Banning Lake, Surrey River and Lake, Wellington Bay, Ekalluk River, Ferguson Lake, and Greiner River, Victoria Island, Nunavut

CanadaNunavutHigh Arctic
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Brian Johnston
Trip Date : 
July 2014
Route Author: 
Brian Johnston
Additional Route Information
350 km
21 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
0 m
Longest Portage: 
0 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 

Commerical flights to Cambridge Bay. Aircharter by DAL Aviation of High Arctic Lodge on floats to the put-in. 

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

Banning Lake, Surrey River and Lake, Wellington Bay, Ekalluk River, Ferguson Lake, and Greiner River, Victoria Island, Nunavut

The following year in 2014 I was back to Victoria Island for another canoe trip. Again we were to canoe rivers and ocean but this time we were on much lesser known rivers. Also it was less arduous—a shorter trip in terms of both distance and time at 350 km over 3 weeks compared to last year’s quick pace of covering 600 km in a month. Whereas there were past trip reports to peruse on both of the rivers we canoed, the Nanook and the Kuujjua, this time we had little to no canoe trip information on this summer’s route that we had cobbled together. 

Drive-Fly Route from Toporama image


Part I, Getting to the River

We made quick work of packing the last of our gear and loading up the VW to the roof. We have 3 food packs, 1 kitchen pack, 1 Pakcanoe, 2 personal packs, and a box of loose stuff to be packed in Edmonton. 

Last summer we were at the northern tip of Victoria Island paddling the Nanook and Kuujjua Rivers including canoeing the coastal bay. After that trip we knew a bit of the lay of the land and decided to piece together another Victoria Island trip, this time a unique water route at its southern end. From Banning Lake we are heading downstream, at times rather steeply, to the ocean where we will ascend a river in order to attain entry into Cambridge Bay from the land instead of the ocean. 

2014 Google Earth Route image

We pulled this trip together at the last minute—booking flights and extra baggage only a week ago. Due to the connecting flights and baggage limits we are driving to Edmonton. From there we are flying all the way to Cambridge Bay with Canadian North.

There was a recent multi vehicle accident on the Yellowhead highway before Neepawa. Once in Saskatchewan there was some overland floodwaters across the road in several sections, including forcing us northward to highway 5 for a detour. 

We overnighted in Saskatoon and stopped at Princess Auto to get value stems and a tool to repair my refillable air horn, which was not accepting air via the small bike pump. The air horn is useful to announce the presence of a bear. The plastic air horn is not pressured during air travel and thus not restricted. 

We passed another vehicle accident. Some rain fell on the road. 

Arriving at the Executive Royal Inn airport hotel for the night was uneventful. We are leaving the car here. A short walk to buy beers was a welcome stretch and bit of fresh air. Packing the box of loose stuff was easy. 

Up early to check in all our baggage at the oversize counter and clear security in good time. There was much activity at the hotel, checking out and catching airport shuttles. At 6 a.m. the airport was not yet busy but our check in attendant assured us it would be shortly.

The flight to Yellowknife was almost full, save for a couple empty seats. We rear loaded, as it was the 737-combo jet had the bulkhead separating cargo and passengers. Checked for email as the Yellowknife airport has Wi-Fi but I'm unsure if there will be any more access until I return in August.  

The plane, on landing, stopped suddenly at Kugluktuk (Coppermine)—objects moved forward in the cabin. We disembarked for a leg stretch and look about at the airport terminal. Sorry a no Wi-Fi sign indicated we were moving north and in a small hamlet. 

Back onboard and up, up and away. The plane banked quickly after clearing the runway and we were bound for Cambridge Bay. Lots of sea ice. Again, we landed suddenly and cabin items moved forward. Cambridge Bay, we are here. Great news, all of our baggage arrived.

The coop taxi was not working and the cargo guys had no loads heading to town but I was in luck to ask a guy leaving if he would help us get our gear to town. We loaded up our eight packs into the back of a 1/4-ton and climbed on top. Another guy we had befriended on the flight also tossed his bag on top and rode inside. 

Johnny Lyall (the local expeditor) says Fred Hamilton (of DAL Aviation and High Arctic Lodge) is having de Havilland Beaver issues but Bill (the pilot) should be in town tomorrow with the Cessna 206. It looks like spring is late due to all the ice around. The roads are mucky and slippery in town. Usually it’s a dusty and dry community to walk around. 

Old Boat and Building image

Maybe I’ll use Fahrenheit for temperatures because I’m traveling an American. He knows Fahrenheit and miles etc. best and I can still function pretty well in the Imperial system having learnt both the Imperial and Metric systems in grade school. 

I'm chilled to the bone and dead tired when I craw into my down sleeping bag. The softness, lightness, and warmth of my down sleeping bag remind me of king eider and long tailed duck down of the Arctic.

We enjoy observing the sea ice. What was left of the morning was spent organizing gear and attending to some little things. I treated or conditioned my LL Bean boots—wax waterproofing, and we seam sealed a couple of new holes in my pack from the air travel. We also busied ourselves with moving gear from personal packs to a tent pack and an annex pack. 

The other task I started was to look at the maps. I numbered and organized them a bit but the afternoon visitors caused me to put that project on hold. The route overland back to Cambridge Bay is on a provisional map from 1955 so I had to trace the shoreline in order to see it. 

I found myself visiting with Jesper, age 13, who is talkative and entertaining. With a vast vocabulary and worldly knowledge and interests, he was able to keep me listening and interested for several hours.  

Before supper we ventured out, walking to the floatplane base to find pilot Bill there with Johnny and Dawn Hamilton (Fred’s wife), and two other women staff, bound for the lodge. We had some discussion about the ice conditions and lodge clients that arrive Wednesday. The delay of the two Beaver planes due to mechanical problems has pushed back all lodge and flight operations. Not sure when we will go out but Johnny will keep us informed. 

On the return trip we paused at the visitor centre to meet Yvonne and her boyfriend, he works across the street at the little gift shop, Arctic Closet. We plan to visit tomorrow as she was closing up for the day. She is from Bathurst Inlet and gave us the update. Both Glen and Trish Boyd have died. The lodge is closed all year but has plans to open next summer. 

Jesper reappeared. He and I played a couple of games before his father gathers him and they head off out onto the land. I'm once again not yet used to the coolness. Wearing five upper layers and long underwear.

After a slow morning of getting a few things organized and moved, we headed off on foot to the visitor centre. We toured, read, and found out showers are available for $5, that Nunavut Day celebration information is available at the food stores, and left with a map of the historic sites across the bay and river. Weather forecast is lows of 3°C, highs of 10 or 11°C, mostly cloudy, some sun and some rain. 

From there we walked up to the Arctic Closet but it was not yet opened so we continued onward to the Northern store to fetch tomorrow's Nunavut Day celebration activities list but also purchased a loaf of bread and some fish for supper. 

For the afternoon, I readied a couple of bikes and we were off for hours of exploration, crossing the two bridges, viewing the cemetery, kids fishing, and then moving from one old town historic site to the next site, parking our bikes to walk around each point of interest. 

Cambridge Bay Graveyard image

On the return trip we paused to fill our water bottles at the river and then to get the latest update from Bill the pilot as he flew in as we were passing by. In addition to us, there is a group of 6 scientists, now another two person canoe party, 4 lodge guests arriving tomorrow, and a ton of lodge supplies all wanting to get airborne. The Beaver was still being fixed down south and not yet en route. With much luck we might be off late tomorrow but more likely the following day! Of course there is also the iced lake issue. We can just see the difference in front of Cambridge Bay—the ice edge is melting slowly. 

9 July Nunavut Day. After breakfast we left to walk about the community. We found the Wildlife office was closed until July 21 but we already had a fishing licence. As it is Nunavut Day we scouted out the schoolyard to find the baseball field that will be the festive grounds for the afternoon activities. 

Then we found Brent Boody's place but he was out for a bike ride. Being that we did not wish to return to being inside we took the opportunity to walk about the community, exploring further north and west. There is a surprising amount of new housing and housing. Two young women passed us twice who were out for a jog. We also passed the new building that was being built last summer when we last visited Cambridge Bay. It’s the NIA, Nunavut Inuit Association, in charge of the Inuit land from the land claims agreement (I hope I got that right). 

Cambridge Bay Kitikmeot Inuit Association Office Building image

Brett Boody stopped by since we had left word. We had a wonderful visit with Brett, who is still very active, planning a trip from kite boarding the Arctic to Hudson Bay, paddle to Saskatchewan, bike to Minnesota, paddle south, and so on all the way to Cape Hope! He had great things to say about his Surly fat tire bike. 

Then we were off to partake in Nunavut Day celebrations. To our shock the barbecue was a catering company of six who had flown in from Edmonton servicing lamb or chicken! Where is the local fare? We did not expect “south” food. I expected caribou and Arctic char. There were also drink boxes and apples—Gala and green delicious. We also watched the harpoon throwing and the bannock cook off. I helped myself to tea what was at the bannock site and two women were laughing and talking to each other in Inuktitut because I was adding a tea bag to my cup before pouring the hot water from the kettle. The kettle on the fire was tea, not hot water! Silly Kabloona (white person)! 

Nunavut Day image

Then Johnny walked up to us and said, “You missed your plane.” What plane? The one you were going to fly on! After the joking, we gathered that we were to fly out at 4 p.m. We were in a bit of disbelief because all communication led us to believe that tomorrow was the earliest possible flight day for us. Nevertheless we returned to pack up and ready ourselves for the river. We had plans to shower at the visitor centre but with our change in plans we packed gear and got everything ready for the flight. 


Part II, Going Downhill, the Rivers and Lakes to the Ocean

Well, 4 p.m. led to waiting and wandering around the floatplane base but at 6 p.m. we did indeed take off for an hour flight westward. Many iced over lakes. No wildlife. Bill flew up the last headwater river section and we liked what he saw so he proceeded to put us down in a side bay, which was free of ice. The river looks fast and shallow with near continuous rapids in the river proper section. Once below the river section the big lakes are all white with ice, not even dark ice. Bill was surprised that we were willing to run the shallow river. 

Lake Ice from the Air image


River from the Air image

We had to carefully wade to shore carrying all of our gear. The water was nearing the tops of our boots. Bill had injured his shoulder and stayed on the float. The plane slowly lifted as the gear was removed and wanted to float away a bit. Once all the gear was on land Bill took off heading to the lodge for supper. The ground is hummocky for tenting. We walked about looking for a tent site and carried our tent pack and the kitchen and food pack to a suitable site. The rest of our gear can wait until tomorrow. 

The air is warmer but still cool. The mosquitoes are out in force. We used the MEC Mantis shelter for bug protection at supper.  Loons on the water are making noise. I don’t recall hearing loons last year when we were further north. 

Distance to Go 205.5 miles (in miles because my American tripping partner did the map mileage). Elevation drops to the ocean 122 metres. Banning Lake to Cambridge Bay is the route plan. Banning Lake is mostly covered with white ice. 

We were up to a drizzle and light winds. Light enough that there were many mosquitoes. It was canoe assembly time. The rain let up but not the bugs. We humped the canoe and our extra gear across the peninsula to an ice-free section and then paddled it south a little bit closer to our tenting site. Down came the tent. Lunch before finishing up packing up camp and carrying our outfit to the canoe. Our route on Banning Lake to the river exit was several kilometres and free of ice. Birds were plentiful. 

There was on and off current all day. All the rapids were easy enough, watching for and following the deep-water channel. We got out once to scout a rapid with larger waves but they were easy to avoid by following the deep-water channel. We also had to find our way down two alluvial fans, one of which we had to get out due to shallows and while paddling the other one we touched rocks or bottomed out a bit. 

We saw ducks, loons, geese, sandhill cranes, one swan, Arctic turns, jaegers, lesser golden plover, and other birds. You could see lake trout in the water on a couple of occasions. There was a bit of elevation that added some spice to the low-lying land but no hiking hills or ridges. We camped RL at a narrowing section with current about a kilometre before reentering the river. It was cool on the water, cool enough that I was cold with a light fleece. Similar to last night, we are camped on poor tenting ground, as it is hummocky. At least the pegging is okay and our new Therm-a-rests can bridge the hummocks. 

It was a restless night for whatever reason. In part, I am getting used to a new Therm-a-rest. Plus adjusting to having my head resting on a fleece instead of a pillow. In the early morning, I was chilled so I tucked my head into my mummy hood and pulled the drawstring tight. 

We were up to a mixed sky of clear and clouds and took our time getting on the water and paddled into a headwind. It was a little cool. My pogies shielded my hands from the cool wind as well as from the on and off burning sun. It was only a short paddle to where the lake narrowed into a river.  We enjoyed seeing the usual bird life all morning. Ducks, geese including nesting geese, loons, swans, arctic terns, etc. 

Lunch was RR and included a short walk to stretch our legs. The flowers! I may have been neglectful in mentioning the all the flowers. First most of all are the Mountain Avens (Arctic Dryad). But there are also lousewort, tiny white flowers, tiny yellow flowers, deep purple flowers, etc. 

In general, all the rapids since day one have been easy class I or II. Many have several routes although some become too shallow. We have been on and off bottoming out on the odd shallow rapid section. At least once we have single-footed it or walked/waded a very short section to deeper water. The river width and size are excellent for a single tandem canoe. The current is not pushy but it is swift in most of the narrow river sections. 

River Whitewater image

At the 80-metre contour we scouted and took photos because of the steepness of the riverbanks. It was such a nice place that we returned to run our canoe down the rapid and camp at the base. After a tea and coffee break we made camp. We fished for over an hour and caught Lake Trout on a regular bases, keeping one for supper. In fact, we kept part of it for breakfast, as even a small Lake Trout was too big for a single meal. 

I walked the rock ridgeline and photographed some flowers and Inuit stone structures. In the bright sunlight it was difficult to see what I was photographing because the camera screen if difficult to see through my head net. At one point I was surprised by a noise—my mind raced to bear. Quick movements of my head and scanning by my eyes revealed no bear. But I know I heard a sound. Then I heard a different call—this time I looked up to see an Arctic Tern on a direct course. Of course, the woof was the dive-bombing sound of the tern's wings. A nest must be near so I wandered off quickly not wanting to be pecked on the head. 

Our second night there was a huge moon just off the horizon. We were up to a nice day—mostly blue skies with enough wind to get the mosquitoes out of your face when facing windward. For breakfast we cooked the leftover half of the Lake Trout with onions and lemon pepper. 

Fish with Onions image

Then it was off paddling into a headwind and waves. The temperature was perfect for canoeing. After paddling a short open-water section we rounded a point and headed more northwestward and of course the mosquitoes became a little pesky. But the river current helped to speed us along. 

High Water image

We passed several pairs of swans, some with small cygnets. There were also sandhill cranes, ducks, loons, geese, arctic terns, plovers, sandpipers, gulls, and so on. The land, in general, continues to be hummocky, easy enough waking without a load on your back, and covered with flowers, most of which are mountain avens. 

The river was deep enough and moved us a long although there were sections with only a slight current. We passed the 70-metre contour line. A couple of small rapids fanned out at their bases creating some doubt as to which route we should hope would float us compared to which part of the channel will we bottom out on. At the 60-metre contour we stopped for lunch. It was an excellent place with large limestone-like rock to sit on near the river's edge. We casted and had a few bites before we continued downstream. 

River Snow image

As we neared the lake the river's edge was lined with willows. In the near distance we could see the lake ice. At the river's mouth the ice was out beyond the first large island but the rock marked as an x on the map was bound in white ice. Into the headwind we canoed along the lake edge, with ice off to our distance left.

In the later afternoon we began looking for a place to spend the night. We continued for a bit and settled on a good location in terms of landing, tomorrow's ice, and hiking. The tent site, as usual, is only okay. Our kitchen is near the water's edge. After supper we walk the beach and hike inland towards a small hilltop—really more of a mound. I almost missed it but I walked right passed a rock pile cache. To my right and left were more cashes. Up at the top of the mount were tent rings and looking back towards the lake and creek bay was a line of tipped up rocks—small Inukshuit. 

What a day! The sky was hazy with smoke from the South, carried by the southern wind. Ahead lay a vast lake—mostly frozen. Leaving camp in good time we canoed the open shoreline lead, keeping land on our right, ice to the left. The smoke filled air meant reduced visibility. Points in the distance surprising crept up on us quickly. We had to follow the shoreline in and out of every bay and closely around every point of land. We paddled more distance than the crow flies. 

And the day was filled with highlights that gave us a break from the monotonous lake padding—ice, golden smoky sun refection on the water, muskoxen (14), tent rings, dragging over ice, map reading, caribou (1), geese that cannot yet fly, loons including common loons, swans, sandhill cranes, flocks of ducks, and so on. It even started to rain ever so lightly when we decided to camp for the night. That was also when the wind died and the mosquitoes came out in full force. We photograph a pair of tangled caribou antlers—assuming two caribou died together. Shoreline pushed up ice showed a beautiful blue. Ice pushed rock ridges lined the lake edge. Single rocks were pulled and push out of their embedded locations. Oh, the power of wind and wave driven ice. 

Of course, our route followed was slow and long, most with a strong side wind and all following near the shore, tracing the shoreline in and out of bays and around points. No as the crow flies mileage today. Sometime shortly after 4 p.m. we rounded an ice free point and made camp. Hopefully the rest of the lake will go as well.

We were up a bit earlier, similar to yesterday but not really early by any stretch of imagination—nothing to merit admiration. There was no wind. In the stillness there was fog—maybe it was ice fog. The common loons sang loudly—something we are not used to hearing in the Arctic. It was an eerie paddle—still, common, ice, fog, and lingering smoke from yesterday continued to make judging distances difficult. There was no horizon in sight—the sky and lake ice morphed into one white abyss. 

Twice in the morning we had to drag and wade over and past ice. The first encounter was pretty short but the second was not. We dragged, waded, as well as followed leads out from shore, breaking long candle ice pieces off with our paddles to make room for our little craft. 

The heat of the day with a cooling breeze slowed our pace. Luckily we were not in full sun as the haze continued to provide a little of relief from the intense burning sun. When the little breeze blew over the frozen lake it was a welcome cooling effect—a kin to a walk in cooler. 

Lunch was shortly after noon, on the river's edge, facing into whatever little wind there was. After our break, the river moved us along—not like the still waters of the lake. There were a couple of current sections as well as fast or swift waters. Some might even say Class I rapids. 

We had a lot of fun fishing at one rapid, RL of the island on the mainland. After the second cast landed us supper we continued to fish. You could see wave after wave building as huge lake trout followed or chased a lure or even an already caught fish on the lure. The shallowness of the fishing site increased the dramatic wave action that was created by the large “following” fish. It was almost too much fun to witness. 

Fishing image

And then there were muskoxen. Ashore we headed with camera in hand. Then there was another herd and to our surprise they waded into the water. We saw tent rings and possible kayak stands on the island before camping RR across from it at the best yet site for tenting. And then there were muskoxen on the island across from our camp from where we had just come. Of course we saw loons, heard and saw sandhill cranes, geese, ducks, swans, snow geese for the first time, Arctic terns, etc.

Musk Ox Cross the River image

A light rain and little wind drove us under the Mantis shelter for a pre dinner drink followed by curry fish on rice. The muskoxen across the river continued to make noise. On the esker-like rise we are camped on we found a couple of shells. I find it amazing that all this land was once under water, approximately ten thousand years ago. Hence the seashells we often stumble across on the tundra. Oh, the power of the ice age to push the land below sea level and the ability of the land to slowly rebound back up. The workings of the world are difficult to comprehend. Our presence is such a short time compared to the world’s timeline. 

The sky was bright blue—the smoke and haze had dispersed. A slow and leisurely breakfast of lake trout with bannock and our first yet double round of coffee and tea were most enjoyable. The air was warm and the stiff wind meant no mosquitoes. Muskoxen roamed on the island across from our camp. Wow, a newborn calf was now among the herd! It looked more a kin to a small black bear than a muskox calf. And it was never more than a step or pace from its mother. Of course, it could already walk—truly amazing. 

Musk Ox New Born image

We packed up my daypack and headed off for a hike to explore the esker. Last night in the haze we could not see the old mining exploration camp but this morning it is clearly just downstream of our camp. Up on to the esker and again, wow, more muskoxen. Another herd of over 30 muskoxen was to the right. We watched with keen interest and they could not smell us so they took no notice of our presence. 

Esker Map image

Our trek had just began with muskoxen and new born calf on the island to our left and a large herd to the right at the base of the esker we were following. As we moved along we photographed and observed they with binoculars. In a bit we could also see additional muskoxen on the left side of the river. The island bound group may stay there a long time because muskoxen do not swim. Herds have been known to wait for freeze up or die on islands. Of course, they may be able to wade across to the mainland somewhere if there is a shallow crossing. 

Esker Hiking image

Along the way were Inuit stone tent rings and several kayak stands. Down the middle of the esker top in sections was a game trail, most likely wolf and or caribou. Typical, the old mining exploration camp was in a sad state of decay. Tossed about and laying here and there were fuel drums, hose, plastic sample bags, stakes, old buildings, outhouses, wood piles, bundles of mining stakes, garbage, burning barrels, and so on. Of course, we were also scouting our route and investigating the ice situations to access our need to portage or paddle. All looks pretty good—there is a shore ice lead, hopefully it will remain open or provide clear passage when we get there. 

Back to camp for some clothes washing, lunch, reading and napping, and another hike. I travelled the same esker this time following it south in the opposite direction. Again, I paused to watch the large herd of muskoxen and I saw stone tent rings, Inukshuit, caches, etc. None of the stone structures were great examples but there was no doubt that this esker was an important place. Swans are off in the distance. Sandhill cranes fly over and could be heard all day. Likewise, the call of the loon was never far away. 

Lapland Longspur. In the background, Canoe Clothesline image

The wind increased and blew hard for most of the day. After supper it suddenly died and the evening become quiet—with the soft sound of loons and sandhill cranes off in the distance. Everyone who said no to joining us on this trip so far has missed a wonderful trip. Easy pace, great weather, diverse daily events. Something like 50 muskoxen in the area. As we did not move camp today our position remains the same.

It was raining and cold. In the Mantis we enjoyed hot oatmeal with milk and extras (raisons and nuts) tossed on top and a double round of hot coffee and tea. As the rain was on and off and light we packed up camp. On the water, we passed the mining camp and slowly rounded the point or end of the peninsula. It does take a minute to paddle around a 3-mile peninsula. There was ice off to one side and we kept land on the other side. 

There was some decision as to whether we should follow the open lead out and northward or tend to the shoreline. Later in the day, having paddled the long way around we now believe that the Tahoe River, which enters from the North may have created an open water passage to the narrow section near where we had lunch. But at the time earlier today, we played it safe and stayed our course following the shoreline open lead instead of chancing the unknown of an open lead heading off away from shore. 

Tahoe and Washburn Lakes Google Earth image


The Lakes are named after Tahoe Washburn image (Her book, Under Polaris: An Arctic Quest is about her time in the Arctic at the end of the 1930s and start of the 1940s.)

At one point the sky opened and we removed our rain gear and enjoyed the warmth of the intense sun beating down on us. We paused on the back side of a hill or mound for lunch near the narrows where there was current. All the warmth of the sun had passed and we wore our rain gear again for protection to break the wind and hold in our body heat. Once back on the water, fast water carried us for a short distance. 

Where the river turns south there was an Inukshuk and bones and skull of a muskox. The sky was looking darker. In no time we canoed the narrow southward section and started looking for a place to camp along the northern shoreline. At one spot there was a caribou rib cage but no skull to be found. Unfortunately, all of the land is extremely hummocky so we kept looking for a campsite. We settled on a goose dropping camp, right at the water's edge, and our site has a rocky tent foundation and is in close proximity to the Mantis that is tied or staked to the canoe! Needless to say, in the end it all worked out fine. 

It rained a fair bit overnight and we were slow to exit the tent knowingly that we were not going anywhere fast. And sure enough, the day presented itself as overcast with showers and a fairly strong wind. The clouds were looking okay. Some of the clouds had distinctive shape, not too low, and they were light enough to consider paddling, and the wind might have been okay, strong but not a really stopper, but the deciding issue was not near our campsite but the open expanse of windward lake making the wind and wave action too much on a cold and wet day. 

We ate tortillas complete with melted smoked cheese, refried beans, salsa, and freshly fried onion. There was mocha. I had a hot chocolate followed by tea. It was wonderful despite our crowded and now muddy at-the-water’s-edge campsite. I finished my second book, Thomas King’s, A Short History of Indians in Canada and started Cormac McCarthy's The Road. The first book, A Doll’s House was better than expected. 

It's after 9 p.m. and although the rain has ended it is still windy and we are wind bound. The offshore wind has been fairly consistent all day. It feels down right cold out there when I brushed my teeth. My feet have been cold most of the day unless they where wrapped in my sleeping bag!

Same place. Same weather conditions—cold and windy, even whitecaps close to shore as the wind is stronger today. Up for breakfast and back into the tent to warm up and to try to stay warm. Resting and reading. There has been no shortage of sleeping on this trip. We’d been sleeping a solid 10 hours a night every night. Before ducking back into the tent we walked up the rise and eastward to have a look. The overcast sky is slowly giving way to a mixed sky of clouds with patches of blue peaking through. Still windy but it is a little warmer. 

I get the feeling we'll be here again tonight although the odd bug is out so the wind must be less and or the temperature is warmer. Now and then we can also hear a bird call. This trip again, similar to last year, is a trip of flowers but also birdcalls. We'd heard more swans and loons than past trips. Last year it was sandhill crane calls. As I write, geese fly by calling—a first for today. With our lower daily mileage pace, we should be okay even after two days of being wind bound. Hum, the mind had rest time to wander, ponder, and think.

After not moving for a couple of days and three nights we discussed at length the wind and wave situation including our best estimate of what was going on downstream of us on the big lake. It was also pretty cold in the wind. Our decision was to stay put. We read and then hike east to a high spot near the eastern edge of our land to assess the travel conditions (weather and water). 

After lunch we packed up and padded onward. The wind and wave action was okay as the wind was less gusty than in the a.m. We crossed the first open water section or area with the windward reach and again it was fine—work, chilly but fine otherwise. 

One island we tried to pass inshore was connected to land so we had to turn around and back track. Northern maps do not always accurately represent the topography or conditions change and vary from when it was mapped. 

Once at the last point of land on the windward island that we were following we encountered ice. Ashore we went to assess. Walking and standing tall with binoculars in hand we could see ice and one possible lead. Once in the lead it was slow going as the ice was dark, candling, and not stable. We quickly reversed when the ice moved and started to close off the lead. Back on shore we looked at portaging but decided to wait it out and camp. 

I scouted the portage and shore ice kept going around the point and further along the shoreline. It would be better to paddle back and portage over the island to the large bay than to carry over the point near where we are camped. 

Ice Paddling image

Later, some of the ice had moved but not enough. Earlier the lead we followed took us within about 50 feet of clear passage to the other side. Now there is something like 100 feet of ice blocking our route. With many hours until our departure tomorrow we hope the ice with move on between now and then. While scouting the portage option I watched a pair of sandhill cranes. Then on the return trip I scared up a fox with big black puffy legs and a thin white body. In time it will fully change colour. 

Similar to last night we are camped below the high water mark. At least tonight we are not on a solid rock base, more like a goose dropping site but it's dry, mostly flat, and not hummocky like many of our other sites and softer than the last site which we stayed at too long. The late evening was filled with the chorus of candle ice and the calling of three groups of loons. It is truly amazing how loud the loons are. 

We met the new day with a cool wind and overcast skies—the now usual weather. By the time we had packed up there was a little bit of candle ice flowing past our campsite and it was easy to paddle through it to open water. Our plan of waiting out the iced section had worked because our passage was clear. Northward we canoed around a northern tip of an island and we followed the northern side of the island, which was clear of ice. 

We rejoined our intended path between two large islands and again it was free of ice—even a little current. Once back on the lake our route southeast was chalked full of ice. As the wind had been northward for days we headed north across the lake to find a lee on the windward side. Twice we had to drag over or through ice but it was a minimum amount of work to get to open water. 

Lunch was along the shore between two sections of ice. There were many fish feeding along the ice edge catching bugs as the rock flies were hatching. 

Even at the river exist there was ice to the South as well as a little stream of ice flowing downstream. We were surprised at the quickness of the pace and current in the river section, as it only drops 3 metres. Much of the way there was small ice pieces moving along. Fast water or Class I rapids, but no larger rapids to worry about. It was approximately 5 miles of river to the next lake. 

Before we left the river we could see High Arctic Lodge—it's within a couple of kilometres from the mouth on the North side. We paused to say hello, and find out if they knew anything about the ice or weather situation/forecast. Dawn (Fred Hamilton's wife and business partner) gave us a very warm welcome, including tea and coffee and date slice. The pilots were out flying fishermen but Gibson a local of Cambridge Bay and longtime employee said there was much white ice on the lake (they call is Mackenzie Lake), as well as on Surrey Lake, but Little Surrey Lake (as they call the lower part of Surrey Lake) was better, as was Ferguson Lake, and that there would be a shore led to follow on Wellington Bay. We'll hope for the best. 

High Arctic Lodge image

We left with a gift of four cookies and four beers. At the lodge we had left our little bag of garbage. We decided to paddle onward to the first big point on the northern shore to camp for the night. Dawn had offered us dinner and the opportunity to stay but the fuel smell and noisy generator as well as the warmth of the lodge was more than we were interested in. The heat of the building was overpowering when we walked in to visit the lodge. Starting with first being cold in Cambridge Bay but now camping on the land, we are now well accustom to living on the land and find the heat of indoor accommodations overwhelming. 

We found it ice free across the bay leaving the lodge to the first large peninsula past the wide bay where we stopped for the night. Our camp is within sounding distance of the tinkling ice. It shoreline bank is awash with mountain avens. The water's edge is lined with dried up once floating flotsam, one would almost guess goose droppings. It's after 9 p.m. and the sun is out so I'm going to solar charge. 

A blue bird sky and the warmth of the sun greeted us. We both forgo our usual long underwear bottoms and headed out of the tent. Just before leaving camp we heard and saw two of the lodge’s three planes heading out for the day. 

Right from the start the shore ice lead was significant—well off shore. We followed the edge of mostly white ice. We continue to the point, bypassing ice on the shore side—we were bound by ice on both sides following a lead that led all the way to the point of land. From there we again stayed out from shore and jumped across the bay to the next series of shoreline points. All the way loons were calling and the land and water was abound with other birds and ducks. We passed a few old fuel drums and there was a cabin across the lake to the South. Our traveling was excellent, just a slight breeze but calm waters. When the air blew over the ice it was a very cool wind. Not cold, but chilly. 

Ice Wide Shoreline Lead image 

Again, we followed a lead away from shore where a small flock of moulting geese were leading the way. With ice on both sides we did a little zigzag and sound ourselves with open water all the way to the next point, just beyond the long mid lake island. Passing the island meant a warm wind off the land. We paused for lunch and we try fishing as we could see lake trout. This was our second attempt at fishing today. The fish were surfacing for bugs but not very interested in our bait. 

Onward we canoed in perfect conditions arriving at our planned campsite on the long point near the inland esker. This was one of the rare planned camping sites. Usually we discuss our planned daily distance and plan out our end destination area. But today we had hoped to camp here because of its proximity to the esker for hiking. To our surprise, it provided excellent tenting sites. We had great success fishing for fun—you could see the lake trout in the shallows. The solar charger was doing its thing. The slight cold breeze kept the bugs down. I washed some clothes. 

Drying Clothes image

In the later afternoon we set off hiking to the esker and came across an old military cache from the late 1970s. The aluminum box was in excellent condition but it had been opened and the contents were a mixed bag. It contained axe, tent, shovel, first aid, pots, stove, empty fuel containers, fishing pole, etc. Two of the lodge's planes flew over our camp as they returned back to their base. I found a little bone with holes in it on the esker. It reminds me of a spoon handle but in all likelihood it is most likely some sort of closure system or from a piece of clothing or pouch. We continued on our hike, following the esker and finding several tent rings and a gravesite. It was easy walking, with great views and no bugs due to the height exposure to the wind. 

We returned tired without walking the entire esker. I had a quick upper body scrub in the cold wind and now sunless sky. Dark clouds threaten a change in the weather conditions—we moved the Mantis shelter to a more sheltered position. We each enjoyed a beer that Dawn had given us at the lodge yesterday. While cooking and eating the rain started and is still carrying on. The temperature is still okay—cooled off but not freezing cold. 

It rained a bit over night and we were up to cool morning air and a partly overcast sky. The day was looking great for canoeing—a slight wind, some sun. We did a good job of finding the river exit, which was approximately a mile from our campsite. A little current confirmed we were on the right path. It seemed that in no time we were into what I'll call Upper Surrey Lake. There was a good-sized herd of muskoxen. From a distance I counted 13 including several calves. A couple of swans and a loon were around but not as many birds and ducks as past days. There were also some geese with goslings. 

Musk Ox image

Due to shallow water, almost no water, we had to canoe around outside of an island to round a peninsula. The map indicated passage but there was no water to be canoed. 

Just before lunch on an island between Upper and Surrey Lake we again saw the muskoxen. Lunch was on the upstream end of the island facing the wind. After eating I walked around. There were graves (bone with oblong holes in the pile of rocks) and caches. Possibly an old kayak stand. 

Once onto Surrey Lake we could see white ice off in the distance to the East in the middle of the lake. Our route was ice-free. We hopped across a couple of bays before making camp on a long thin point. On the hike I followed a couple of plovers. They sure can make much noise, gregariously chirping and leading me along. 

During the supper, a zillion little bugs gathered on the Mantis shelter and on our tent to the point of looking like a solid mass. They even covered the guidelines. Without wind the mosquitoes were also pesky in the Mantis. With getting water and getting rid of dish water, etc. at times I had to brush myself of the insects. There were so many that my hand was moist from brushing my arms, legs, and top. It was a quieter meal without the loon and swan sounds we have become accustom to. 

Bug Hatch on Mantis Shelter image

We woke to light winds and it was cool enough that the mosquitoes were light in force. After our usual routine we headed off south into a headwind. We could hear loons and swans. Much to our surprise after we passed the island we encountered ice. At first it was floating small pans that had been blown northward by the South wind. At the point we had to push through some ice that was shore bound. Again at the next point we had to push and pull past some ice but after that the end of the lake was ice-free. 

We stopped on a point that juts out and found tent rings and cashes. We found a piece of bone or antler that had three holes in it—one with a bone or antler plug. Continuing south into what the lodge people call Little Surrey Lake there was a little bit of current at the island fence. As we proceeded down the lake the wind died and the bugs became bothersome—the warmer temperature may have made them more active. We lunched facing north into a slight breeze. It was not our best lunch break although the island site provided the best open spot to take advantage of whatever wind there was. 

Right after eating we paddled to shore to hike to the near ridge. Two sandhill cranes did their usual behaviour of ducking their heads and hurrying along the tundra. At the top we found caches, etc. 

Back on the water we stopped at the next point that stuck out and found a great Inuit site with a children's home made wooden toy boat and several excellent caches. From there we started looking for a place to stop for the night. It was easy paddling without wind but we had our daily mileage in and the bugs were getting to us so we camped on a point, again tenting and cooking below the high water mark, which is now common and our method of finding better sites. I hiked, finding an excellent tent ring, the kind or style of two connected but divided tent rings. 

Mantis Shelter Provides Shade image

Rain overnight in the early morning but it never did get too cold. A hazy smoke hid the weather conditions of the day when we crawled out of the tent. It was cool enough in the wind to merit keeping our fleece sweaters on even after we packed up camp. Onward we paddled into the wind without bugs, which pleasant after head netting it yesterday afternoon. 

Right away we noticed excellent looking caches on the island to our left. Then in a bit, an old fuel drum appeared on the right. Downstream we paddled to the 50-metre contour line where we fished without a bite although there was current and an eddy. 

There was a slight current in the wider section. The hazy day made seeing distances a thing to desire or hope for. We made good time with the current despite the headwind and had over 5 miles in before noon. Lunch was at the top end of the larger island near the start of the river. It was in the lee, well protected from the wind. The mosquitoes were not too bad and the warmth of being out of the wind was welcomed. Before proceeding we put on our rain gear, for we were heading into the rapid descent of the river to the ocean—greater than a 4-metre drop per kilometre. 

Surrey River image

All the way to the 40-metre contour line we raced along with ease. There we scouted RR, deciding to run RL to the drop and then line and portage past the rapid (class V). Once there we were able to line all the way and did not have to portage. From there we scouted the next bend, a right hand turn. We saw a muskox skull and bones. We had to run that corner section RR so as we paddled downstream we moved ourselves to RR. It was big pushy water—some waves came over the bow. 

Surrey River Whitewater image

Ahead we could see the splash of whitewater but it was difficult to read as we drifted along at a rapid rate. We hugged the RR shoreline as I could see some slack water ahead near the drop. In the middle current a huge wave was breaking. To RR was a tall shoreline snowdrift. We paddled up to the slack water and jumped out—wading the canoe to the brink of the lip where we slid it over the half metre drop and into the pool below. We were lucky that there was enough room. More snowdrifts could make our manoeuvre impossible. The ledge did not go all the way across and the rapid could have been run, but the powerful and fast current would demand being on line (there was a clear tongue) and an upset could be life threatening. 

Next we grabbed the shoreline limestone type rock and secured the canoe. Upwards we hiked to view what was ahead, passing a hunting rock blind or tent ring like shelter. On RL a rough legged hawk caught our attention, further downstream on RR a peregrine falcon cried and soared. We took photographs although the haze meant no bright sun for sunlit landscapes. Snow, steep walled canyons, tundra flowers, and a racing current were the objects of our photos. 

Surrey River Canyon image

Back on the water we paddled slowly but sped along looking at the snow and canyon walls. To RL was a wide-open expanse that I suggested we investigate for camping. With effort we crossed the current and again grabbed onto shoreline rocks as we jumped out of the canoe. It was an excellent site, with Inuit tent rings higher up. For the first time in over two weeks, since starting our trip, we emptied the canoe and took it out of the water, in this case, out of the current. 

It was about 3:30 p.m., time to walk downstream to scout tomorrow's action, where the river narrows and turns right just downstream of the 20-metre contour line. All looks good as in runnable. Since lunch the wind died and we have been using our head nets when not paddling. Over supper in the Mantis shelter the bugs were okay but we were into the tent before 8 p.m. to write and read. We are both tried tonight, in part from the unknowns of the day, more so than the work we did. 

In fact, the rest of the trip is full of unknowns. At the start of the trip, the Banning River as we call it was an unknown—could it be canoed, would there be enough water? Then there were all the big lakes with late spring ice. Would it melt, would there be a shore lead, would the ice shift and pin us? But we had traversed the first big lake, then another, then West Lake (where the mining camp is located), then Mackenzie Lake, then Big Surrey, then Little Surrey, so we had figured out the ice. But now there is the Surrey River run out to the ocean, then Wellington Bay—the ocean, then up the Ekalluk River, then Ferguson Lake—a massive body of water, then overland, an unknown carry or portage, and then will there be enough water in August to follow it all the way to Cambridge Bay? Time will yield the answers. 

Dead still, only the ongoing sound of the fast flowing Surrey River current zipping past our tent. It had rain overnight, at one point rather hard. Thunder was heard on several occasions. It was not a cold night. Out of the tent similar to yesterday—smoke is in the air—visibility is hazy and there is a smoky smell in the air. A light drizzle fell on and off as we ate and packed up camp. 

We loaded the canoe and the current carried us away without effort. Around the point there was a gravel bar island. We skirted the waves and readied for the tight right turn we had scouted on foot last night. It was easy to gradually move the canoe right to end up on the inside of the corner—pushy and fast current but within our limits of control. A large boulder with a nest on top caught our eye and we eddied out. Most likely a sea gull nest. There we filled two 20 L dry bags with fresh water—our lunch bag and the Mantis bag. Unlike last year, we filled before the water became brackish. We spotted a peregrine falcon on RR. 


Part III, At Sea Level, Across Wellington Bay

Fish and Onions image

We fished a couple of points and landed a perfect sized Arctic Char for our supper. At the long point there was a cache and gravesite. This was also the point where we could do an overland portage to bypass the paddling around the point. The shoreline bank was still high enough that we did not investigate the portage option. Near the last island we spotted something on shore and standing to identify an old upside down chair we noticed that there were cabins just downstream. 

With our rain gear buttoned up to our chins we pulled ashore to visit Jack and the younger guys Brent and Nathan—commercial fishing for Arctic Char and staying for a couple of weeks at the cabins. Jack's cabin was build by his parents in the 1950s and hulled by a bombardier to this location. Two of the new white tent, walled canvas style cabins, were recently build. 

We enjoyed tea and coffee. It was cozy inside, albeit too hot for us. They were well equipped with a Satellite phone to call for plane pickups of their catch—something like 13 bins per flight and hundreds of pounds. Once done here they were off to another river to fill another fishing quota. And of course, back again in the fall for the fall fishing season. I suspect the fall season is not that far off as it’s already nearing the end of July and this is the spring catch. 

The ice flows had slowed their spring season, as did a lost boat that blew away during the winter only to be found on another point further out in the bay or down the coast. They were cutting and packing the fish in ice or snow from upriver. They also had two ATVs, which they used to quad all the way to the Ekalluk River to get another boat that had a motor. They had two of the aluminum boats we saw in Cambridge Bay and found out they were made in the 1960s in the hamlet. Each boat has its family name bead welded into the boat’s hull. In all, 28 boats were built and something like 18 remain. 

Jack likes to laugh a lot and was always awing with what we had to say and repeating what he found admiring. Brent offered us valuable information about our intended route such as Wellington Bay’s shoreline will be muddy like quicksand, the ice is around but you should be able to make it, there are creeks for fresh water, etc. They also offered us an Arctic Char, which we took, food including caribou, which we declined, and a chance to charge anything with their generator, also declined. But we could use a sunny day to charge camera batteries. Had we known charging was possible when we first arrived I would have taken them up on the kind offer but delaying our stay to charge was not appealing. There was also some talk of seal meat but after giving it a kick they thought it was at the dog food stage—it was floating in the ocean nearby at shore. 

Arctic Char Drying image

They of course took photographs with and showed us pictures on their cell phones. A caribou and two wolfs had been near their camp. A seal in the water poked its head up while we were visiting. Shortly after leaving their camp we stopped for lunch on a point. The mosquitoes were out and the wind was none so we ate standing, not delaying or hanging around. 

The afternoon was spent dogging and manoeuvring around sea ice. At times we were too close to shore or it was too shallow. The muddy ocean bottom was tough to deal with so we tried to stay out in deep water. It was slow going, looking for, and following leads, often zigzagging. It was common to have to get out onto ice flows and pull and push the canoe forward. Dragging across ice where no lead existed. We backtracked after we canoed into a shallow situation. With all the fog and smoke we never knew where we were and occasionally we could not see land. Not being able to see land created an uncomfortable feeling. 

At 4 p.m. I spotted an opening heading inland and turned towards it. We found ourselves canoeing up a small creek or river. The thought of not dragging the canoe through the shallows to shore to camp was oh so very appealing. It took us a minute to test several possible take-outs before we decided on a sandy area—most of what we tried to get out on was extremely muddy and didn’t offer any support, as Brent had forewarned up—quicksand. 

Once ashore we took out our GPS and with a map in hand we were very surprised to find we were further along the coast than expected. So it was decided that we would camp. We are at sea level! A mapping GPS would be most helpful with fog and paddling out away from land to avoid ice. We had no such device. On the beach there are wolf tracks and I found an old buried leg trap. We hiked up the river and it is a nice little flowing waterway. 

Mantis Shelter Camp on the Coastline image

At camp, we placed a rock to mark the tide. For supper we ate the fish that we caught. It was excellent. The fog comes and goes. We can see our breath during supper but it is not that cold. In the morning we heard sandhill cranes, and saw swans, loons, and ducks and geese. We briefly chatted about what makes a good Far North paddler and we said someone with a high tolerance for discomfort. Wow, what a great day.

We were up during the night to check on the boat, as we are not that familiar with camping in a tidal zone. Also, we are camped on a very low sloping shoreline that gives us the feeling that it floods at times. All was well. It was not overly cool being on the ocean, no cooler than past days. We think most of the smoke is gone but the sky is overcast and there is some fog around. 

Reduced Visibility image

We left our ideal campsite, canoeing out with the little river flow onto the vast Wellington Bay and turned eastward. For 35 minutes we followed open water with little ice around. Then we started to encounter numerous ice pans and the manoeuvring began. For hours we zigzagged around ice, always looking for the most open lead to follow. Near noon we were a long way from shore and the fog cut off our visual of the near shore highlands. Without any visual aid and no electronic device such as a mapping GPS, we were paddling blind. As we continued the ice pans become more solid and the spaces between them had underwater ice connecting them. Our pace slowed as we found it more and more difficult to find open leads to follow. We stopped and used binoculars but it was difficult to tell what we were looking at with the low light conditions with overcast skies and fog, and without many height advantage. 

Ocean Navigation and Ice image


Reduced Visibility Ocean Ice image 

Our decision was to have lunch on an ice pan. It was cold on my feet as my right boot is leaking freely. After lunch and checking our position by GPS and map we decided to head for shore. We thought it would be a lot of work but by back tracking and following leads we were able to paddle all the way to the shoreline lead without having to drag across ice pans. There we continued to follow the shoreline lead until 3 p.m. when we paused on the beach for a break. Of course, whenever we get out of the canoe we find the likes of tent rings and caches. With another GPS fix on the map we planned to paddle onward and see if we could position ourselves close to the Ekalluk River, which we assume will be a long portage up river to Ferguson Lake. 

Garbage on the Ocean Beach image

Into the wind we canoed for a couple of hours before landing at the island just north of the Ekalluk River. In the distance we can see cabins. Wishing to camp in the wilderness and not wanting to interact with people this late in the day we camped. It was a suitable place to camp so we quickly made camp. With the little sunshine though the clouds I linked my two solar panels together and charged a camera battery. 

For supper we again had Arctic Char, the one Brent, Nathan, and Jack gave us. It was a large amount to eat but we finally finished it all, without any ability to eat dessert. The temperature has been falling and we can now see our breath. We both walked about a bit. Lots of shoreline garage intermixed with Inuit stone structures. 

Earlier today we did see about half a dozen seals. One was quite curious and it followed us for a long ways, making noise every once in a while. Today was one of our longer days, if not our longest or at least our latest time into camp. We are very pleased to be almost done with Wellington Bay and all the worries that come with ocean travel in a canoe. We still have lots of fresh water on hand in our two dry bags from the Surrey River. Camped again at sea level.

It turned out to be not as cold last night as expected. We both thought is was really cooling off when we turned in for the night but we both woke up warm during the night warm. 


Part IV, Gaining Ground, Up the Ekalluk River

We were in no rush this morning—bound for the Ekalluk River and all its unknowns. We paused to walk about the cabins on the river mouth island. Some of the cabins were old cabins built in the 1950s and moved over the winter ice, others were newer, but all were in rough shape. 

Then we did some strong upstream paddling followed by some tracking RL until we again stopped for a walkabout at a newer nice cabin. No was around. Several muskoxen skull piles. A Canadian flag was flying. ATV tracks from Cambridge Bay. Back on the water we did a front ferry across the river to RR where we checked out the fly fishing Arctic Char lodge that Johnny's brother Bill Lyall owes. It was in very good shape. It is open for 2 weeks in the fall. 

Then our long trek tracking upstream started. We pulled and waded up the inside of the turn. My right boot is leaking so I had wet feet from here on in today. The current was almost too strong in places but we pulled hard and managed. The shoreline was ideal of tracking. Parts of the river were gravel bar and those sections made for more walking in water—where your pants get splashed and wet above your knees. 

Lunch was by the V on the map in the word River, on RR. We were both warm from tracking but the cold wind had kept us about right for temperature. During lunch the wind died and the mosquitoes appeared. Without working we became chilled and had to get moving again.

We scouted the potential portage and it looked long and arduous. I was favouring to continue tracking and we agreed to give it a try. We were at the steepest gradient but managed to track upstream pretty well. There was a little shoreline ice and snow but again we managed to get past it. Unfortunately, there was a fair bit of loose rock to walk on that did not provide the best footing for tracking. Then came a steeper bank and again footing was poor. Once past this spot all things improved—better footing, better shoreline, less gradient. We took several rest breaks to drink water, look ahead, and give our hands a break from pulling rope. Near the top we paddled across and upstream and then returned to tracking up the last rapid this time on RL. Hip, hip, hooray, we made it!

Upstream Travel image


Part V, Ferguson Lake (now Tahiryuaq Lake)

When we started out today we had hoped to make it all the way to Ferguson Lake but we knew nothing about the Ekalluk River. Now it was dead calm as we guided the canoe towards the big lake. We collected a 20 L dry bag full of candled ice to cool the chocolate pudding I hoped to make for dessert. 

At the first point there were several cabins and we believe this is one of the commercial Arctic Char fishing places. Next was, to our surprise, while still in the narrows, lake ice. From then to the end of the day we encounter several places where the ice forced us to drag our canoe over ice along the shoreline, wade and break and push ice, to paddle and break and push ice to make clear passages for our canoe. It was an eerie paddle with the calmness of the lake, the darker daylight, the overcast skies, and bits of floating ice as well as a massive ice structure filling the lake. Even the ice fog added to the feeling. 

All along the southern shoreline there appears to be old Inuit stone structures. Near camp we visited several excellent fox traps and caches. So far on this trip there has been little in the way of Inukshuit but otherwise lots of Inuit stone structures. 

We camped at the foot of a tall hill, many contours compared to what we have witnessed this trip so far. Even though we were chilled in the Mantis shelter after supper we are now both toasted and warm in the tent. Still unknowns await us. We heard swans and loons, as well as geese and ducks. 

We are switching to 1:75 000 topographical maps for the big lake. Of concern is the provisional nature of the Ferguson Lake topographical map (dated 1955). It is difficult to see and distinguish features. There is no water shading so the bodies of water are similar to heights of land. Contours and shorelines look the same. 

After a light rain last night, it was another cool overcast morning but not overly cold. After breakfast we started canoeing eastward along the shoreline, keeping land in sight with ice fog and ice to our left. For most of the morning our visibility was limited, we assume due to the ice and its microclimate including fog. We hugged the shoreline paddling in the narrow shoreline lead and wading, pulling, pushing where ice was bound to the shore. In that sense, it was long day of continual work at getting past ice. 

Of course, we stopped for lunch. Twice we took GPS positions so that we knew where we were. We paddled in and out of every little shoreline feature seldom having more than a hundred feet of lee (ice free) or having more than a couple hundred yards of visibility. Our route of tracing the shoreline added distance paddled but not distance achieved. 

Ice Lead image

Throughout the day there were Inuit stone structures abound. The geese, finning fish, and a pair of swans provided a little interest. In the early day it drizzled but we did not don on our rain gear. When we were working around ice we were in general warm, paddling was also warm enough, but standing around was cool. At one point the sun shone through the cloud cover and we could feel the heat but it was short lived—a matter of minutes. 

At the end of the day we encountered more ice than water. Our pace slowed to 1 mile an hour. Today we paddled 10 miles to make 6 miles down the lake. Are we keen to turn around and return to the river exit and use our spot locator to send a "help" message for Fred to pick us up instead of working long and hard for something like 5 days, dealing with ice at every turn, so to speak? We have 30 miles more to go on this lake before portaging the height of land and heading south to Cambridge Bay. We'll decide in the morning tomorrow. It is good to options. Up until now, we had never really given much thought to this lake. We’ve been on the water between 2 and 3 weeks. It’s almost August now. I guess we assumed that by August there would not be a solidly frozen lake blocking our route. This was one of the unknowns that wasn’t on our radar. 

I think today was day five without sun.

It was a colder night. We both slept well after a tough day of dealing with ice. It also rained overnight. The coldness of the night was with us during breakfast. It was then that we made the decision to return from where we came, back to the Ekalluk River outlet at the West end of Ferguson Lake. The reality is that Ferguson Lake is still iced and the shore lead is non-existent in places such as near our camp. We are willing to deal with the situation but more than willing to back track and fly over the frozen waters. So before returning hence we came, we hiked to a ridge to the East and marked our most easterly point. The trek warmed us. 

It was very slow going all morning, moving less than a mile per hour. We lunched at 1:30 p.m. once we reached more open lead than shore bound ice. Surprising, the rest of the afternoon went quickly and in general we paddled much more than we dealt with ice. In the large bay we followed a lead until it ended and then dragged the canoe walking over the ice towards the far shore and its shoreline lead. This was the most we walked on ice so far out from shore. That event was possible as the visibility had opened at lunch and we could see some distance. 

We camped because we had reached the long peninsula. It was early but it looked like a fine camping place. The wind was up from the South so we hoped the ice would move out while we waited. We had put in a good day, a lot of work in the morning and we're in a good position to make the West end of the lake tomorrow. And there were hiking opportunities.

With the thinning of the clouds, the thinnest in days, I set up solar charger and in 4 hours added a 20% charge, a slow charge. We set up and dried the Mantis shelter, Tent, Mantis dry bag, lunch dry bag, pulled the canoe from the water and let is drain and dry out a bit. There is one small hole in front of the stern seat right in the middle of the keel line. This may be because of the cable tie we use to secure the keel to the rib. Or it could be from leaving the canoe in the water overnight and it bouncing in the waves on a rock. 

We hiked the peninsula and hiked the hill towards the South. 

We plan to return to the West end of Ferguson Lake were we know the plane lands to fly out Arctic Char. There we will activate our Spot Locator's Help message to call for a plane pick up. If that all works out we may consider getting dropped off still upstream of Cambridge Bay to finish off the trip. We'll see how it all works out. 

It rained overnight and was drizzling when we enjoyed a slow cook breakfast of eggs, hash brown potatoes, and bacon complete with two rounds of coffee and tea. 

Unfortunately, the ice that moved on last night was back, blocking our route this morning. Even though we were in no hurry by the time we packed up during a non-raining period and were ready to depart we had to portage past ice to start on water. From there we followed a lead outward and towards the peninsula. There we opted to portage overland instead of canoe around the point for two reasons. First portage sounded like a good way to warm up. Secondly, we knew there would be ice issues going around the point. 

We had open water inside the islands for a bit. This is where it rained pretty hard on us. Then we were back following the shoreline lead. At one point we were forced ashore due to white ice pushed up on shore and continuous large pans of ice reaching outward that were not solid enough to walk on. Again we portaged, this time longer. To our surprise, by double packing we only did three trips each. It was almost 1 p.m. and there was no rain so we quickly ate lunch—our most hurried lunch of the trip.

Portage Past Ice image

The rest of the afternoon went well. We took the inside passage of the triangle island to avoid lake ice. From there to the fish camp there was ice in a couple of spots but we were able to follow leads and push or pull or break through ice without having to wade or portage. At one point, while standing, I pushed downward on some ice as a good means to loosen sections off a main pan but my paddle broke through and I almost fell out of the boat. Good thing we mostly stayed close to shore as my paddle hit bottom providing me support to stay in the canoe. 

By 3 p.m. we were at the fish camp—not a happy place to camp but a known floatplane access point for the commercial Arctic Char fishing industry. The ground is soggy and of course there is a fair bit of trash abound. 

We put up the Mantis shelter and settled in for a hot drink. Then we activated the Spot Locator—OK followed by thee Help messages—our prearranged code for we are OK but need a floatplane pickup. Hopefully our contact person will call High Arctic Lodge/ DAL Aviation to arrange for a floatplane pickup. Afterwards we packed up the Pakcanoe incase we get an early pick up. 

The cold, overcast, foggy weather continues. This morning and evening you can see your breath. Today was the wettest and maybe the coldest. My little thermometer indicated 5 degree Celsius. 

It rained hard and it rained more than once last night. The ground was wet and with puddles this morning. A strong cold north wind was blowing and chilling our camp. To our surprise, even with the Mantis shelter lowered there was a bent tarp pole this morning. Sure it was blowing but not really that strong for the Arctic. 

We decided on a slow cook breakfast, similar to yesterday. It was a welcome break from cold granola or hot oatmeal. Two rounds of hot drinks helped us gain and retain heat. Back in the tent. After reading I laid down for a nap and almost immediately heard a plane. I sat up and the sound was gone. I lay down and there it was. In no time the High Arctic Beaver buzzed us, really low, only a few feet off the deck, and landed. Pilot Dave said hello and said he was sent to check on us—he was en route to Cambridge Bay with a load and would return in 90 minutes to move us eastward. 

We packed up and were ready when he arrived. All abroad and 28 minutes later we were back on the ground. Ferguson Lake was very solid with ice—very little shore lead, although the North wind was pushing ice to the South shore as we flew past. The part we had paddled was the most open and in general, it looked worse as we progressed eastward. Near the far eastern end it looked better than the middle section. It would have been a long walk dragging the canoe over ice to achieve our exit point from Ferguson Lake. 

Flying over Frozen Lake image


Part VI, Bound for Cambridge Bay, Canoeing Downhill and Into the Hamlet

Tonight we are camped on the downside of the portage from Ferguson Lake towards  Cambridge Bay. The camping is poor but it was easier not to assemble the canoe and paddle to find a site. We simply camped where the pilot put us ashore. Tomorrow is the first day of August! Our plan is to hike—towards Ferguson Lake and towards Lady Pelly. 

Hiking day. We woke to a windy cold day. A strong north wind was cold enough but the massive, still frozen, Ferguson Lake provided a free chilling effect. Two cups of tea readied me for my long trek to Lady Mount Pelly, some 6 miles off in the distance. It would be a 20 kilometre return trek. Eventually, I started walking quickly, wearing long underwear, wind pants, and over pants. On my upper body were four layers. After a couple of hours I removed the over pants. Thirty minutes later I shedded the hooded shell jacket. 

I moved at a brisk pace with a destination in mind. Surprising there was little en route that caught my attention or caused me to wander off course, only the odd bone. On one of the ridges there were tent rings, etc. before I was making the accent to the mountain top. I took photos and then ate lunch out of the wind on the backside of the hill with Ferguson Lake for my view. I said goodbye to Ferguson Lake. 

The return trip started off into a frenzy of a wind, howling and frigid. It was all I could do to stay moving, hands tucked in, head tiled, focused on moving forward and downward. Dark clouds were rolling in fast, bringing rain. Only a few raindrops fell on me. It took a long time but finally I was descending and there was hope that I would loose some of the wind as I neared lower ground. 

In general the tundra was rocky or wet. The ground and ponds were all leaking moisture. Was this because of the late spring or was it due to the greater than normal amount of rain? I do not know.

From camp, walking in the opposite direction, northwards, to the esker near Ferguson Lake there was some interesting Inuit stone structures and signs of a past life on the land including human skulls and a line or fence of caribou bones. 

Wow, it was bright on one end of the tent—there is sunshine today. Sure, the wind was cool but it was warm enough for the odd mosquito—only the odd one. 

We assembled the Pakboat canoe and we were canoeing, bound for Cambridge Bay but certainly in no hurry. After two days at one site and much hiking we were in no rush, shaking off a slower camp pace, and getting reacquainted to the canoe movement. The sunny day helped. Before leaving camp I solar charged a couple of batteries. 

The lake we were on was actually connected to the next lake by short stream (class I rapid). From there we were into another good-sized lake. Into a headwind we continued. We had been warm from packing up but now on the water we both found it chilly. We stopped to view our route from a high point, saw an Inuit stone tent ring and cache with empty cans and a red plastic gas container. There we don on warmer clothes—a fleece each. 

Lining Connecting Ponds image 

Around the point we stopped for lunch, were the first of several connecting channels and rapids lay ahead. On rocks we ate and looked at our route ahead. With luck, there would be no portaging, maybe some lining or wading. There are definite waterways connecting the lakes, albeit shallow watercourses. 

After lunch we ventured onward. Most of the rapids were shallow and the canoe bottomed out in places. We ran the first rapid into the next lake. Two sandhill cranes were nearby. Loons were calling out. The next CI also went well. From the roundish lake with the island the rapid was longer and banked on the North side with exposed limestone like rock. The exit channel from the cigar shaped lake was again even longer and of steeper gradient. It started well but as we progressed we bottomed out and started to line down the river left side. At the end, it fanned out into the lake. 

There we scouted for a campsite and ended up on the island in or at the bottom of the rapid. Getting to shore was okay with our canoe footwear. Are the mosquitoes lessening as the summer progresses? I do not know but tonight they seem a little slow and are few in numbers. 

The day began with a slow pitter-patter. It was raining out. By later afternoon the rain had stopped and the clouds were higher and distinct, not blended and overcast. We were up and out to hike Baby Mount Pelly. The air was warmer. The burst of sunshine was welcome heat. As we attained the summit sandhill cranes called and a peregrine falcon flew, soared, and cried out—we thought perhaps it was protecting young on a nest. 

The view was excellent; the air rushed past us and cooled us to the point that we did not pause long. We kept moving albeit at a slow pace, checking out all the views and points and peaks before returning to camp. We noticed the ATV track up on the mountain and down below heading off to Mount Pelly and the road to Cambridge Bay. 

Hike ATV Tracks image

The land appears to be awaking. Melt water is abound on the land as we hiked. Whereas the flowers have blossomed and moved on to seed. The sun is noticeably lower in the late evening sky. I wonder if the mosquitoes have run their course for the season. Even in the warmer evening they are less in numbers. But it's not really that warm out. 

I was warm and cozy. The tent was shaking and the temperature felt cold—as gauged by my exposed nose. Nevertheless I was out to face the day. We had a plan to make the short paddle to Mount Pelly for a hike. You could see your breath. We left our little island campsite in good time for two people in no rush. 

Into the headwind and across the first lake we headed. The short river section was just deep enough to run a loaded tandem canoe down. Tent rings were around. The next river section started deep enough but fanned out at the end and we lined RL at the bottom. On the lake, leading to Mount Pelly, we stayed around the West shore in the lee. Before camping at the mountain base we walked about three of the cabins, all in pretty good shape and less than the normal amount of trash laying about. 

Because a light rain had fallen on us this morning and it was still windy, we put up the Mantis shelter for lunch and enjoyed a hot drink. After a short nap under its shelter we headed off hiking. On the way up the sky and clouds were threatening rain but little fell on us. The sky sure looked ominous and I was surprised that it hardly rained on us. In the distance all the sky was dumping water and moving towards us, surrounding us but not raining on us. It may have been climbing Mount Pelly that kept us dry. 

We discovered that Mount Pelly is a Nunavut Park complete with outhouses, signage, picnic tables, and so on. It felt weird, very weird, and we found ourselves out of place. In fact, we had a difficult time following the trail and preferred to find our own way up. After summiting, on the way down we met Tom, a Nova Scotian working for a local plumber and electrical outfit. He was pushing his bike and placing a rock in memory Devin, a Devin Rock. Further down we saw a gathering a people but none of them approached us or spoke to us. 

Back at camp we put up the tent just before dark clouds blew a wet mist on our camp. We were lucky to be out of the weather. I walked to scout the river section ahead and it all looks deep and with more current than rapids. This section flowing into Greiner Lake is more river than like the short connecting creeks of the last several days. 

Camp, Tent and Rainbow image

This is it; we are closing in on the end of our trip. We were up earlier and the wind was already forceful and from ahead. With effort we paddled towards the river where its current and sheltered banks helped us make progress. It was surprisingly powerful and deep, the river is, compared to all the upper sections we had canoed. Several cabins were passed. Obviously the river is too high and deep for the ATV trail to cross at this level. This limits the ATV traffic to Lady Mount Pelly and the eastern end of Ferguson Lake. 

Once down to the lake, Greiner Lake, we paused to assess the wind and waves. To avoid the direct force we canoed southward around the islands and then made a shorter crossing to a peninsula. From there, rounding the point we noticed that the wind and wave forces had lessened. Onward we paddled, pulling hard into the wind and waves but shipping less water and cresting less breaking waves. In the stern I felt like I was riding in the back of a school bus, bouncing up and down but the waves were small compared to what we have paddled through in the past. For this trip, as we have experienced very little wave paddling, it’s a reminder of what Far North on the water conditions are often like. 

After some time we paused on the leeward side of an island to stretch and walk about to warm our feet. There we also had lunch, with some warmth now and then in the sun. Our walkabout included tent rings and a sled (komatik). 

Back on the water we were no longer canoeing directly into the wind and waves. Progress was slow but steady all day. By mid afternoon we were scouting for possible campsites and settled on an okay site as the terrain around all appeared to be more rock than not. After making camp we hiked to view the upcoming river section, tomorrow's river run. It all looks good. We passed tent rings, trap, skulls, and so on. Even an ATV trail. 

Back to camp it is, of course, about 5 degrees Celsius. Oh, living bug-free on the land. Just the way we like it. The small waves are lapping at the shoreline, something to sleep by. Loons and sandhill cranes called out now and then. Sparrows dance around on the ground and occasionally threaten to fly into our Mantis shelter. Just before retiring for the night, two loons got aggressive and put on quite a display for us. We reminisce about the trip, the unique route of river, big lakes, ocean, upstream, and overland, finding our way to Cambridge Bay via the back door. The lack of bugs, the cold weather, all the calm water paddling we did due to ice conditions, the lack of sun, the abundance of flowers that have now past, the no rush morning routine that usually does not happen on trips, the lack of portaging (only carrying twice passed lake ice), and the well prepared gear and food, complete with a good safety net of reserves. All and all, all good, but never perfect. Booking flights at the last minute was one of the reasons we ended up having to quickly change our plans and drive to Edmonton. 

The wind was strong and when we welcomed the day—it felt forceful. We left camp and headed downriver, the Freshwater Creek. The wind was mostly a crosswind. The current propelled us but steering was more than difficult. We stopped to scout twice. Scouting was also a good opportunity to stretch and warm our bodies. The river rapids were all easy in turns of rapid classification. Only the wind presented a challenge. 

Scouting the River into Town image

We canoed under the bridge and out on to the ocean bay where Cambridge Bay resides. Crosswinds are what they are. We both paddled hard as we passed the floatplane base and followed the community shoreline. Our canoe trip came to an end. Sea level, again. 

Canoeing into Cambridge Bay image

We unloaded. Our outfit was put out to dry.  Next was a walk to the visitor centre for showers ($5). Then we walked around town, visiting with the Arctic Char fishing guys (Federal research scientists) who were preparing to take the research ship to Wellington Bay, which cleared of its ice a couple of days ago. We also visited with Jesse and Sam Osborn, a keen and interesting new couple that was heading out by sails eastward. Another sailboat is waiting on a wind shift before heading westward. All three vessels overwintered here. The ocean opened up within the last couple of days across to the mainland but there is still much ice to the East.

#208 Empiricus (15 2 m ketch), United States, Jesse Osborn, direction East route #6

#209 Gitana (13 4 m schooner), United States, Michael Johnson, direction West route #6

Both wintered in Cambridge Bay

NW Passage Sail image

In town, we found and were impressed with the hardware supply store. We found the muskoxen and Arctic char processing building but it was locked up for the night—no luck for us to buy its products. We feasted on curry Arctic char with rice. 

From CBC Radio the low was 3 degrees C. High today is 6 degrees C. We headed to the Kitikmeot Heritage Society (in the high school/ joint library and heritage society) but were side tracked by an Austrian looking for Kitikmeot Foods so we walked him there and purchased Arctic Char Jerky. Once back on track we sent email via the Wi-Fi access at the Kitikmeot Heritage Society and found out that the unusual caribou antler we saw is a hook like device made from shaped caribou, used on the ice. According to D. Jenness’ Report of the Canadian Arctic Expedition, 1913-18, Volume XVI, Southern Party 1913-18 on the Copper Eskimo, it is called a mattock, pick, or tallulit, is “a tool for making a tallu or hunting pit” p. 105. Paraphrasing, from pages 104 and 105, the typical mattock of the Copper Eskimo was a caribou antler with a sharpened point and a butt crudely shaped to give a grip. Some were fairly straight but a curving prong in which the point formed nearly an acute angle with the handle made a more efficient tool (curved pick of antler). 

While walking back, Cory Dimitruk stopped me and we chatted about canoeing. We walked to his office and chatted some more before I left him to work. 

For supper we headed out to dine at a home where Indian takeout is available and dine in supper is available upon request. Salma and Moustafa stood and watched and chatted while we enjoyed our meal that Salma had prepared. We had shrimp and chicken Korma with rice and potato pie/cake and shrimp rolls. Indian tea followed. Her husband Moustafa is a civil engineer who works in the hamlet. Then we had a long walkabout, first an inside circle, then a perimeter route around the community. There were several other walkers about including some people walking dogs. A light drizzle fell but the wind was down and the evening light was nice. We are not used to all this interaction with other people. 

NW Passage Ocean Rower image

On the beach there was an ocean rowing rig that we assumed belonged to Brent, as we understand that he bought the rig that Frank Wolf and others used and left in Cambridge Bay last year when they ended their trip due to ice conditions. At some point, Bram Sikma stopped while driving by to investigate the rowing vessel and we got to visiting. He is the president of the local paddling club, Ikaluktutiak Paddling Association. Bram said he would return to shuttle us to the airport. 

Cambridge Bay Paddling Club, Ikaluktutiak Paddling Association image

While we were loading, Charles Hedrich, the rower, and his wife Patricia who was the support team were at the rig so we visited and learnt about his travels. For 10 years he has been ocean rowing including from France (his home) to North America and back to France. After crossing the Bering Sea last year, he is now traveling from Nome Alaska to Pond Inlet. This rig he purchased used. 

Rowing Ice (7 m rowing boat), France, Charles Hedrich, East.

Wintered at Tuktoyaktuk and Taloyoak

Off to the airport for our flight to Yellowknife and then Edmonton. We had a wonderful talk with an Italian woman Matilde Tomaselli who is completing her masters at the University of Calgary working under Dr. Susan Kutz, the slug and leach researcher studying diseased muskoxen via their excrement. 

The flight went well, direct to Yellowknife. After our stopover and clearing security we were back in the air to Edmonton. It took a long time for our baggage to arrived but in time it all arrived. The trip driving distance from Manitoba to Edmonton return was approx. 3000 km. 

The End.