saw several ancient stone markers, big boulders set on a slant by having been positioned on a small rock, pointing in a certain direction. We came across caribou and wolf foot prints, and also some bear droppings. The view from the top across the vast and pristine land, the green hills and the crystal-clear water was magnificent. Some flowers were scattered here and there in sheltered areas: bell heather, Labrador tea, arctic cotton and the odd, tiny viola. Patches of cloudberry plants pointed their single-stem blossoms towards the sun. They will produce a dark, red, hard berry similar to a raspberry in three weeks. 0 km

Sunday, July 13

We were on the water at 6:30 am. The day was cold and bright. After an hour we met three fishing boats coming from a fishing lodge on this lake. The boats stopped for us and one of the men, Jim Peterson, turned out to be the owner of the lodge. He invited us to drop in for coffee and muffins. We took up the offer and parked our canoe in front of a very clean and rustic-looking wilderness lodge for a ten o'clock break. There was the main building, several cabins, a party house, a sauna and even a gazebo. Everything was neat and tidy and decorated with a personal touch. Behind the buildings was a small lake with a canoe on shore. The whole setting was very inviting. In one of the cabins we found Joanne, the cook. She offered us tea, muffins and a fruit salad in the dining room. We enjoyed the snack sitting in comfortable chairs and admiring the bright decor, wooden floor and colourful printed curtains.
When we left this last vestige of civilization - so we assumed - it was very hot on the lake and the mosquitoes had a heyday. We paddled into a bay where we tried to look for the astrological sign marked on the map, but in vain. Around 2:00 pm we had lunch in front of a small, locked-up hunting cabin at the entrance to Red Rock Lake. A large swarm of mosquitoes attached itself to our clothes and in the hull of the canoe. Paddling into Red Rock Lake, we noticed that the vegetation was more advanced here. Some pussy willows were showing their fuzzy blossoms already. Ted trolled his fishing line, and when he was just ready to give up, a huge lake trout bit. It fought for a long time, even pulling the canoe in a circle. We had to paddle to shore to finish it of, a good twenty-pounder. Ted filleted it right away, and then we continued into the hot, sunny afternoon, accompanied by the insects who did not dare to bite because we were drenched in Citronella spray, a donation of the Ferlow Brothers Company. The shore on both sides was hilly and green with scraggly, weather-beaten trees trying to survive. According to the map, the treeline will accompany us along the valley of the Coppermine River almost as far as the Arctic Circle. It was difficult to find a campsite, as the shores were steep and rocky.
At 5:30 we found a flat gravel bar where a small creek entered the lake. Immediately swarms of blackflies greeted us. Quickly we put up the tent and attached our mosquito net to the entrance, thus forming a front porch in which we cooked part of the fresh fish and some mashed potatoes, a great Sunday meal! Then we climbed up the rock wall behind us and walked over a high plateau and back to our camp. Ed. note: distance?

Monday, July 14

This morning we left late because we put the canoe cover on for the first time. It seems to be well designed, but probably needs some wider plastic than the existing hoop, maybe 10-12” wide in the bow, so that no hollow will form where water could collect in high waves. Across the bay we faintly saw some buildings last night. Was there another fishing lodge? Ted, always eager to investigate, wanted to find out. We arrived in front of what looked like a big resort, very nicely laid out. However, it was not a commercial fishing lodge but the private summer residence of Max Ward, the founder and owner of Ward Air, the charter air company many of us used to visit the Old Country. Ward Air, having become too much competition for Air Canada, was eventually shut down by its rival and then finally compensated. We walked up to the main house and were greeted and welcomed by Mrs. Ward, now in her late seventies, but still a beautiful and gracious lady. Max Ward was in Yellowknife to buy some hardware for his new power house. Imagine: a large and luxurious residence with many guest rooms and cabins, and all the facilities of modern living in the middle of complete, desolate wilderness! The large dining room was equipped with a number of round tables and comfortable leather-covered chairs around them, two mahogany buffets with gold trimmings. Through the many windows you had a view over the whole bay. The young cook came out of the restaurant-like kitchen and offered us coffee and snacks. Mrs. Ward invited us to stay for lunch, hoping that her husband would be back then and could meet us. Several men were working on the property, helping on the power house project. Mrs. Ward showed us the many guest rooms and guest cabins. All the closets, cabinets and wall panelling had been made by Max Ward himself. We had a wonderful three hours in this extraordinary mansion. The cook gave us a big bag with snacks when we left. What a great visit!
We continued our paddling at 3 pm, knowing that this time we definitely left all civilization behind us. The mosquitoes were wild, since it was cloudy and rained from time to time. We passed three canoes lying on the shore, but the paddlers had already retreated into their tents, perched on higher ground. Since we still wanted to fulfill our average of 30 km per day, we had to paddle till 8:0'clock. Our camp for the night was a sand bar in such shallow water that we got stuck pulling in and had to leave the canoe sitting quite a distance away from our tent. At 9 pm we had supper and ate the second half of yesterday's fish. I cut my finger on the fishing knife and Ted gave me a bad time about it, as if that could help! a bit of empathy would have been better! 30 km

Tuesday, July 15

This morning there were fresh moose tracks in the sand, big ones. After being stuck in the sand for a while, we were on our way towards the outlet of Rocknest Lake where the Coppermine River begins. The sky was dark and gloomy, as we passed swampy shores with wooded hills as far as we could see. At 11:00 am we arrived at the foot of Rocknest Mountain, the highest elevation in this area where we decided to hike up. The approach to the mountain led us through the taiga over soft moss, some bog and through a dense grove of old firs. On the top it was cold and windy, but we had an excellent view over the vast tundra in all directions. Ted found the tip of a caribou horn, but you are supposed to leave it there for the wolves to chew on.
When we continued, it was raining again and we had a strong wind from behind. At the exit of the lake when we came around a bend, we saw a man walking through the middle of the river. At first we thought that we had lost our minds, but then we registered that it was really a live man swinging a fishing rod, fly-fishing. In passing, we learned that he was from Denmark and part of the group whose tents we passed last night.
A little later we were approaching the section of four rapids spread over the next eight kilometers. The first one was easy and fun, but the second one looked very tricky with many short ledges and keepers spread over the length of the rapid. We landed and scouted the upper part, discussing the route between the obstacles we would take. I decided to fasten the "beaver tail" of my survival jacket around my lower end, and Ted followed my example reluctantly. We passed through some high waves on the first stretch. The water poured over me and collected on the canoe cover around me, so that I could feel its heavy weight on my legs. Then we did not quite make it to the right to avoid a ledge and slipped into the hole below the ledge. Slowly the canoe turned its bottom up and I was facing green water below me that reminded me for a split second of a giant evil eye. We landed in the water and held on to the stern and bow respectively. A few seconds later I got ripped away from the bow by the current. Several times I went under and swallowed water. With my new, expensive paddle in one hand I tried to swim to shore, hoping for a river bend where the land could meet me.
Finally I reached ground and staggered out of the water. I saw Ted with the canoe swimming on. I must have swum 500 meters. I did not feel very cold or very upset. Walking around the next river turn, I saw Ted coming in and landing. He had had a hard time holding on to the canoe, but he made it. The current had ripped of one of his knee-high neoprene boots. We bailed out as much water as we could and then Ted said: "Come, let's go on". Did he really mean to continue? In wet clothes? He must have lost his mind in the water! I coaxed him to put on dry clothes and drink the rest of tea from the thermos - thank goodness, it had not fallen out of the cockpit! I had discovered a nice flat spot a bit further up under some old trees and wanted to camp there, calling it a day. It was 4 pm and raining miserably. We gathered firewood and made a nice fire. I hung all our wet clothes on the trees and we crawled into the tent. The sleeping bag and all the food was dry, but Ted's camera, which was not in its pouch when we tipped, did no longer work. I made tea, soup and pancakes, and we came to the conclusion that we should have scouted the entire rapid not only the upper section. Thus we might have avoided the accident. Most likely I did not lean out far enough when we were slipping into the keeper. Later on we walked back to the top of the rapid and photographed it with my Pentax which seemed to be OK. Afterwards we found out that all other groups had lined this rapid through a side channel on the right side. When we were finally tucked in for the night, we were grateful for our warm and dry sleeping bag, safe and sound and alive. 20 km

Wednesday, July 16

During the night it rained heavily off and on. In the morning we tried to find Ted's water boot on the shore, but in vain. Now he has to canoe with one boot and one neoprene sock. The sky cleared up when we left at 11:00 am. We still had to do the last part of the eight kilometer stretch of rapids. I was a bit phobic after yesterday's experience, but today the rapids were a lot easier. Here and there we still saw some ice on the shore. Finally we arrived at the top of the last rapid. In the distance below, the quiet blue water of a lake was beckoning to us. Suddenly we saw a green canoe in the middle of the rapid pinned upside down. Was there still some gear in it? Where were the people? Ted made me get out of our canoe and stand in the middle of the rapid behind a big rock and hold on to the canoe rope. I did not like that one bit out of fear to either lose our boat or getting swept of my feet and going for another swim. His intention was to lift the stranded canoe and turn it up again. He tried hard, even prying with his spare paddle, but the boat would not move, only his paddle broke.
Finally he gave up and we reached calm water at last. The scenery was beautiful: a blue sky with fluffy clouds, a small tranquil lake with lush green shrubs on the shores. A light wind kept the mosquitoes at bay. We spotted a big moose on the other side. A wind from behind made us move swiftly across the lake, and at the other end back into the river bed. The current was fast, with occasional high waves and many boils or fairly easy rapids. The water was still high from the spring run-off, and therefore the many boulders were deep under the surface. Two rapids were more prominent, especially the last one which had a very bony and steep descent at the end, similar to a ski run. It was difficult to pick the easiest of the many channels coming down, and our canoe banged twice lightly. It made us aware of how good and strong this Clipper canoe really is. Ted caught an Arctic grayling. We paddled till 8 o'clock and had a long "happy hour" in front of the tent, watching a thunderstorm approaching slowly. We had a bath and I did some laundry. There was a rumble in the distance while we ate the fish. From our camping spot we could see the steep and fanned out rapid we had come down and were glad that it was behind us. 51 km

Thursday, July 17

During the night we had a good thunderstorm coming from two directions. The rain pounding against our tent walls was so noisy that we could not sleep. In the morning the sun was out again, and we dried everything from the last two days. We left at noon. After two hours we came to the first rapid, again a so-called alluvial fan similar to the last one yesterday, a steep rocky descent, widened fan-like with many narrow channels coming down. When reaching calm water again, we came across a twisted, beaten aluminum canoe which must have come to its end in the rapid above. A bull moose was standing in the shallow water at the other shore. He took off when he saw us. We paddled a lot of flat water. In this Clipper canoe we are sitting in comfortable tractor seats instead of kneeling as in previous years. We don't have to suffer from the "pins and needles" feeling after having knelt for three hours.
After lunch we had to run two rapids where the Fairy Lake River comes in. They were fun rapids with high waves and widely spread boulders. Ted steered us expertly towards the deepest channels and around ledges and keepers. From now on we won't have any rapids for the next one hundred km. The river here is broad and calm. It was very hot, so that we only wore the mosquito shirts. Here the Coppermine River is lined with sandstone hills and wooded with spruce trees. A moose cow and her calf were feeding on the water weeds in the shallow water. When we tipped two days ago, I lost my sun lotion and my skin is burning. I'll try olive oil tonight. We camped at 6 pm on a stretch of sandy shore. When we arrived, Ted threw his left-over water boot into the river, just when I had planned that this was the perfect evening to fabricate two boots out of one. Luckily he was able to retrieve it, when I told him about my plan. While the sun was still high and hot, at 10 pm, and Ted had already retired, I cut two soles out of the boot shaft and glued them under his neoprene socks with contact cement. Then I glued a piece of neoprene over the toe and the heel. 28 km; total 204 km

Friday, July 18

Today it was hot again which created a strong head wind around noon. There were whitecaps on the water and we had to work hard all day fighting the wind. In the afternoon, grey clouds hung quite low, creating a somewhat dismal atmosphere. Nevertheless, the scenery was impressing. The water of the Coppermine has formed steep embankments of sandstone. The erosion from the ice and water is constantly working on the soft stone. Huge earth lumps have tumbled down taking with them trees from the top. In the distance green mountain ranges stand high above the river valley. We paddled past lush marshes, hedges of willow bushes and occasional patches of flowers. Every spring, after the ice has done its devastating work, the vegetation has to start from scratch and the plants have to mature in six short weeks before the frost kills them again. We camped at 6 pm after a day of hard paddling. As soon as the tent was up, the wind subsided and we had a beautiful sunny evening full of mosquitoes. But our mosquito net attachment keeps most of them out. We are sitting under it pretending it is the veranda of our waterfront mansion. Ted caught a pike tonight. 32 km

Saturday, July 19

Just when we left at 10 am, a wind came up. If we had started at 6 am, we would have had four windless hours. Luckily the wind was not too strong. The sky was blue and the sun was strong. Around 1 pm strong gusts of wind started. We found a good lunch spot; Ted made a fire to chase the insects away, and I fried the pike from last night. We stayed there until 6 o'clock, napping and resting while the wind continued to blow. It was warm and I tried to protect my face from the sun by covering it. When we left, we knew that we had to paddle at least three hours to get our thirty km in for the day. The wind was still quite strong while we paddled through a very low lying area. The river is very wide here and the shores consist of muddy marshes. The water was very shallow with the odd sandbank in the middle. There was no suitable campsite anywhere. Around 9:30 pm we finally had the marshy shores behind us and grabbed the first slightly elevated spot to make our camp for the night. A moose escaped, quickly swimming across the river and disappearing on an island overgrown with willow bushes. Behind our camp we climbed up the short steep embankment and found old plywood and some two-by-fours lying around. 35 km

Sunday, July 20

It was a beautiful Sunday morning, good weather and some wind. We started out at 10 o'clock. After a short while we saw two dilapidated wood shacks and stopped to investigate them. The interior was destroyed by people or by bears. If we only knew the history behind such human traces in the middle of complete wilderness! Was this shelter built by trappers, by gold seekers or by an eccentric loner? Behind the cabins a narrow trail led uphill to a mountain top.
We decided to pack a lunch and hike up. After one and a half hours, we were rewarded with a fantastic view over the river and endless green hills and valleys in the distance. On the ridge we found traces of early Inuit, two inukshuks and slanted large rocks balanced on tiny rocks, also the remnants of a boat or a sled. There were many caribou trails winding through lush meadows of flowering lupine, asters, saxifrage and yellow daisies. An Arctic ground squirrel scampered between the rocks, and a frightened family of ptarmigans fled from us. Ted discovered a cluster of something big and white in the distant valley and insisted that it was a mine, but later on we found out that it was a unique rock formation. Four hours later, after a steep descent through bushes and dense underbrush, we were paddling again, but only for an hour.
In the distance we could see three canoes on the left shore and some people walking about. Stopping for a visit, we met the group of Danish men we saw five days ago. They invited us for tea and home-made bread they take turns baking in the fire. Nice guys! One of them showed me small, round clay rocks with circular patterns on the flat surface. He had found them in a small creek bed behind their campsite where I subsequently got some for myself. Although these pieces of clay look like artifacts, a paleontologist in Yellowknife told us that they were ancient crustaceans. The Danes paddled through the night and slept during the day to avoid the afternoon winds during the hot weather. After our visit we only paddled for one more hour. 13 km

Monday, July 21

We got up at 4:45 am and left at 5:30. I did not sleep very much because of sunburn on my face. We passed through a swampy area with low sandy banks overgrown with reeds and willows. A white swan fled with her young ones; I guess she never saw a canoe before, taking it for a giant water bird. I was so tired that I paddled with closed eyes for a while.
Our lunch was at 9 am today. It was very hot and Ted made a fire to fight the mosquitoes off. A muskrat crossed the water but dove quickly when he saw us. After our rest, a light wind had picked up. At last a very sharp turn of the river marked the end of the low, swampy area and the landscape looked very different: wooded hills extended from the shores into the distance, covered with weather-beaten spruce trees. The blue colour of the water and the sky inspired us to sing a few German folksongs. But soon a north wind started blowing and formed white caps on the river. We had to paddle hard and my right shoulder began to act up. When we saw a beautiful bay of white sand, we decided to call it a day and put our tent in the middle of a meadow of Arctic cotton. For the rest of the day we relaxed around the tent. The wind was strong enough to chase the mosquitoes away, and we could lie or sit in the sun without being pestered. Ted went fishing, but did not catch anything. He announced that this night he will take the gun into the tent because he had seen huge grizzly tracks in the sand. We had paddled 5 1/2 hours. 36 km

Tuesday, July 22

At 5 am we were paddling into another sunny summer day. We have had seven consecutive sunny days without being windbound at all. There have been some stronger winds, but all were manageable. Today the Coppermine picked up speed, as it is now flowing through hard rock and is bouncing off rock walls. At 6:30 am we passed by the tents of the sleeping Danes who had probably paddled the entire night. Now they had to sweat in their hot tents. We paddled through some rapids without a problem. In the back of our mind we were both occupied with an impending ordeal, for today we had to pass through the infamous canyon called "Rocky Defile" where many canoeists had already come to grief. Between two rapids on a stretch of calm water, Ted had the unpleasant idea to make me practice the pry, a certain canoe manoeuvering skill. He got very impatient when I did not exactly perform the way he wanted me to, which involved the typical male behavior of shouting. Needless to say, his teaching style was not conducive to my learning, but frazzled and confused me. The bent paddle, which is not meant for manoeuvering, was also a big problem. However, the earth did not open up to swallow him as I wished for a few seconds, and the tundra day continued with all its beauty.
Sooner than expected we arrived at the entrance of the canyon to Rocky Defile. Ted remembered from his trip twenty-five years ago exactly how the current flows through the S-bent canyon and where it bounces off the rock walls and needs to be crossed. So we did not scout it, but donned our survival jackets and fastened the beaver tails on them. The waves were not super-high this year. We started from the left side of the river and crossed over to the right after the S-bend. It worked beautifully without a problem. Ted let out a big yodeling sound at the end of the canyon before we disembarked to walk above the rapid and inspect the memorial plaque for the two Jones's who drowned here in 1972.
Now the river opened up and spread out wide, leaving large islands in the middle. There were very few trees, and on the rolling green hills the flowers stood in full bloom. The September Mountains appeared in the distance and the fragrance of the tundra was in the air. Around 3 pm I had enough paddling for the day, ten hours in full sun plus the excitement of Rocky Defile. However, Ted wanted to camp where he had stayed before, and so we paddled on. We tried some fishing, but they did not bite. Finally we arrived at the high shore below a snow field and beside a creek. We anchored the canoe in the rocks and carried our gear up the steep embankment to a lovely spot. Here we had a full view of the river and of the two mountain ranges, the September Mountains in front of us and the Coppermine Mountains behind us. On the other side of the river two muskoxen were grazing peacefully. Ted went fishing again and came back with two Arctic graylings. The evening was pleasant and we were happy, enjoying each other's company. 68 km

Wednesday, July 23

Today was a day of rest, relatively speaking. We slept in, had a late breakfast and made preparations to hike up the Coppermine Mountains. I packed a lunch consisting of pumpernickel sandwiches with margarine and salami sausage, some cookies and dried banana slices, two baby gouda cheeses wrapped in wax, caramel candies and dried apricots, very similar to our other lunches on this trip. The Coppermine Mountains are composed of many terraces similar to giant steps. There is a meadow, a steep ascent and then the next meadow and the next ascent. This sequence continues several times, and when you think that with the next climb you have reached the top, there is another rise and another meadow ahead of you. The lower meadows are covered with dwarf willows and small spruce trees, whereas higher up the vegetation consists of mosses, lichens and flowers. We saw caribou and moose tracks, and one tent ring which means that the Inuit had used even the higher regions as hunting grounds during their nomadic period. On top it was windy, but the three-hundred-sixty degree view was a great reward for our efforts. We had a little nap up there before we started our descent.
Back in camp after our four-hour hike, Ted caught two fish for supper. After dinner we settled around a small fire and were happy together. Ted is so tender and sweet on this trip, except for yesterday's "lesson", and he does not put us under time pressure, since the Coppermine is only five hundred km long and we had such good weather, a real summer with no winds to speak of. If this continues, we'll be in Kugluktuk in three days. 0 km

Thursday, July 24

We left at 5:30 a.m. The morning was grey and dismal, and a change of weather was in the air. In the back of my mind the threat of the last three big rapids was looming. The river was picking up speed and we paddled through several very fast sections. Around nine Ted detected smoke in the distance on a high river bank above a long gravel bar where a river comes in. First we thought that we had caught up with the Danes again, but then we saw an inflatable boat on the shore and two men coming down to greet us.
They were older men: Faruk, a Bosnian from Ontario and Bill, an Englishman living in France. These two have been spending two weeks on the same spot for several years, going fishing, hunting and hiking. Now they were getting ready to leave again. Faruk knew the terrain around the Coppermine River very well and was able to describe the three upcoming rapids accurately.
The landscape was getting more tundra-like, leaving the treeline behind and looking more barren, just green rolling hills, water and the immense horizon. As we continued down the fast river, the scenery changed again and dark red cliffs appeared left and right. It was not long until we came to the Muskox Rapids, a set of two rapids with high waves. We stopped on river-right to scout the first set, only to realize that we were on the wrong side. The rapid should be run on the left side of the river. We were too close to ferry over to the other side. However, we could ferry past the ledge on the right and paddle through the high waves in the middle. At one point the canoe turned sideways, because I back-paddled when I should have paddled forward fast, but Ted corrected our position expertly. The second set of Muskox Rapids also had high waves, but fewer ledges. It was fun, although a particular high wave poured over the bow and over me, ripping the velcro spray deck open so that my pants got wet.
At 2:00 p.m. we pulled in on the right shore to make our camp. It looked as if a bad weather front was approaching, and we wanted to be prepared. While we had "happy hour", Bill and Faruk pulled in on the shore to socialize a bit. Bill shared his sun lotion with me to save my skin. After a while they continued in their inflatable Metzler boat of which they have cut out the bottom, so that they don't need to bail it out. What a strange idea to sit on the edge of the boat and have the feet dangling in the water! All their gear was in a big box against the back wall. We were camped on a large gravel bar which is probably part of the river during the high water season. At the end of the bar was a steep embankment which we climbed up to have a view ahead. There were several lakes and many animal tracks through the low brush. In the distance the flat water of Coronation Bay was visible. 55 km

Friday, July 25

The poor weather did not even last over night. This morning when we left at 6 a.m., the sun was bright and hot again. This is my fourth trip in the tundra, and I have never seen summer weather like this up here. We had to overcome two more rapids today, and both Ted and I kept our worries about them from each other. The first one, Sandhill Rapids, was rough and full of ledges spreading river-wide. Even before we got to these rapids, the river was very fast - it was more or less one continuous enormous rapid. In the middle of the river a giant rock shaped like a gigantic cone, pointed to the sky. On both sides of the Coppermine, high cliffs and rock walls line the shores, thus forming a very broad canyon through which we paddled. We stayed on the extreme left close to the rock wall since the ledges did not reach that far over.
After Sandhill Rapids we had a little rest. Bill and Faruk in their bottomless inflatable appeared again, and we socialized a bit; they were really nice guys. Now we only had to overcome one more obstacle, Escape Rapids. The whole river was heaving like a gargantuan snake in its last agony before it has to surrender to the ocean water. On our way to the infamous, technically difficult class 3-4 Escape Rapid we came across two American men who were just ready to launch, both in single fourteen foot Clipper canoes. The rapid flows through a canyon, and similarly to Rocky Defile one has to cross over from right to left in the middle to avoid being driven against the canyon wall. This year the water of the Coppermine was at a record low, which made Escape Rapids easy to handle. Twice we bumped against a rock which I, as the bow person should have seen, but the Clipper did not take it too hard. At last we could let out a sigh of relief and landed for a snack and some fishing. The two Americans joined us after a while, two middle-aged university teachers. One of them had a small figurine in a grass skirt mounted to his bow deck, watching her dancing in the waves.
We continued our trip over very fast water and some, unmarked rapids. Gradually the river "flattened out"; it became wide and shallow, and we had to paddle around several gravel bars. The shore was lined with icebergs covered with sand. It was probably only four weeks ago when the raging spring water had shifted the ice and lifted it aside, and then sand storms had covered it with dirt - what a wild and untamed land! In the distance we could already see the high sandstone cliffs close to Bloody Falls. At 3 p.m. we arrived at the Falls, which is not really a waterfall, but two cascades resulting from two sets of high ledges in a tight canyon. Here the explorer Samuel Hearne witnessed the massacre of some Inuit by his Chipewayan guides. On his previous trip, Ted had tried to shorten the two-kilometer portage around Bloody Falls by paddling very close to the edge and capsizing as a result. This time we were more careful and unloaded our gear at the beginning of the marked portage trail. The trail leads over steep terrain up and down, the sun was hot and the insects had a feast. I walked twice with heavy loads, which means six km, and Ted walked three times because he had to fetch the boat. He carried the canoe all the way down on the other side of the Falls to the sandy beach, Meanwhile I built our camp on top of the cliff where the Inuit from Kugluktuk have attempted to make a public campsite. However they only half finished it, leaving us a picnic table and half a biffy, unused. The Coppermine has formed bowls in the cliffs close to the water, where I did some laundry, so that we can enter the town of Kugluktuk - formerly Coppermine - in clean clothes. 55 km

Saturday, July 26

At 8 a.m. we launched our Clipper below Bloody Falls after portaging our two barrels and two portage bags down the hill from our camp. The morning sky looked glorious: the sun was already high in the sky; a red ba1l surrounded by pink fluffy clouds. We paddled through the last fast water spilling over from Bloody Falls and had to dodge a rock here and there. On the left shore the first summer house appeared, and there were more further on, all nicely kept and complete with sundeck and solar power. For the first time in weeks we paddled in an open canoe. In the distance we could see a high coastline in the mist. Was that already Coronation Bay? We were excited and happy in anticipation of having just about reached our final destination, just seventeen more kilometers! The weather was good, just a very light breeze from the north. Paddling straight north could be a problem in the high Arctic, since the prevailing winds come from the pole.
At 11 o'clock, travelling on the left side against Faruk's advice, we passed the airport and got stuck in the low water. Because I was still equipped with proper water boots, I had to get out and pull the canoe. Around noon we paddled around the last point and saw the first house of Kugluktuk perched on a cliff, a nice, big house belonging to a businessman, as we later found out. Then we passed a beach where the youth of this town was frolicking in the cool Arctic water. At last we pulled in among the anchored motorboats of the Inuit. An old, friendly looking Innu in a very modern hockey shirt greeted us, standing beside his boat. It was the guide who was just about ready to go to Bloody Falls to pick up Faruk and Bill and their inflatable which was too heavy to be paddled in flat water. Ted made contact with him instantly and managed to invite himself to stay in his house. That was great, because it is much more interesting to stay with a native person than to go to a hotel or the campground. Hotels are very expensive in the Arctic, $175 per person, and campgrounds are insecure. We unloaded our canoe and went to the First Air office to buy tickets to Yellowknife. We also arranged for the transport of the Clipper for the agreed price of $305. Finally we carried our gear to the house. He lived alone in a two-bedroom apartment. The interior was in fair shape, however … .
Now we were ready for a first visit of the community. Kugluktuk is a typical Arctic community: two big stores, a modern high school, new Government buildings, new row houses on stilts, new and broken skidoos and ATVs standing around, animal hides hanging here and there, a community center, and smiling people passing on their ATVs. Out of the 1400 people almost half are under twenty. We found a snack bar in one of the stores and ordered a large portion of junk food, a great treat after our river diet! Ed. note: distance: 17 km?
We could not quite fathom that we made it here safe and sound, five hundred kilometers in sixteen days! Ed. note: the 500 km is likely only approximate. In our minds the many new tundra images and wilderness experiences were still not quite digested, and we'll relive them at home many times, reminiscing in front of our fireplace.

With God's help we were allowed to live through one more Arctic summer in the land of the midnight sun, and we are very grateful for this wonderful experience.

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:250,000): 
86G, 86H, 86J, 86N, 86O
Other
Special Comments: 

Editor’s Comments:
This trip was undertaken by Ted & Freda Mellenthin & the report, originally a personal account, was written & typed (by typewriter) by Freda Mellenthin & was not prepared specifically for posting at CCR; it was then scanned, digitized & submitted by Allan Jacobs in January 2008; as a result, some information is not easily available & some errors were introduced by the scanning process.

Many thanks to the Mellenthins & Allan Jacobs for their efforts!

Good white-water skills are mandatory in this trip.