Nanook and Kuujjua Rivers

CanadaNorthwest TerritoriesArctic
CanadaNunavutHigh Arctic
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Brian Johnston
Trip Date : 
July 2013
Additional Route Information
600 km
30 days
Loop Trip: 
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 


18 pt
18 pt


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First Air Commercial flights to Cambridge Bay
Float plane charter by DAL Aviation.

Technical Guide: 

First Air Commercial flights to Cambridge Bay

Float plane charter by DAL Aviation.

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

Nanook and Kuujjua Rivers, Victoria Island

A doubleheader, two rivers for almost the same cost as one. That was the canoe trip plan for 2013. 


Route overview image

I would have never imagined a canoe trip on Victoria Island, north of 71 degrees north latitude, more than ten degrees north of the “North of 60” expression. North of the tree line, all the way to the Arctic Ocean, the land of ice. We are headed to the Arctic Archipelago!


Overview map image

This summer’s trip report is split into three sections.

The Nanook River

The Kuujjua River

The Ocean Canoeing

Section I, The Nanook River

Early July

It was a hot day. There was little demanding trip work to be done because we had previously met in mid-June to organize and pack a shipment of food and gear, which I had dropped off at First Air Cargo a week earlier. 

We visited, enjoyed a beer, and chit chatted about the odd trip item. Recently I had read Ed Struzik's account of a Nanook River trip in the Ten Rivers: Adventure Stories from the Arctic book so that provided much discussion. 

A bit of time was spent finalizing our packing. We packed the small pile of cheese and sausage and shifted some items to our daypacks (carry-on) to ensure our checked baggage was less than 50 pounds. 

We were at the airport in good time but it seemed to take a while to get through everything. All of our baggage was not weighed and went through oversized. We forgot our travel lunch in the fridge so we purchased sandwiches and eat while waiting at the gate. I think our flight was late leaving. 

In Edmonton we caught a hotel shuttle to the Executive Royal Inn (Hotel). We walked to the liquor store for a couple of beers, and then to a fusion restaurant for Chinese food, returning in good time to enjoy our beer before getting some sleep.

5 July

Friday. Up at 5 a.m. Once again at the airport check-in we had to move our luggage to oversized baggage. This time it was weighed before moving so we know the weights—46 and 40 pounds. 

The Edmonton security staff were friendly, something we did not find leaving Winnipeg. 

We love travelling with First Air. En route we eagerly ate up the hot breakfast and enjoyed the tasty tea and fine coffee. The flight was operated in conjunction with North Air (out of the Yukon) so we read the Yukon, not the ordinary First Air in-flight Above & Beyond, magazine, which featured an article about Trevor Braun's canoe business. 

Waiting in Yellowknife we chatted with a guy we saw in Edmonton checking-in a paddle, which they did not charge him extra for. He was bound for a Black Feather Nahanni River trip. We also meet a paddler who was en route to the Thomsen River on Banks Island—eight people, two hard shells canoes and two Pakcanoes. There were other paddlers in the airport, with SealLine duffels, pelican cases, and barrels. 

Surprisingly, we almost missed our flight. Unbeknown to us, there are other gates. We were waiting at the usual gates 1, 2, & 3 when we heard the last call. Upon approaching the First Air booth at the gate we were at, she said the flight was leaving from gate 5! So we hurried along and were met at the far end of the building by First Air staff calling my middle, then first name. While rushing there, we heard my name paged over the loud speaker. The welcoming staff checked our boarding passes and then escorted us to the tail stairs of the ATR.  

We made up one-third of the flight passengers. There were six of us on the flight.

On board we again enjoyed food, a light snack, and read the in-flight magazine. Above & Beyond included a story by David Pelly on Dundas Harbour. I also got an idea from a book review called T is for Territories. I will try to write a Trip Alphabet. 

Right now, on Day 2 we have E is for Egg sandwiches left in the fridge and A is for Almost missing our connecting flight in Yellowknife!

We deplaned in Coppermine or Kugluktuk for the plane to unload its cargo load and refuel. The airport is small. Inflight views included the lower Coppermine River. 

Once back in the air we had an incredible view of the ocean ice in a state of breakup. The pattern was easy on the eyes. I could watch endlessly. It was similar to watching a fire burn. The white and dark pattern was spellbinding. 

Victoria Island came into view with mostly open water lakes, some ice, and the odd snowdrift bank. On the ground we waited for the First Air staff to attend to the flights before anyone was at the air cargo building. Our 4 boxes of gear were there. After a short wait to find and print the paper work we arranged to join a delivery to town. Riding in the back of a full half-ton with a fair sized group of mosquitoes we had a good view of the gravel road. 

Interesting, we were told in Holman at the end of our trip that there are no black flies on Victoria Island. 

We checked our gear, reorganized a few things, secured the camp-stove fuel that had been left for us, called Fred Hamilton our air charter, who was en route from Yellowknife (several days late as he said he would be in town between July 1 and 4), walked around to the Northern Store, Co-op store, post office, and high school library. Luckily for us the vice principal opened it for us to visit. It houses museum like displays. 

Sat July 6th

Read another David Pelly article in Above & Beyond—Bound for the Barrens, about the journal of Ernest Oberholtzer and Billy Magee (1912). 

Fred Hamilton and Jonny Lyall dropped in. Good thing we called Jonny yesterday as Fred dropped his laptop and lost all of his information so he did not know who we were or where we were going! Oh the perils of technology. Jonny is Hamilton’s local expediter. 

He mentioned Shawn Hodgins’ Wanapitei canoe group and the Adlair’s twin otter on wheels lack of a pilot certified for off strip landings. Thus they are planning to canoe a different more local river that Hamilton can shuttle them to cheaper than the Nanook. His Beaver is 2/3 the cost of the Twin Otter but only half the load. 

We are scheduled for a departure tomorrow morning in the Cessna 206, which is due to arrive tonight. Fred accidentally flew into town with the Cessna keys in the Beaver so the other plane (Cessna) is delayed. 

We walked around town to find a place to mail our postcards home. The visitor centre and everything else was closed (except for the Northern and Co-op stores). We settled on the hotel front desk to mail our postcards. We also checked out the new building in town, a three-story construction project. We were told it’s a 3 months build down south but more than a year up north. 

We installed a bike trailer after being asked if anyone could figure it out. I’m always up for the challenge and enjoy helping others out. By now my canoe trip partner is used to my offers and involvement. Surprisingly, after reading the directions several times we figured it all out and had the trailer installed without issue. 

Listening to Vinyl Tap on CBC North (radio). I also darned a sock. I should have not worn a pair of socks with a hole.

7 July 2013. 

Coffee and tea are our morning drinks. Then PB and J on toast. Bread was that we had purchase yesterday before supper at the Northern Store.

Jonny was said to get us once he heard that the plane was en route, between 9 and 10 a.m. Both of us had lay down and were awakened to the sound of the van horn blasting. It took little time to load up our gear and be off to the floatplane base, which is slightly north east of town. There we waited for the Cessna 206. Bill B. the pilot is a really nice guy. At 70 years old he is the most northern floatplane pilot. 

Shortly after 11 a.m. we were air bound for the river, flying just over the deck, low enough to see several pairs of swans, two herds of musk oxen, and interesting land patterns and ancient beach ridges. At one point there was a slight rain but skies were better to the East and North. The smaller lakes were clear of ice but the ocean and the larger lakes still had white ice. 

We landed on a small lake next to the Tuktu River, upstream of the Nanook River. It was in the area as planned, just on a neighbouring lake instead of on the river proper. Shortly before landing we passed several sand voodoos, which Ed Struzik's river account had mentioned. It was 12:20 p.m. Three musk oxen welcomed us.


Pakboat Pakcanoe image

After lunch we set to portage to the river and then assemble the Pakcanoe. It is the virgin trip for my partner’s red canoe. We loaded and were on the water, using our break-a-part AquaBound paddles.

Once the mind has time to wander it cements that it’s recharge and refresh time—summer canoe trips. 

On the water, I warmed up and continued to strip away layers of clothing. We passed a ptarmigan, swans, a lone caribou cow, several loons, and many geese (white fronted and Canada) and ducks. There were just enough mosquitoes to be bothersome on as well as off the water. 

The caribou was small, somewhat grey than that of the mainland caribou. I think on Victoria Island the caribou are Peary Caribou, a subspecies of the barrenland Caribou we are accustom to seeing. 

The river is very shallow, with paddle blades often touching the bottom. The water is clear. As we are early in the season, the banks indicate that the water level is high—good thing! Several times we had to get out and walk or push off with one foot. Mostly silt or sand bottom, which gave way to rocks when the river gradient quickened. Several shallow CI rapids—the kind you bottom out in and constantly look for deeper water channels and downstream Vs. 

The tailwind and river current help move us forward. After all, it was our first day on the water so our paddling muscles are not yet warmed up. Gradually the sky clouded over. By 5 p.m. I was putting on the clothes I had earlier removed. We started to look for a suitable site to camp for the night. A shorter first day was fine. We had a quick snack and pushed on to the bottom of the rapid section in order to reach a beach landing with good camping on the step. 

Tent, Mantis Tarp, supper of garlic pasta with tuna (and bacon for my trip mate), rum and lemonade, followed by tea. By 8 p.m. it was all done although we both had some gear organizing to do. The gun is out and loaded. The Pakcanoe bag is stuffed away. And so on. 

There are many flowers, tracks, and scat abound all day. The silting soil means we sink just like the animals. 

The flowers are surprisingly plentiful. One could say a kaleidoscope of flowers lay on the tundra as we walked about. 

No sponge, oh well. We have a pump instead of a bailer because pumps work better with Pakcanoes. 

It's great to finally be on the land.  

8 July 2013

It was a restless night. I was up starting shortly after midnight and several times thereafter. It was, of course, always bright with continuous daylight. 

We had hot oatmeal with hot drinks. The weather was similar to yesterday—partly sunny, strong north wind. 

We loaded the canoe stern heavy and I paddled stern. Even so, we were bow heavy. The wind kept me alert and consumed my energy steering. 

The Nanook River entered the Tuktu River. We hiked around and found some interesting rocks. We had lunch RR below a peregrine falcon nest. We concluded that the nest had failed to produce offspring as it was empty as there were a couple broken eggs below. 

The current and tailwind sailed us along. Numerous swans. Five musk oxen followed by three more musk oxen. The cool temperature kept us moving to stay warm. 

We stopped to investigate possible camping and could see ice on a lake and sand hoodoos off in the distance to the South. 

Although it was time to camp and we had put in a good day we decided to continue as the site was okay and the weather conditions were favourable for paddling. At 6 p.m. we camped RL upstream of Namaycush Lake. We readied our camp—tent, dinning shelter, supper of sweet and sour soup, rum, and tea. By 9 p.m. we were tired and ready for the tent. 

I came up with the idea that we need flower flash cards so that we can refresh our memory of flower identification and names. 

9 July 2013

I'm tired. It was a good day but I'm exhausted. We were up to a dull tent interior—no sun. The wind was still strong and cold. It had shifted slightly was almost from due north. Gone are the days of tailwinds.

Before we left a curious fox was nosing around our canoe between us and the river. It was white and black, caught between winter and summer fur colours. 


arctic fox image

We left in good time after cold granola and hot drinks. The river was good to us and we found deep water most of the time but the paddling conditions were cold. Both of us had very cold hands. At the lake we hiked to view the lake-ice situation as well as to warm up. On the rise up we found a buried musk ox skull—it must be very old. Some snow in the lee was still melting slowly. 

Canoeing on the windy lake was exhausting and cold. I paddled hard all morning. The ice was out to our leeward side. Lunch was a welcome break from the work and cold wind. 

In the afternoon we had to deal with ice blocking our route on a few occasions. Once we walked on top of the ice. Another time we skirted it right along the shoreline. We also dragged the canoe over the shoreline ice. At one point we were able to move ice out of our way and plough through the loosely packed ice. 

We were both happy to finally reach our lake exit route to the West, back into the river current. We had put in a good day into a strong and persistent head wind so without hesitation we camped RR near the end of the short river section. Ahead of us lay more open water and wind driven waves. We’ll hope for better paddling conditions tomorrow. 

After erecting the tent and tarp I washed my body and clothes. It was a leisurely evening—our tired bodies were in no rush. It was a lot of work to wash and once done I welcomed the chance to sit and visit. Drinks followed by potato soup and half a chocolate bar dessert. We added foodstuff to the lunch pack and planned out tomorrow's breakfast and supper. 

By 9 p.m. we were in the tent, out of the wind. The current piling into the lake can be heard along with the howling wind. By later afternoon the sun was out and we are enjoying the brighter tent. No energy for an evening hike. 

10 July

Similar to yesterday, we rose to a dull, windy, cold morning. 

After a breakfast of hot drinks and granola we left our camp into a very brief current section before emptying into a river widening. Onward into the cold north wind. I'm wearing long underwear and a long sleeve top for the first time this trip, but I should have also pulled out warm gloves or pogies, for my fingers were again cold. My neoprene gloves were insufficient. 

We made good progress all day, in part because the scenery was unvaried enough to warrant any hikes or side-trips. We stayed warm by paddling. We did stop to stretch but got chilled quickly so we quickly got back on the water. Yesterday morning at the entrance to the icy Nanycush Lake we skirted the canoe (put the spray cover or deck on) so it is now our shelter during the day, protecting our lower bodies from the cold wind. 

On the bright side, there was a horizon clearing in the sky, but unfortunately it never materializes for our locale. We are overcast bound. 

The other highlight was the wildlife. First was a single male caribou. Smaller and more grey than the mainland caribou we are used to seeing. We also saw our first Yeager, a lone cow caribou, and three herds of musk oxen. Other wildlife was a nesting pair of arctic terns, another lone caribou, a big fish (arctic char) swam under our canoe, snow geese, as well as the now common Canadian geese and other ducks. We observe a herd of 10 musk oxen (with three younglings). 

Lunch was RL at 12:30. Tortillas with hummus and the other usual fixings, cheese, GORP, dried fruit, sausage, PB & J, and so on. 

Surprisingly, the wind lessened as the day continued. We picked up mosquitoes when we ventured ashore. 

Later afternoon we hiked to find the High Arctic Lodge tent camp. It was a basic and simple camp. One main building and one insulated tent. An outhouse and a tent platform and metal stick frame. Two Lund boats. It appears to be unused for years. 

The most interesting thing were the fossils. After seeing them, we need to investigate the limestone outcrops. Later we walked the beach and found a great but rather large fossil. 


fossil image

We camped RR thinking we might fish for supper. Tent and tarp were up before the light rain arrived, which ended our hopes of fishing. Instead we had a hot drink, and then a leisurely evening meal of pre dinner drinks (half a cup of overproof rum, lemonade, lime juice), Bear Creek rice mix, sweet potato and cornmeal bannock, strawberry mouse with      chocolate bar pieces. 

After cleaning up and getting ready to enter the tent the rain intensity increased. It was good to be in the tent. I was getting chilled under the tarp by the crosswind. 

11 July 2013

It was a rainy night, on and off, and the wind picked up. I went to bed early in hopes of a good sleep, slightly longer than usual. Well, I woke up several times to rain so I continued to sleep. Upon waking we decided to pack up our sleep gear and have breakfast before deciding if we should go. 

We opted for eggs with hash-brown potatoes. My trip mate also enjoyed bacon. 

As the rain had ended we chose to paddle. It took us a bit to pack up, working with cold and wet hands. It was our latest start. 

Into the head wind we pushed off and paddled. We were clothed head to toe with waterproof gear. I could feel the wind drawing the heat from my hands through my wetsuit gloves. With rain gear, I was actually warmer than the past couple of days—better wind protection, but my hands fluctuated from very cold to warm and clammy, oh well, such is life on northern canoe trips. 

We stopped for a lunch break. Out of the main wind it was nice to get off the water. The light moving air was still cold. Back on the river the wind was very strong but the river current propelled us along at a good rate. Before me knew it, it was raining, we were tired, and we had travelled off the map sheet. 

Ashore we ventured to find a suitable place to camp. The Mantis was up and hot water was on. Amazingly, it was our latest getaway and our earliest ending but we still had our daily mileage done in under 5 hours and that included stopping for lunch. Similar to last night, you can see your breath. After hot drinks we put up the tent. It is still blowing hard and the air is cold but the rain has ended for now. 

Saw one lone caribou today. Even the bird life was less active. While sipping on drinks a couple of loons are feeding nearby.

We readied a fishing pole—maybe we'll catch a fish for supper! You have to be a tough guy to fish in this weather. Today at lunch we commented that only us would stop for such a lunch, others would want a tarp up and a stove on. Later while paddling hard into the go-no-where-fast wind, we decided that others would not have even left camp! 

With a small group size of two, it’s much easier to insure that all our food is served hot. On past trips with 6 or 8 people it is sometimes more difficult to serve all the food hot. 

12 July 2013

Up to a cold morning. The wind is down a bit and the sky is less overcast. 

It was hard and slow paddling all morning. The current is the reason why we are able to make miles. We fished several times at different deepwater pools by the current. Catching a couple of Arctic char but mostly lake trout. We kept the small char and released all the others, which were too big or too much fish for the two of us. 

The cold wind continued to blow hard. We found shelter in the lee of the bank and a rock for lunch. After lunch it rained lightly. It was cold. 

We camped in good time and had a hot drink under the Mantis shelter. Then we put up the tent and organized camp. I was in the annex pack to pull out sleep socks, my balaclava, and sleep long underwear (which were no where to be found!). I always bring two pairs of long underwear—one pair for daily wear and another for sleeping. This is my most northerly trip and I have so far only located one pair of long underwear!

A wolf was seen checking us out across the river. We also saw some snow geese and the common ducks, Canadian geese, and loons. On a small knoll there were the usual signs of owls. 

The evening included hot rum and lemonade, by now hot is our evening choice over cold rum and lemonade, salty snack, salad—oh so good, pan fried Arctic char and rice followed by more hot drinks and dark chocolate topped off with Scotch whisky and drop of warm water, our first of the trip! 


fish fry image

The wind is still cold on the hands but nevertheless I ventured out for a short walk on the land to ascertain a view downstream and found a wolf den while returning back to our camp on a low ridge. 

It's only 8 p.m. when I entered the tent. The chilly wind and overcast skies remain for now. The tundra steadfastly continues to be the same low-lying land with grasses and the silty and muddy undersoil or subsoil that appears to be forever shifting and flowing or falling towards the river. 

Overall, the area is a bit like the plains with grass and worn-down hills. Even rolling plains is fitting. We are most often very exposed because of the low-lying lands. The grandeur and magnitude is overwhelming. One must also endure the hardness of the environment. Willing to be flexible is required. 

We are in good shape at less than 30 miles to the river mouth and our floatplane pick up on the 16 of July, in 4 days. 

Sandhill cranes, we heard, a couple of days ago.

13 July

Brrr. It was a cool night. Good thing I wore socks to bed. We woke to the sound of moisture hitting the tent. On and off all night it had rained. Outside we found a powerful cold north wind that here and there carried rain, mist, and snow. 

We noticed the sky improving so we decided to move downriver. Before we were packed up the rain again started. Together we worked fast to pack up with cold hands. 

Once on the water our progress was slow and steady. The wind nearly stopped us but we paddled on. My paddling partner stopped once to pull out his ball cap because the horizontal rain and snow was stinging his face and blinding him without a brimmed cap to shield his glasses and eyes. We were both otherwise very well dressed. He had donned a light down jacket plus his usually layers of clothing. I had added my Marmot DryClime jacket. Both of us had on warmer headdress. He wool hat and ball cap, and me my WindRiver fleeced peak cap. 

We stopped once for a quick break and then for a short lunch where a short hike to a ridge for shelter helped keep us out of the worst of the weather and warmed up our legs and feet. Out of our lunch bag came granola bars that we topped with PB. We did the same to Fig Newtons. Several handfuls of GORP completed our meal. It was about 1 p.m.

We completed canoeing the small lake and camped RR in the snow as the watercourse narrowed back to its river channel. Our routine in such conditions is to erect the Mantis and have a hot drink. We did that and then had a second hot drink and soup as it was still raining. Two hours later we gave up waiting and put up the tent and secured our canoe and gear for the night. By 4 p.m. we were resting in the tent. 

With such a short trip we do not have much time in the bank. Our pickup date gives us two more days to canoe the last 20 miles. Right on schedule but not much to spare. Ahead is one lake that may be frozen as well as one unknown ‘canyon’ rapid that may have to be portaged. The weather has not been improving the last several days. So here we are, in good shape and in good position, but not without much work and our willingness to proceed. 

Time to nap!

10 p.m. in the tent reading. It's barely warm enough in our chairs with multiply layers of clothing and our hats even with our sleeping bags draped over us. Since supper of sweet potato, falafel, and gravy, and hot rum it has been raining and misting more or less constantly. We just run out to the bathroom before turning in for the night. 

Book almost done—down to the last 50 pages. 

14 July

Up to the same weather, cold and windy. We could hear the blowing light flurries from inside the tent. It was a fine night to have slept in my long underwear. Nevertheless we unzipped our warm sleeping bags and started another day. We packed up as usually and exited the tent for the Mantis shelter. 

Hot drinks and oatmeal warmed our thoughts for the day. Eager to proceed to find out what the lake had in store for us we broke camp and left. A little snow had accumulated on the tarp and tent. The Mantis and tent were wet, heavy, and cold to pack up. 


Mantis shelter snow image


ice everywhere image

The short river section was uneventful. The lake looked white with ice. The wind was from the North, to our left. The shortest distance across the lake was northeast, following the right shoreline. We discussed our options and decided to follow out the large lead in the ice of open water paddling into a strong wind and sizeable waves given the frozen state of the lake. The lead ended and we found the ice to ahead solid so we started to haul across the lake. The ice to the right (south east) looked softer and more candle—not solid enough to support walking. 


ice sledding canoe image


ice sledding canoe with people image

It was easy to pull although I was often out of breath (was I out of shape). As we walked the ice ahead did not look as good so we started to head west where the white solid ice was. To the North we could see open water. As we continued westward towards shore the ice became dodgier and we had to cross several narrow leads. The unsupportive ice was slow and difficult to make forward progress. At times we sledded the canoe with one foot in and one foot out. For short distances we paddled and pushed as best we could to move forward but it was extremely difficult to paddle or move the canoe in the ice. We continued, as our direction would take us to shore or open water. 


ice lead crossing image

Once to shore we lined the canoe a distance before portaging it past ice to open water. We paused for lunch between carrying loads. Even behind a pushed up beach pile it was windy while we ate lunch. 

The Mantis was erected and hot drinks were served. Then the tent was up and we ducted out of the wind and cold to get some R & R. We are wind bound, waiting for the wind and white cap waves to settle down. The sky to the North is slightly improved over the horizontal snow that we had while paddling and pulling the canoe over the ice. 

Dinner is done and it is still windy and wavy. Chilli with sweet potato and corn bannock, hot run as a pre dinner drink and Scotch and hot water as a post dinner drink. 

8:30 p.m. tent bound out of the wind and hopefully warm. I finished my book and now await so that we can exchange reading material—most likely later tonight. 

15 July

So far this trip, we've been in our sleeping bags by 10 or 10:30 p.m. latest and sleeping until 7 something in the morning. Last night, because I had finished my book I was asleep closer to 8 p.m. and crawled out of bed at 8 a.m. That is a solid 12 hour sleep.

Unfortunately, every time either of us awoke last night it was still blowing hard. And now, at 9 a.m. with breakfast done, we are sitting, waiting, wind bound. Even in the shelter of our tent it is with cold fingers that I type on my iPad. 15 miles to go and here we sit. The good news is I have new reading material. 

The 1 p.m. update. Back in the tent after hot Knorr vegetable soup and baby Swiss cheese, crackers, GROP, and the end of the Fig Newtons. 

Earlier today the Cessna buzzed us. We got out of the tent for the turnaround fly pass. Not sure what was up but the pilot found us and saw us. Tomorrow is our pickup. 

We decided to call on the satellite phone and say hi and see what was up but the sat phone would not turn on. We briefly removed and warmed the battery and it turned on long enough to say low battery. The solar panel is out and setup but only a couple of times did the phone power up to say charging. With the low and continuous cloud cover and the on and off rains the solar unit is not getting enough sun rays to charge the phone. It’s concerning that the brand new satellite phone hasn’t held a battery charge very long. This is very disappointing for the satellite phone is new and it's the Extreme (top of the line) model! Our current plan is to warm the battery as we read and nap this afternoon and see if we can make a call later. 

Time for more R & R although the failure of the satellite phone weighs heavy on our minds as this is the time we need it to coordinate to shuttle flight, especially given the weather conditions that has forced a wind bound location. 

The lack of sun means no solar charging. The cloud cover is so thick that we cannot even find the sun. 

We walked the beach to the North to the next point, in part to explore, in part to see if there were beaching spots for a floatplane, and in part to stretch our legs. Little rain this afternoon, but still lots of wind and waves. 

For supper we used leftovers and extras to make a thick and delicious soup. It was preempted by hot rum lemonade and nuts and followed by butterscotch pudding with milk chocolate. 

I also have dry skin—a bleeding split right thumb! It makes some tasks like closing Ziplock bags more thought and work!

It's been a cold day, staying warm has not always been easy. 

8:30 p.m. in the tent to read. 

A few hours later at 11 p.m. we woke to calmer conditions and decided to make a run for it. The wind was down, still strong but less powerful and there were only a few whitecaps. 

We packed up the tent and then the Mantis, loaded the canoe, and pushed off into the waves. Our plan was to cross the lake and make our way to the High Arctic Lodge tent camp on the Ekatuk River. 

As we progressed the waves became huge and we had to take then slightly off head-on—more northerly than our target direction. At some point I became uncomfortable with the situation and we turned downwind, which had its own danger of surfing waves. Cautiously we continued aiming for the spit like point. The idea was there would be lee behind the point but as we closed we noticed our passage was blocked by oscillating ice due to the waves. 

We turned northeast into the waves and paralleled the ice pack, which was a moving wave medium up and down and shifting candle ice. We were far from shore as we followed our course of open water. Not the best situation to be in—upwind of un-solid ice with a large expanse of open water to windward. I envisioned the worst case scenario—us being pushed backwards into the slush and being frozen into place. 

With much effort and several hours of paddling our tired bodies grounded ashore. We hiked to warm up and stretch our legs and try to figure out where we were. To confirm our position we took a GPS fix. We were 800 metres north of the Ekatuk River, right where we thought we were. A short hike to the mouth confirmed that it was iced in so we paddled as close as possible and portaged to the Ekatuk River. 

We snacked on granola bars and granola bars that we topped with peanut butter and drank cold water. Even in the cold one must stay hydrated. 

Tracking upstream went well. First we tried the canoe with small stuff, then we added the lightest two packs and finally, as the canoe still floated over the shallow river bottom we added the final two heavier packs. 

We walked at a good pace on shore and in the shallow water pulling the canoe. The boat became stuck a few times but it was always easy enough to walk out and push or pull it loose. 


tracking up river image

Near the top of the river we started to canoe the final river section into the lake. Once on the lake the canoe took on water, as the wind was too strong—we were surfing and the waves were breaking. Of course it was 5 a.m. and we could see the tent camp and the small lake looked fine but once out there the small waves and strong wind were no fun to be paddling in. Neither one of us were skirted up so we both took on some water around the cockpits. 

At 5:50 a.m. we landed at the tent camp—a simple single building. The winter door had been removed and we walked in to find shelter from the driving wind and rain. 

We secured our gear and canoe and pulled out sleeping gear. I woke several hours later still chilled. 

16 July.

Today is the scheduled day for a shuttle to the Kuujjua River. We had planned to be down river near the mouth to Hadley Bay but we are at the HAL (High Arctic Lodge) tent camp, aka The Hadley Hilton. After breakfast and some reorganizing and hanging clothes to dry we figured out how to get the old oil burner (Coleman) heater to work, which included finding a fuel drum of heating oil and connecting it to the outside fuel line. The outside temperature was near freezing. It rained and snowed on and off all morning. The sky is still overcast but is looking better. The wind is relentless. 

We use the oil burner on its lowest setting to conserve oil. With a little heat our clothing is drying and we can warm our hands from working with cold and wet gear. The annex pack is repacked. The Pakcanoe is dismantled. Things are looking good expect the cloud cover is still impairing our ability to charge the satellite phone!

It's after 1 p.m. We have written a note to pass via the pilot to update our Spot Help message from ‘Be by the phone, we will call’ to ‘Call the RCMP to arrange for a boat pickup to Holman,' because we no longer trust our dead satellite phone battery.

Time for a noon hour meal.

iPad USB charging has been successful all trip with the GoalZero solar system compared to our attempts at 12 V charging the satellite phone battery. Of course, because the phone battery started fully charged and we did not use it one would have thought that it would not yet require charging after less than 2 weeks. 

We tried to catch a fish for supper but nothing was seen, nibbled, or took the hook. My hands on several occasions have cramped up, most likely because of the cold weather paddling. 

Last night's paddle was just like padding in the daytime, not the slightest indication of nighttime, just the same old dull overcast sky but daylight bright. Surprising, I was not sleepy but on a physical and mental high or on a get the task done. Right thumb is sore—it has dry skin cracks. 

It is still cold and windy, some rain or snow every once in a while. No floatplane yet. The cabin has been a godsend for us to dry out clothing that got quite wet during the night paddling event. We still have food but of course we are hopeful to fly out sooner than later. 

Our two-person crew has been interesting. I was a little concerned that our two person crew would mean no downtime as we would both always be doing camp duties, setting up or taking down the tent and kitchen shelter, cooking, etc. It would be slow to make and break camp. But we have found that the time saved while cooking for two is so much faster and easier than cooking for six that I do not notice the fact that we are always attending to the tent or Mantis. Likewise, the cleanup of washing dishes is effortless—such as two bowls and two forks. 

The known benefit of a two person crew that we assumed before leaving was the fast decision making as well as the fast pace moving downriver because of the simple decision making process. All of this is true. 

17 July

We were up before 8 a.m. in hopes of Fred/Bill coming through with our pickup that did not happen yesterday. After breakfast and hot drinks we finalized the packing of gear and carried all the pack outside so that the pilot would see and know we were at the cabin. 

It was still cold, in the 30° F (5 degrees C) but the sky was less overcast and more like cloud cover. The wind was down a bit, but still a cold north wind. A herd of musk oxen were making their way downriver approaching us. 

We shut off the oil burner and reverted things to the way we found them. Once ready it was the waiting game. We read, chatted, and walked around. It was a cold process. The little cabin heat did not last and the place was cold. I read with gloves on. We thought the plane might arrive at 10 a.m. or so, the time that Bill buzzed us the other day. 

At 11:30 a.m. Fred showed up. He had been following our Spot Tracker and assumed our Satellite phone was not working. First thing Fred does is offer his sat phone to us to update our spouses that our satellite phone battery malfunctioned. 


gloomy weather and ice image

End of the Nanook River

Section II, The Kuujjua River

The flight from the Nanook River to the Kuujjua River was good. Saw two herds of musk oxen. The lake ice had continued to melt—even the river mouth that we had portaged over yesterday was now open. 

En route, we had a great view of the tundra. It is easy to see why it is well known for being a connection of land and water or water and land.

Fred put us down on Hope Lake (using Lester Kovac aka Laco's map names). We had lunch and then assembled the canoe, loaded up, and were off. The canoe is definitely heavier with the addition of two new food packs. With our day late plane shuttle and the later in the day shuttle, it was already later afternoon when we finally pushed off.

The lake was shallow, the exit bay almost too shallow to paddle. The river or creek that connects to the next lake was wide and shallow. We portaged four packs and left the lightest two in the canoe along with other odds and ends. In the end, we carried the last two remaining packs and daypacks as well. Most of the waterway we waded the canoe. Good thing I finally pulled out and put on my Sealskin socks—I had dry feet even after hours of wading. 


shallow river walking image

The tundra is excellent for portaging or walking. Hard—not soft as we found on the Nanook River. The flowers are so impressive. Saw one good-sized group of small bright yellow Arctic poppies. The flower colours are striking—deep purples, reds, whites, yellows, shades of gold, and combinations of colours. 

Finally, after days of dull overcast skies, days were you cannot see the horizon due to the low cloud cover and the mist or rain, today we had some later day sun. Bright. The land became alive—sun on the hilltops, glowing rolling tundra. Even the blueness of the sky with white and dark clouds was a welcome change. 

It was shortly after 6 p.m. when we camped near the next lake (Craig Lake) and the creek we waded. We were weary. My legs unsteady. The portaging of fully loaded heavy packs as well as all the river wading pulling the canoe—the splashing and unsure footing of the riverbed took its toll on our bodies. 

Two caribou were within sight.

We wasted no time in getting hot rum into us followed by a pasta meal. We took our time and eased into supper, enjoying some nuts with our rum, and a hot drink with some milk chocolate before calling it a night and crawling into the tent. The wind is still cool and blowing, but not as strong and powerful as we experienced on the Nanook River. 

I wore gloves to protect my cracked and bleeding right thumb. Two skin cracks have joined to form a larger crack, which stings and hurts when I bump it or when I try to open or close gear buckles, zip lock bags, and so on. 

The next couple of days will continue to be work as we pass through the headwaters, dealing with shallow lakes and connecting watercourses.  

Time to rest. 

18 July

We were on the water around 9 a.m. After yesterday's main event of portaging packs and walking and pulling the canoe through the "extremely shallow" watercourse we were happy to be paddling on a lake. It started shallow but we found canoe-able water depth across to the West side. 

There we started down the "drag creek" and shortly found it to be a drag. The river bottom was again silty muck that you sank into. My tripping partner disliked not knowing if his footing would give way or not so he decided to portage. We carried the two red food pack ashore—to be portaged. With a lighter canoe I thought I could pull it along down the waterway. I was also lighter so I sank less in the muck. 

In the time it took him to portage the two packs I pulled and dragged the canoe and the remaining three pack and other gear (day packs, fuel cans, gun, etc.) down to where he had staged the packs. Our timing happened to be perfect. We saw one bull caribou and an Inuit site up top.

Lake Aliza started shallow (we walked the canoe outwards) but we were able to canoe southwest, stopping for lunch on the island point after noon until 1 p.m. Abound on the water surface were midges. There were copulating and we saw a vertical column of them. 

Rounding the point we headed westward to the shallow waterway that connects to the next lake-like section. We chose this over the portage 55. It was shallow but mostly canoe-able with little walking. There was one bull caribou on RR and a couple of musk oxen on RL. There were also a couple of fuel drums on RL. 


musk ox river image

After the shallows with current that required more walking we saw fish fins surfacing so we pulled our the rod and reel. Several bumps, followers, and a couple of big bites but we were unsuccessful at landing an Arctic char. After almost an hour we moved on downstream. There was a snowdrift to the North where we fished.

The next shallow section with current was mostly too shallow to float us in the canoe so we walked a lot. It was easy but slow going. At about 6 p.m. we camped RR. A simple tight site. The canoe, Mantis shelter, and tent are all close together. 

For supper I prepared cold rum and lemonade, our first cold one in many days with a couple of handfuls of nuts. Then we enjoyed a salad followed by piping hot gnocchi and sauce. Simple sections of dark chocolate and some warm water finished off the meal. 

I did a short hike about. I also did a short walk up to the rise at lunch. The tundra here is more scenic than the Nanook River—higher or more varied and shaper hills. The Nanook River had far distance ridges. Both rivers feature what looks like western short grass prairie. 

Today there was some sun (mostly cloudy) so the tundra was at times lit like the prairies. It was warm when we were working—we both removed our fleeces and were down to a shirt with our light bug shell jackets. It was the first day in a week back with the sun hat and wind pants and my light shell jacket/wind shirt. 


bugs image

We also heard on several occasions the cries and calls of the loons as they were displaying, being territorial, and singing. It was loud and exciting to witness. 

We both hope to wash soon but the lack of sun and wind today meant fierce mosquitoes and poor drying conditions for clothes washing. Likewise for solar charging. We'd like to charge camera batteries, the USB battery pack, and try to charge the satellite phone. But we need a sunny day. 

It is as tried human beings that we now write and read listening to the hum of the mosquitoes.

19 July

Up to a cool overcast morning. 

Breakfast was granola, after yesterday's oatmeal, and we were on the water before 9 a.m. The creek-like nature of the Kuujjua River east branch continued. Four times we portaged our two food packs to lighten the canoe load for pulling and dragging over the shallows. It was a long morning, with portaging, walking, pulling, and dragging the canoe. At times we were able to paddle short distances. Small drop after drop or shallow after shallow slowed our progress. 

Highlights included the nice scenery and the smallness of the waterway. We watched and listen to a wolf. He was quite curious—howling at length as he sensed our presence but he could not figure what we were. Then there were the four swans that took flight. 

We stopped as required to rest and soak up our surroundings. Lunch was RL on a rise that gave upstream as well as downstream views. The slight north wind kept the bugs away during our meal but it also chilled us to the bone. On the water we were working and staying warm but eating was a chilly activity. 

Again in the afternoon we saw more swans as well as a musk ox. The musk ox was trying to bury his face in the cool damp sand to rid himself of mosquitoes. We floated and watched its movements. Then the musk ox moved downstream and again we floated and observed. Surprisingly he also went in the water. 

We went ashore to collect musk ox wool, quivit. Once back on the water we surprised ourselves by arriving at the junction with the North branch. It was a good day to reach that far. It was after 6 p.m. and we camped RR on the point, making the most of the exposed point. Mantis shelter and tent went up, and drinks, supper of spaghetti and salad were enjoyed. We tossed the chocolate bar into the lunch bag for tomorrow—to be topped with peanut butter!


confluence junction image

Today the mosquitoes were out in full force. Many bites on my hands—my gloves are showing the colour of blood. Wore our head nets all day except for eating into the wind at noon. 

I could drain water out of my left boot so it is really leaking! Even my SealSkin sock was soaked. 

The sun was out in camp so I solar charged a battery pack. We were in no rush to enter the tent tonight as we were enjoying the sun. 

This is a very pretty place. A golden plover is chirping. The historic site is about a dozen rocks, but they are not embedded into the ground nor covered with lichen so I question the age and significance. 

Although the day was trying at times, walking and dragging, it was also a great day to end at the junction and finally have some sunshine!

20 July

I woke and started to get organized. There was a slight cool breeze that kept the mosquitoes at bay while we packed up, getting on the water slightly after 9 a.m. 

The shallow sections on the map were not canoe-able so we walked the canoe through two such sections. The swifts were also too shallow and we had to get out at times to push or pull the canoe. Surprisingly, there is less current than expected, in terms of other canoe parties doing 15 plus miles so I figured there must be current. There is current, but the decent is slow or gradual. 

In the tent tonight I started to highlight the elevation drop or contours on the map. This is something I like to have on maps but Laco Kovac who did such a good job annotating the Kuujjua River maps did not note the contour drop.

The South branch entered without any fanfare—it was a trickle. We had a break and a granola bar and pushed onward. The R1 (class I rapids) were okay but at times we had to get out again to walk the shallow sections. 

Lunch was RR at about 12:30 p.m. It was windy and partly sunny without bugs. Just warm enough without putting on an extra layer of clothing. 

More of the same in the afternoon—sometimes getting out for a short walk. Much less or shorter walks than the morning’s two long shallow sections. We hiked up a ridge and collected musk ox hair, saw a lone caribou, as well as a musk ox skull. 


caribou tundra image

We camped before 6 p.m. RR (at the 275 km mark). I washed clothes and bathed, the first in a something like a week. It was windy and cold, as well as only partly sunny but it was long overdue and the strong wind meant my clothes at least had a chance of drying. I also solar charged batteries but the lack of sun resulted in a slow charge. Most of my clothes dried okay by late evening. 

Drinks, salty snack, noodles and sauce, ginger and chocolate. The polygons made for an interesting short evening hike. The high water mark is very high!

21 July

The day started as per normal, we were both tired. Out of the tent to attend to breakfast, packing up camp. On the water at 9 a.m. 

Our current plan is to get some mileage done or in the bank so we are aiming for 30 km a day, a rather aggressive big daily rate. On the water, the constant paddling reminds me of last summer. How did it come to 30 km a day, I'm not sure? We did fly in a day late, because our pilot/shuttle picked us up a day late—we were ready and waiting on time. And we did fly later in the day so our first day on the river was a very short day. 

We saw a herd of musk oxen, a lone caribou, an eagle soaring, a falcon, snow geese, yellow-billed loon. 

The day was nice. Not too warm, nor too cold. Enough wind to help keep the mosquitoes out of our faces (mostly) and the most sun we'd had since day one or two back on the Nanook River. 

I was very tired as well as sore from paddling hard yesterday. Yesterday it was windier and I paddled stern where I had to steer a lot because of a bow heavy canoe. Like yesterday we did half our mileage by noon and completed the remainder more slowly in the afternoon. 

The swifts and rapids (CI) are easy enough but still lack enough water for us in our canoe to proceed so we end up getting out here and there to walk past or over shallows, gravel bars, rocks, etc. 

The water colour varies. It is always clear to the bottom. Sometimes it glows greenish yellow, other times it reveals the stone or gravel river bottom. 

Saw at least 8 musk oxen in the morning and caribou at lunch followed by a falcon and then eagles in the sky during the afternoon. 

The surrounding scenery today was over the top—magnificent. High ridges thrust up, some with flat plateau tops. Most with snow here and there, high mountaintop after mountaintop. It is so different from the low lands of the Nanook River, which never really changed.

Also, this is a river in the truest sense. Up to this point, no lakes except in the headwaters were we started. The Nanook River flowed through various lakes. The Nanook River also had a lot more current, which we miss every stroke while trying to paddle 30 km/day!

All the food is great. It's so simple and quick to cook and organize for two. Still using only one stove. Sure we have to do everything but the kitchen duties take us less time.

Too tired to read the last couple of nights. Tonight I walked up top to view the river. I also noticed poppies and three tent rings. 

My left boot is really leaking. I can pour water out of it when we get to camp. Even with a Sealskin sock my foot is wet. Oh well, I have some plastic garbage bags as back up if needed.

I charged the iPad, keyboard, and battery pack in camp.

The bugs were so bad tonight in the Mantis shelter that we ate supper outside in the wind. There were fewer bugs in our faces and it was cooler. 

Yesterday, we heard the second transcontinental flight and actually saw the plane, which did not have a contrail. Also, both my hands were badly bitten by mosquitoes a few days ago while we pulling and dragged the canoe, right through my light gloves.

22 July

We both slept in, awaking just before 8 a.m! It was still, too still. The bugs were bad as we prepared breakfast. We decided on granola over oatmeal due to the lateness of the hour and the bugs. In fact, like last night, we ate our meal outside of the bug infested Mantis, facing into the light airs. 

We are heading downriver, slowly as we are both showing signs of the last two 30 km days. One lone caribou sauntered along the RR shoreline. We stopped to fish, fins were surfacing where a small inflow came in. On the RR shoreline ridge there were a couple of tent rings. We caught and lost an Arctic char. The char are very active and proficient at throwing the hook out of their mouths. 


caribou river image

Today we ran all the swifts and R1 without having to get out of the canoe due to shallows. At least twice we did have to get out on the river to walk over shallows but not at the swifts/rapids. 

Lunch was RL high up on a ridge overlooking the river. The mosquitoes were out so we ate facing the light air—not really a wind. There was also a deepwater pool and we landed one Arctic char—our supper. 

We looked at some tent rings RR, one with a line of rocks like a diameter. 

The current sections helped speed us along, as today we were both tired. I pulled only as hard as my canoeing partner as overpowering him meant more steering for me and I too was tired with sore muscles. 

We took a break and discussed camping. Instead we took a short hike up on the hills and found a cairn. On the backside of the hill there was a small musk ox skull and close by was another skull. We noticed the horns were loose. Shortly thereafter we camped for the night. 

After putting up the Mantis shelter we had a later afternoon hot drink—coffee and tea. Then we nibbled on a salty snack, skinned the fish and started organizing rum drink, and potatoes. Supper of pan-fried potatoes and Arctic char was excellent. No need or room for dessert. 

Usually we secure our campsite first but tonight after supper we had to put up the tent. I organized the tent and then started looking ahead at the maps—marking the contour drop, which is not marked on Laco's maps. 


Laco maps image

Today was still all-day. First day for us to wear our head nets all-day on the water since the headwater shallow walking. The cloud cover saved us from overheating. We also paddled slowly and did not overheat. 

23 July

It was a restless night. We left the door zipper open an inch and from midnight to 1 a.m. was spent killing mosquitoes. 

We were up to a similar day as yesterday, warm, light airs, mostly cloudy. We cooked up hot oatmeal and took down and packed up the tent. 

As we prepared to get on the river the windy started to increase in velocity and the mosquitoes sought shelter. Today we paddled without head nets, a nice change from yesterday. 

The morning was uneventful in terms of rapids and wildlife but the scenery continues to be stunning. I would highly recommend this river to anyone for the flowers and scenery. I would also say go early enough to avoid the low water conditions we experienced or start a little further down or on the North branch, perhaps. Definitely avoid the shallow south branch. 

At lunch we hiked an interesting ridge full of rocks and short vertical walls. Some of the rocks reminded us of coral. Some had crystals. 

After lunch we stopped to fish and caught a lake trout, which became supper. I hiked and found a historic site, a musk ox skull (one horn), a blanket of river beauty (the flowers), and a fair bit of quivit. 

We paddled most of the rapids and swifts, only getting out few times due to low water or shallows. We also heard peregrine falcon in the RL steeped walled narrows near our campsite. 

The afternoon, similar to the morning was very interesting and stunning to look at. The historic site that is marked on the map near our fishing spot was questionable or of lesser interest than the one upstream or below where we are camped. It should be noted that we are not using a GPS to locate the noted historic sites.

Just before arriving at the historic site at the confluence the low cloud rolled in with moisture. We quickly investigated the site, assessed its suitability for camping, donned rain gear, unloaded and secured the canoe, and erected the Mantis shelter, where we enjoyed a hot drink, followed by a hot Scotch and water before venturing out to put up the tent before supper. 

I prepared the rum and cooked up the fish, pan-frying in oil, butter, lemon pepper, garlic, and lime juice. I used up the rum lemonade crystals! We also enjoyed a salad, and crystallized ginger and chocolate mouse for dessert. The lunch bag was rebuilt or topped up. The fuel bottles were also refilled. 

All through supper it rained or drizzled. By 9 p.m. we were in the tent. It was a good day to get here. This historic site is the first one with an old inukshuk. 

This is a nice section of the river, with its narrowness and no low lying land you can see both sides of the river and watch for wildlife and the scenery. 

24 July

The day is almost done—it's coming to a close for us. It all started a little late when our tired bodies awoke from last night's rain. It rained from a moment after we pulled ashore until 4:30 a.m. Today has low cloud, similar to the never-ending Nanook River skies. It looked like it was going to mist but never did as we prepared and ate hot oatmeal, and packed up camp. 

We left following the watercourse with low cloud overhead and the same strong headwind that we ended yesterday with. To our advantage is the narrowish of the river and the elevation drop and current and rapids and swifts—without such we would have made slow progress into the wind. Surprisingly, we thought the air temperature was warmer than it really was. At some point we stopped and added our rain gear for extra warmth. 

Along the scenic river we saw a rough legged hawk, a sandhill crane, an arctic tern, and the usually assortment of geese, and the odd snow goose. All the rapids were easy to run without scouting. 

Lunch was at km 170, which was 15 km done in the morning, under less than ideal conditions. We sat with our backs to a rock and the wind. The odd raindrop fell. We were cold and walked RR to see if there was good hiking around and found a historic site. Then we crossed the river and hiked longer and higher up the hill to warm up, and get blood into our legs and feet, which were not very active all morning. 

The afternoon went by a little slower. The river drop slowed and we had to paddle harder. The cold persisted and we used gloves and pogies since lunch. (Pogies are a mitt-like shell that attach to a paddle and encapsulate your hands.) 

We saw snow geese, terns, and a great historic site RL.

Nearing the end of the day there was a herd of musk oxen on RL. The sand flat area was a little confusing to figure out as it did not perfectly match the map and we were tired and chilled. 

Sometime after 5 p.m. we checked the historic site as a possible campsite but chose to paddle on a little downstream to a better grassy area for the night. We were quick to unload and get the Mantis shelter up for hot drinks. Then it was time to address the fermenting dead mosquitoes between the plastic bag pack liners. I could smell it—it was not good, so we washed and cleaned the liner bags and outer pack. 


mantis shelter image

Then came rum, lemonade, salty snack, and a huge pesto pasta dish. All we could manage for dessert was a bite of ginger. 

As things were still drying out we hiked up to Red Mountain, returning to rebuild the big green pack with clean liner bags. It was 10 p.m. by the time we rolled into the tent. Happy to be out of the wind. 

25 July

We were up and we could still hear the powerful wind. Opportunistically we packed up the inside of the tent gear and ventured out for breakfast. It was a slow cook breakfast of eggs, hash-brown potatoes, and bacon. It was also a double round of hot drinks. 

As the whitecap waves and wind were both flowing past our site we decided we should wait it out a bit. We both read and slept, both having wonderful midmorning naps. 

Sometime before 1 p.m. we were up and out for a hot lunch. After lunch the whitecap waves were few so we started to pack up. We were pulling out the canoe spray deck for the first time this river and off paddling into the wind and waves. The wind was back up to full force creating plenty of whitecaps. 

It was slow progress, each of us paddling hard, but were we also making progress. The route was less than direct as there were sandbars and sand islands to avoid and a deepwater channel to find and follow. 

We paused for a quick break to make sure we were on the right route (a little land elevation goes a long way to seeing the landscape better than the low on-the-water sight lines). 

Once back into the narrow section we again paused to rest. Even in the narrow section it was a tremendous amount of work because the wind funnelled up the river. 

There was piece of plywood on RR and then on RL. We heard sandhill cranes. Some river current helped us progress downstream. We had decided to camp at the 140 km mark or 7:30 p.m., whichever comes first. The 140 km mark was at a small river inflow and it made a great site. It was 7:10 p.m. when we first stepped out of the canoe. We checked out the area and decided to camp. Within the hour we had secured the canoe, set up the Mantis shelter and tent, changed our footwear, and heated up hot rum.

Next came chilli and bannock and a hot drink with chocolate. At this site there is a single snow-machine front ski and a couple of 12 inch nails—tent stakes? The high water mark is well above our campsite. 

The wind continues to blow. Yesterday blue sky was off to north but never arrived. This afternoon the clouds were high and moving and there were patches of blue sky and sunshine. 

Today seemed to be a hard day. I was tired and my muscles were mostly done before we camped. Of course we were short our daily mileage rate but at least we had 15 km done and we are back onto the river. 

26 July

Brrr, it's a cool day. We woke to a strong wind howling outside of the tent and no sun on the tent. Very much like yesterday, only a little colder. 

We were in no rush to get on the water but nevertheless we had breakfast and we off into a strong head wind. Surprisingly, we did okay, pulling hard. At least steering was okay as it was directly into the West wind. 

We were just warm enough paddling and not warm enough when we stopped to stretch our legs, have lunch, or take a short break. I was wearing long sleeve poly shirt, 100 weight fleece, Marmot Dryclime micro fleece jacket, Salomon jacket, and PFD. My fleece lined peak cap stayed on in the wind and was warm. I used both jacket hoods all day, even so it was cold. The pogies kept my hands warm. 

In the morning we stopped to watch a herd of 14 musk oxen. They were interesting to view. We saw them for a long time but we could not see any movement so it was not until we were very close that we confirmed they were indeed musk oxen. We were close, close enough to see the wool blowing in the wind with the eye. 


musk ox herd image

Every time we get out I'm surprised at the high water mark, so high. Found a bundle of 2 x 2 inch wooden stakes along the high water mark. 

Lunch was brief and cold, hiding behind a rock. 

Were there was no current it took a long time to make mileage. It was all I could do to paddle 500 metres, half a kilometre, without switching sides. 

We had committed ourselves to paddling until at least 4:30 p.m. We passed the Kuujjia Gates, a slow progress without current. The rapids that followed were easy. Stopping to scout the first class III rapid we noticed a nice campsite in an area of poor camping. After seeing how easy the R3 was we decide not to pass up on a good campsite and camped shortly after 4 p.m. 

After a hot drink, we washed. Hot rum and a simple supper followed with butterscotch pudding with chocolate, and another hot drink. We are left with one more complete day in our current food pack. Still lots of fuel. In fact, enough that we used warm water to bathe. Clothes at 9 p.m. are almost dry. 

27 July

We woke to a cold overcast sky and a brisk west wind. Breakfast, break camp, and start paddling, all as per usual. 

The rapids started right away and ended at the very end of the day! The wind was tough and tiring to paddle into and made some manoeuvring difficult but we had a very successful day—lots of mileage, 30 km, gorgeous scenery of high cliffs, sometimes right out of the river, sometimes on both sides of the river, fun whitewater, and even some sun for a fair bit in the later morning and early afternoon.

Definitely less camping opportunities today but they are there if you look for them. Smaller sites as well, but big enough little gems. Some are in the back eddies at the bottom of rapids so one must look over his or her shoulder back upstream to find some of the camping opportunities. 


ww image

We run rapids of all kinds, from easy swifts to class 4. Most of them were in fact easy. One class IV we lined RR—it was ledgy and shallow on RR and big and out of control on RL. The R3 Ledge we ran and it was not a typical ledge but rather more like an underwater gravel bar with some rocks to avoid. The R4-5 at the end of the Big Fish Canyon we portaged on RL (a short carry) and had lunch in the sun and out of the wind. 

After lunch we again did some paddling into the wind for something like a couple of hours of slow progress before we picked up current and entered Falcon Canyon. It was beautiful—the steep walled canyon sides but be forewarned, as the rapids are steeper and powerful. The R3 flowed seamlessly into the R4 and we did not see portaging or scouting opportunities. Mind you, we were focused on the intensive rapid running. 

There was one short R4 that we portaged RL to stay dry on our cloudy and cold day. The line was possible but wet. From there we ran all the rest until the end of Rockface Rapids where we camped RL. 

The site is outstanding—good landing and a magnificent view from up top where we set up camp (tent and Mantis shelter). We pulled out breakfast, lunch bread, and rum from the next food pack. We also zip tied the canoe keel as it has been moving out of its little C clips. And we repaired the camera tripod that we broke the head off of some time ago. 

After hot drinks, hot rum, hot potato soup, and more hot drinks and chocolate I walked westward to view the upcoming lake. There are a couple of sandhill cranes calling and flying around all evening. The views continue to be outstanding. Today was an incredible day for scenery. 

All in all, today is what Far North canoe trips are all about. It was a great day. 

28 July

It was actually warm in the tent this morning and there was little wind so we both forewent our long underwear. Also of interest was the lack of mosquitoes. Usually with less wind they are out in hordes. The West wind still has a chilly bite to it. 

On Dave's Lost Lake we watched a couple of swans and could hear sandhill cranes. We did a fine job of not getting stuck in the shallow lake, following the southern deepwater channel. At a rest break at the West end I put on a shell jacket and pogies for warmth. The sun was out and we are solar charging. 

The river rapids are now powerful and have gained volume. We ran all but a short R4, which we lined RL. After following the deepwater channel on the North side of Swan Lake we paused for lunch. I switched the solar charge from the camera battery to the satellite phone before lunch. 

The afternoon was pleasant with swans, sun, sandhill cranes, and okay west winds. By 3:30 p.m. we were at Good Fortune Lake. Into the wave and wind we continued to the other side where we had to walk the canoe for a bit because it was too shallow to float the canoe with us in it. 

It took all of our energies to cross the lake and find a good place to camp. Our tired bodies settled in for a hot drink before setting up the tent and getting on with hot rum, salad, pasta, chocolate, ginger, and another hot drink. 

As the evening progressed the wind lessen but only the odd mosquito came out. Surprisingly, the solar charger continued to charge on 12 V even without full sunlight as it had clouded over with overcast later afternoon. 


solar and devices image

Today we continue to see sandy area and willows. We also saw for the first time this trip bear berries. 

29 July

Yesterday later afternoon there were sun dogs around the sun, indicating that the weather was going to change. What the change would be we did not know. 

This morning we woke to overcast skies and little wind, and no bugs. We had oatmeal for breakfast, at a leisurely rate. The wind had shifted over night and it was blowing 180 degrees, into the Mantis' tall end. We decided the wind was light and not to shift or rotate the Mantis. With our slow breakfast the wind continued to increase until we had to lower the Mantis before we had cleaned up breakfast. 

We packed up camp and left at 10 a.m., late for us. The wind was still building in strength as we pushed away for shore. In no time, the southern crosswind was almost too much to paddle in. We both paddled very hard and used the wind the ferry us westerly, otherwise we would have ended up on the North shoreline. 

Once in Surprise Canyon the wind lessened, due to the high cliff banks? We thought the wind would have funnelled down the canyon. As we paddled, we saw a couple of swans and then a couple of musk oxen. 

It was raining on us. Raining hard as it was wind blown rain. 

The river section has a number of rapids, ranging from swifts to R4, including an "ugly shallow ledge." Surprisingly, the rapids were easier than expected, easier than the last set of similarly rated rapids, as the gradient was less, the volume was less, and the powerfulness or pushiness of the water was less. In no time, without scouting were we running the “ugly shallow ledge” (RL). With 9 km done, we took a short rest break. Today, after yesterday’s long, hard, and late paddle into the wind, my muscles are sore, to the point that after the tough start to get off the lake and into the canyon I was not sure that I'd make the day. After 10 km they are still sore but I’m hanging in there. 

On the lake, as we passed the Copper Cliffs, the wind helped us along. The left island channel was just passable in the canoe. The morning has been very interesting and scenic, although the overcast skies and low cloud cover, along with the rain have dampened the sights. 

We eddied out to scout the Copper Canyon as well as to have lunch. We found a lee overlooking the canyon, and sat down to eat between rain showers. As the air temperature is okay today, we had a most enjoyable meal with a beautiful view. 

For the rapids, we did a lift over for the first R4, instead of running the RR edge that would have had the bow paddler going over a three-foot ledge (i.e. getting wet), lined the lower part of the second R4. All in all, it was quick. 


lining rapids image

Loon Lake, we sped across with the wind pushing us along. Again, we paused to rest before venturing out onto Gull Lake. The sights are great at the West end of the lake. We debated following the North shore and then discussed following the South shore, but in the end, with the East wind, we paddled directly across in 90 minutes. The rain falling on both lakes was at times hard and we were putting our rain gear through its paces. 

The West end of Gull Lake was shallow, deep enough to paddle, but not much more. We beached the canoe sometime after 4 p.m. in a heavy rain and very strong wind and walked around to scout a campsite. Instead of camping at the point we walked to below the first rapids and decided that was a better place to camp (off the lake, shorter distance from the water). But it took a long time to walk there and back to the canoe to paddle it downstream—in strong winds and rain. In hindsight, it was a poor idea as we got wetter. Keeping dry clothes is most helpful and safe. 

There were sandhill cranes on RL as well as a couple of musk oxen. We pulling across and quickly pulled out the kitchen and tarp packs. Up went the Mantis shelter and we had a hot drink. As the rain continued, we had hot rum and a snack. We waited but it was still raining so we had to dash to get the food pack and the tent pack, and secure the canoe for the night. 

While supper was cooking, bannock and cheese macaroni, it stopped raining so we put up the tent and returned to finish supper. Of course, the rain returned. 

A lone musk oxen came to visit us. Close enough to hear it grunting.

It was late when we retired to the tent. Our clothing shows sighs of moisture migration from a day of wind driven rain. Hope to dry out tomorrow. We are two tough guys to have made it this far, continually paddling our 30 km daily rate under such challenging conditions. One more river day if all goes well. 

30 July

The day started less than encouraging—a very low cloud ceiling and a light drizzle of a rain. We had breakfast and eventually decided to leave. It took a little bit of convincing because some of my partner's clothing was wet or damp from yesterday's persistent rains. The bottoms of two of my tops were also wet but I hoped they would dry faster if we paddled and generated heat than sitting around in camp. 

At 10 a.m. we left and began running whitewater. The cloud cover was very low but it had stopped drizzling. The rapid running went well and we paused before venturing across Muskox Lake. There we followed the shoreline deepwater channel, which had current in places, around the point before heading for the white coloured cabin on the far shoreline. The crossing took under an hour and as we proceeded, the wind and waves from the left lessened. Just before arriving, a brisk wind developed from ahead. Our timing could not have been luckier to arrive before the headwind gained force. The local Inuit call this lake Fish Lake, not Muskox Lake. 

We spent almost an hour poking about the cabins. Tons of garbage and stuff lying around. Most of the cabins had short doors, a single window or two, plywood walls and roof, plain and simple interiors. The odd one had an interior tent. One was made with exterior and interior tents. 

Our guess was this is a spring fishing site, accessed by snow machine. In Holman we found out it is also a fall fishing site, again, accessed by snow machine. 

After our walk about we sat on the beach and enjoyed the view from hence we came and ate lunch. 

Then it was back onto the river and running more whitewater. In general, all went very well. 

Throughout the day we noticed more bird life today. Lots of ducks, geese, sandhill cranes, raven, falcon, and loons, as well as musk oxen and one fox at the start of Muskox Lake.

We found three meat or fish caches on RL after the rapids. Then we stopped at an old wooden boat and decided to camp. We are within view of the headlands and the ocean, at a very nice little place, sheltered to the North. 

We kept ourselves busy organizing and drying out gear. This is a transition from river to ocean paddling. By the time we decide to get water for supper we noticed that the water was salty. We knew the river felt different as we paddled up and we saw the current flowing but also noticed the river water level dropping. Nevertheless we were surprised to find the river water salty. Obviously, it does not have sufficient volume or current to push fresh water. The ocean waves roll in salt water and the tide pushes stronger than the river flow. 

At some length we found all our water capable containers—empty rum, lemonade, and lime bottles as well as an empty dry bag. We walked upstream, tasting the water at each point. No success, it’s still salty. Back to camp and the canoe, to paddle back upstream. Our goal was to test midstream as well as the other side just incase there was fresh water close at hand. Again, we were unsuccessful, so we continued to paddle, upstream against the current and outgoing tide as well as the wind. Before we made the last rapid, about 1.5 km upstream, I heard some inflow and we stopped to find a tiny creek flowing into the river. We filled our bottles and bag and returned to make hot rum, a rice supper, and vanilla mouse with chocolate bits. It was 9 p.m. by the time we finished up. 

While getting water we saw a seal, and as per usual, it was a little playful, splashing to get our attention.

There was some other gear to put away that was drying as well as some repacking and so on before crawling into the tent. It was a great day. It is a great river, one of the best for scenery, highly recommended, but not at 30 km a day! 

We had mosquitoes in camp tonight. 

More unknowns await us as we begin the next phase of our journey. 


tundra vastness image

End of the Kuujjua River

Section III, Ocean Canoeing

31 July

Our first ocean day after canoeing down the Kuujjua River. We woke our usual time, had breakfast, and left our little ledge, shelf, or nook of a camp. The dry bag of fresh water had leaked overnight so we captured what was left into one of my small dry bags. 

Downstream we headed, to the historic site on the map. It is large site in terms of number of tent rings and food caches. There's a tiny pond up the side in back where we assume you could get fresh water—we did not investigate. 

We were back on the water for a short paddle to the backside of the island. The side channel was too low to enter so we walked overland to the Goose Cabin, named or belonging to the Goose family of Holman. By the looks of things, it was at one time a pretty nice cabin. Now it has deteriorated—it was in ruins. Penned on the wall were names of other river travellers—Bob O'Hara, Jim Murphy, the Baird Brothers, Laco's group, and so on. 

Minto Inlet was calm and welcoming albeit it impressive, initiating, and nerve-wracking at the same time. We made good time, took one quick rest stop, and then paused for lunch on the point or headland. At the high water mark there was a lot of debris, cast ashore from the ocean waves. It was interesting looking about—pieces of wood, larger trees, plastic, and many bones included a seal skeleton. My trip mate was quick to say seal whereas I was still thinking of land based animals such as too small to be a wolf but not looking like fox. 


seal jaw bone image

Back paddling. The wind and wave action was up as we rounded the point and continued. We decided it looked stabled and continued. The scenery, much like the Kuujjua River was excellent. Two hours later we entered a little bay, our planned spot for the night. We camped inside the point in full view of the Inlet. There is much sign that others (Inuit) have used this place for years—tent rings, old metal, shaped bone, etc. 

Hiding under the Mantis shelter with a hot drink at 4 p.m. was nice. Outside in the wind it is very cold. Then to the tent for a nap and reading. At 6 p.m. it's time to get out from under the warmth of my sleeping bag as a blanket to venture to the Mantis shelter for another hot drink and to begin supper preparations. 

8 p.m., our earliest into the tent in some time. After a big feast of pesto pasta and a bean salad and hot rum and hot tea it started to rain. Then came dish washing and teeth and hair brushing and a quick pee before driving into the tent, a little wet. It is now all overcast skies. We can hear loons on the water, most of the day. 

Hopefully early to bed, early to rise, and calm conditions for tomorrow's paddle. 

1 August

The wind dropped off late last night, from 11:30 p.m. to 4 a.m. Our plan the night before was to get up anytime after 5 a.m. if the wind was down. Not so, so we stayed warm and slept in until after 9 a.m. 

Breakfast of oatmeal followed by a walk out to the southern point to get a better feel for the ocean conditions. My canoeing partner was right, we should stay put. 

On the walk we found a survey marker and a small cairn like pile of rocks that contained a human skull. Once back to camp we organized to hike for fresh water but delayed our plans as it started to mist. We stayed dry and warm tent bound, reading until the rain stopped. 

During the water supply hike we passed another survey marker. The drainage creek had a little flow and some deepwater pools, deep enough for a cooking pot. We filled our container collection (lemonade jar, PB jar, lime juice bottle, Platypus containers, and water bottles) and returned to camp for a hot lunch of tea, soup, bannock, chocolate with peanut butter.  

I'm reading up on charging the satellite phone. It's been in the sun for several hours now. 

I'm writing this on August the second, a day late. 

I decided to wash body and clothes, as the sun was out, there was a drying wind, and we were going nowhere fast. I gathered my dirty clothes, my wash stuff, and my partner persuaded me to also pack up a stove and pot for a warm water bath before I headed off overland to the creek for fresh water. Brrr, it was cold. I washed some clothes as the bath water warmed. The sun was gone and the wind was cold. It was something less than 10 degrees C. Oh well, a bath and clothes wash was overdue. I had second thoughts when I started to wash my green fleece, which soaked up all the water and became heavy and wet—would it dry? It was 6 p.m. by the time I hiked back to camp and set up a clothesline. 

Going from memory, we cooked up supper and then had a nap in the tent before I was convinced that we should pack up and paddle. It was well after 11 p.m. when we pushed off shore and headed out of our little bay into the ocean. 

We paddled for a couple of hours and took a rest at a little nook, where someone had once lived in a cabin—a nice little harbour with a massive inukshuk on the rise behind the harbour. 


ocean snow image

From there we continued paddling for hours until we camped for the night at a little river or creek entrance. It was a most beautiful site. As it was early morning, we quickly put up the tent and went to bed, donning on warm clothes to fight off the cold. It was something like 6 a.m. when we fell asleep, only a stone’s throw from the icy cold ocean. 

2 August

We woke at noon, to a warm tent. The sun was out and the wind was down. 

We enjoyed our little camp. The surroundings as well as the view were wonderful. There was water flowing in the river, over a ledge and dropping into a pool. The waterfall and pool looked very inviting but neither one of us swam—only photographs were taken. 

Without bugs we cooked breakfast next to the tent in the open air. It was a slow cook breakfast of eggs with cheese, hash brown potatoes, and bacon, plus two rounds of tea and coffee—something that has been lacking on this trip. By 3 p.m. we were packed up.

The late day paddle was enjoyable. The shoreline in general offers landing anywhere, which is a nice change from the previous days and it relieves the tension and dangers of steep shorelines. We paused before Wollaston Point to find Inuit stone structures. 

There is an excellent fresh water access point south of Wollaston Point where the sand extends into the ocean. It is another good place to camp.


ocean peacefulness image

We pushed on after having a lunch (our second meal of the day) or call it a supper break because of the time of day. Before we camped as planned, at the beach hook just south of the 50 km mark, we also investigated a couple of cabins, including a huge sled (komatik). One cabin was old whereas the other two cabins were new or still in construction. 

It was close to 10 p.m. when we camped. We were quick about unloading, setting up the tent, and having a hot rum with nuts before crawling in for some sleep. 

We saw two sandhill cranes today and tonight we can also hear some as well as hear loons. 

Our advice to future ocean paddlers is to use 1:250 topographic maps not the 1:50 000 photomaps for the ocean paddle. We have both 1:250 000 topographic map and 1:50 000 photomaps. The other idea would be to look into nautical charts of the ocean. 

3 August

It was a late and slow start to the day, as we knew we were wind bound and not going anywhere fast. Out of the tent before noon for a granola breakfast and double round of coffee and tea. While eating a fox was out near the point roaming around. It could clearly see us, stopping every ten feet to look our way. The offshore breeze meant the fox could not scent us so it kept an eye on us as it moved away. One jetliner flew past overnight. We have seen very few planes. 

As we were running out of paper 1:250 000 topos maps we viewed digital 1:250 000 topos maps on the iPad and transferred information to the 1:50 000 photomaps that we are using on the water (also the VFR map, which we keep handy while on the water).

The sky is clear so I set up the solar to finish charging a battery pack. Then we were off for a hike, to the point to view the waves and sea. The Southeast wind is close to our direction of travel so we not going to paddle until the conditions change. The hiking was good. There are tent rings and meat caches near as well as a tundra pond. We continued along the shoreline into the wind, walking the high water debris line. Lots of wood including with nails and plywood. 

Our hike turned out to be a long walk, south to the next point. We passed several traps nailed to large logs, more historic sites, and ATV tracks before returning via the high ridge with a simple cairn. Two sandhill cranes in flight made a lot of noise as they passed us. I found an old musk oxen skull. The hike was something like 3 km each way for a total of six km, no wonder I was tired. I could hardly keep up with my trip mate, resting a couple of times. 

It was before 4 p.m. I switched to charging the satellite phone. There was time to read and nap. Sandhill cranes can be heard off in the distance. After charging the satellite phone it would not turn on—weird, disappointing, discouraging, and frustrating all at once. 

In the tent, after a supper of a nutty salty snack and rum with crystal light—we are out lemonade but still had lime juice to add. Finished the lime juice tonight so we are left with lemon juice. Dinner was a rice dish to which we added dried veggies, sun-dried tomatoes, and tuna. We thought it was a little plain or lacking spice. It was better with Frank’s hot sauce. Dessert was simple chocolate with peanut butter, a piece of crystallized ginger, and tea.

We slowly cleaned up as we enjoyed the evening of an open-air kitchen. The wind is down to the point of a few mosquitoes are out but not bothersome. Still too windy to paddle. 

The satellite phone finally powered up to indicate only one bar of battery life. I left it out charging with the solar panel hanging off the tent fly with the phone in the tent vestibule.

At 10 p.m. it is time to read and sleep. We'll see if the wind dies enough to yet us paddle tonight or early tomorrow morning.

4 August

It was a restless and relentless night, for whatever reason, as sleep avoided both of us. We both read after catching up on our journals. Every time I rolled over to try to get comfy and fall asleep, I noticed my tent mate was also awake. I finally gave up and pulled out my book and read a couple of chapters from 2 a.m. something to going on 4 a.m. By 4:30 a.m. I was at long last feeling sleepy and fell asleep. 

By 7 a.m. or so we were stirring again. The wind has shifted from SE to E, and it has increased in strength. We are still wind bound. 

During our second round of coffee and tea we read our books in the lee of the tent, enjoying our open-air kitchen. Sandhill cranes can be heard off in the distance. The odd sea gull flies by to check us out. A golden plover is calling. 

Later morning I walk to the point and circle back clockwise, the opposite direction from yesterday's hike. Again, there are numerous tent rings, some caches, etc. abound. Found a skull, which my trip partner thinks is a polar bear. It is very old, and quite light in weight with orange lichen on it. 


tent ring image

The satellite phone was out all night and is still out solar charging. 

The ocean water, even from camp, looks different colours. In some places it is more green, in others more blueish green. Of course, the visibility is excellent. While paddling you can watch the seabed or bottom. Occasionally, we will notice a fish swimming, most likely an Arctic char. 

In the tent to write, so that I can see the iPad screen. It's almost too hot in the tent. Yesterday and today's wind has been most warm. You can hike with only a wind shirt on. 

I'd say that the Kuujjua River was fantastic for scenery and if you paddle the coast, it adds to the experience because of the historic sites as well as the different but similar environment. Finding seal and polar bear skulls in addition to musk oxen. But be ready and patient for you do not have the same options as river travel, nor the current to help you make progress. 

It seems much has passed. We had a light lunch, next to the tent to duck out of the wind a bit. The powerful wind is up in speed and has swung back to more SE than E. We walk on the tundra. We go down by the canoe to get new books for we had finished books this morning. I made a cup of tea. 

Suddenly I hear a tent zipper open, which could only be the vestibule opening under the wind load. I was sitting in the lee of the tent looking downwind, out to sea. As I turned the tent went airborne and I jump up and manage to catch a guideline in my left hand and yell for help, which came running from the canoe towards the tent that I was barely holding onto. We were very near the ocean and the off shore wind almost sent our tent to sea. 

With much effort and fast work I held and my trip mate staked the tented, and then added rocks to weight the pegs. We found the tent pegs scattered around. The interior contents was all tossed about and mixed up. The exterior fly suffered several tears to the top, front, and side. I rope burnt my finger skin and used the first aid kit to clean, disinfect, and bandage the wound. 

I assume because we have been wind bound and camped for several days and nights at the same spot that the tent pegs have been slowly but surely worked loose to the point where the wind overpowered the pegs’ holding power. We are more used to not camping so long in the same place that neither one of us had checked the pegs since our first morning when I had. Lucky for us that this tent blowing away event did not happen while we were out for our 6 km hike! No doubt our tent would have been in the ocean. 

It all took some time to get everything reorganized. We also took the opportunity to empty the extra food pack to dry it out, as some of the food bags were damp, as was the pack box liner. Instead of repacking it we broke it down, adding the food to the other in-use food pack. So we are now down to four packs (food, kitchen, annex, and tent).

The wind and waves are strong enough to see white cap waves from upwind looking out over the water and downwind. And it is still warm. Warm enough to be in the tent out of the wind with a single layer of clothing on. I've started my new book. We've also given up on the satellite phone for now. Neither one of us can get it to turn on even after hours on the solar charger in full sun, not a cloud in the sky. It has gone from one bar of battery to none. 

Some resting and reading before we got up for a fresh water trek to the nearest good sized tundra pond, then rum with mixed nuts, salad, and a dinner of one of our emergency meals just to try it out—Indian Curry, which had very simple ingredients—rice, lentils, potatoes, veggies, and spices but none of those unknown and unpronounceable ingredients that are so commonly found in packaged food. It was simple but good. We finished the evening off with hot drinks, crystal ginger, and milk chocolate. 

I walked down the beach before crawling into the tent. Still a blue bird day with the same old strong wind, powerful enough to push you around while walking. The iPad charged up to 100%. Obviously the solar panel is doing a fine job of charging the iPad, keyboard case, Spot, inReach, and camera batteries. 

5 August

We are still at the same site. 

It was a windy night. I read late, and then lay listening to the wind. At one point, we were both up, silently amazed at the sound of the howling wind, which had increased. 

As the early morning arrived, the wind lessened back to where it is was two days ago—too strong to paddle but much more pleasant to either sit outside or be in the tent. My trip mate was up and shook my leg, awaking me and offering me a hot cup of tea. 

Breakfast was uneventful as we ate granola, drank hot drinks, and watched some clouds slowly move in from the Northwest. 

After packing up the kitchen a bit we rolled back the tent fly to patch more holes that we could not reach or get at yesterday when the wind was more powerful. We have added more than half a dozen pieces of tent repair tape to patch up the fly. It's after 10 a.m. and we are into our novels—waiting for the wind to lessen so that we can continue our journey southward. 

We were up for lunch as well as a hike southward to the top of the rise to look into the wind and see the conditions ahead. Then back to camp to read and rest.

At 5 p.m. something we were up for a pre dinner hot drink. The wind was down a little more. After tea we decided to forgo the usual rum ration and instead make supper in preparation for an evening paddle. Following a simple and quick supper we packed up the tent, filled water contains from a pond, and headed off after spending 3 nights here. 

The wind from the SE died away and a light breeze from the North quicken and then died just as fast as it had risen. In 3 hours we had not stopped paddling and had made good time and progress. As we approached the point north of Coast Point the SE wind could be seen on the water ahead, coming towards us. Our progress slowed as the wind force hit us. The remaining distance took much more effort and time to complete. 

We paused and could see a cabin ahead at Coast Point off in the distance, some 3 km ahead. It motivated us to get back on the water. It took 40 minutes of strong paddling to reach the point, where we called it a night. After Scotch and a salty snack we were ready for the tent. 

Some other days paddling on the ocean is like cork bobbing, not today. 

At some point, we were seeing mirages while paddling. The shoreline was moving. It continued for some time. The light was interesting. It took us a bit to figure out what was happening. At one point we had considered that there was ice ahead. 

Polar mirages. The mirages appear in clear and calm weather where are layers of air, cold air below warm air. There also is a need for something to be reflected or distorted such as ice or land, which floats upside down. I recall my time in the Navy seeing other vessels reflected above the horizon. This was actually a useful way to see vessels before they were insight of each other. This was not the first time we have seen such, but they are were prolific on the ocean than the big lakes of past Arctic canoe trips. 

The Inuit term for polar mirages is puikaktuq, meaning rising above the sea. Polar mirages were helpful to the Inuit because they showed land that was below the horizon, or pans of floating ice, etc. 

6 August

Today is the day we had hoped to make Holman, but the wind conditions have not changed since we arrived last night—a strong and warm SE wind. Last night, when the wind came up it hit us like someone opened an oven door—a warm blast, at times almost hot. Or one could say it was like paddling into a sauna. Strange or surprising as it is, I have worn the least amount of clothing this trip on the ocean paddling, where one would expect to be the coldest. Consider a weather radio for coastal travel? The current inReach now has a weather button/function.

The satellite phone is on charge but it will not turn on. We would have called for an ATV pickup if it had worked. 

Should we walk out. I'm okay with waiting to see if the wind goes down tonight or tomorrow morning and if not then we walk out first thing in the morning. 

We could paddle today but the conditions are less than ideal. Waves, some breaking, as well as head winds means it would be much work to make headway. Additionally, launching and landing would be difficult with the waves and paddling would be very hard and tiring without good rest options. 

We walked up to the big lake for a hike as well as to refresh some of our water supply. The water in my water bottle did not taste good so a refresh was most welcome. During the hike we found there is a quad trail that follows the coastline. It is very well defined. 

We are both tired today after a restless night of on and off sleep, waking regularly hoping to hear no wind but always hearing the crashing waves. We were up at one point to check on the canoe. 

Noon. Up for lunch after reading. The wind is down some so we also decide to pack up and paddle on. We left at 1:10 p.m. 

The start was promising—little wind and the wave action is down to reasonable size. There are very few white caps. After some time the wind increased a bit but was still okay. There were big rollers leftover as well as some new chop. We paddled on and started to bob and cork, with the bow crashing over waves, getting a little airborne. It was tiresome, the canoe action, but we were still making forward progress. Only the odd wave crashed over the boat of the canoe. I have been wearing my pogies to keep the salt water off my rope burnt finger. 

After 3 hours the wind lessened and the wave action settled down a bit. We were passing cabins and could see our destination in the distance. I was dead tired and I think my paddling partner was the same. We had been on the water for over 3 hours without a break, paddling hard. We finally paused to stretch our legs and relieve ourselves within sight of Jack's Bay, the backside of Holman. In general, the shoreline was not welcoming for a wave landing but the place we landed was afforded a calm bouldery landing. 

In Holman, it was near 5 p.m. when we beached at Jack’s Bay. The site was not great for camping so we moved a little south to a place we figured we could camp. After humping our gear and canoe to a suitable sight a young couple come to check their fish net. They were catching Arctic char—commercially. Both of them were efficiently using ulu knifes to fillet fish and gut fish. Holman was renamed to Ulukhaktok, “place where one finds material to make ulus.” 


fish cleaning arctic char image

The woman of the young fishing couple returned to say that her parents, Agnes and Robert Kuptana, invited us for supper and a shower! Wow. We could pass on the supper but not the kind hospitably to visit with locals with the bonus of a shower so we quickly sought out clean clothes and walked over. They run a B&B and were very welcoming and kind. It would be my first hair wash since leaving home. We showered, ate, and talked about the land.

After supper we did a quick walk about, stopping at the quick stop for a $3 can of Coke—mix for our rum. This is a nice, friendly and fairly clean hamlet. School is back in since early August. We returned to our little site to have our evening rum and watch a local skipping his snow machine on the water. It was loud. It was very loud. In the end, he sank his machine and we watched as he was pulled out. Run and coke—not so good. Better with lemonade. 

Time for some sleep. 

7 August

We were up to a beautiful day. The winds have been calm since we arrived. The sun is warm. We enjoyed a slow cook breakfast of eggs with melted cheese, hash brown potatoes, and a double round of hot drinks. We are both suffering from last night's late rum and coke. The coke from the Quick Stop at $3 a can was not appreciated by either one of us. After the taste of rum and lemonade mixing rum with coke was too heavy and syrupy.


Ulukhaktok Holman image

We had a list of things to do so off into town we walked. First stop is Gary Bristol, the First Air guy. He was not home but we found him at the Coop where he manages the fuel. Patrick, the unofficial hamlet ambassador had tracked him down for us. Gary thought we could ship all our gear cargo instead of baggage, to avoid Air Canada issues in Edmonton. We also visited the print shop, where we purchased a couple of items. The Northern, like the Coop had little or no tourist items for sale. The Inns of the North had a pay phone. Calls to our spouses were made. The Quick Stop was closed so we'll return later to buy an Ulu T-shirt. Interesting that most places are closing at noon, for whatever reason. The wildlife guy (conservation officer) has gone caribou hunting—gone for at least a week. 

Back to camp for lunch and to pack up. The Kuptana daughter and husband are checking their fishing net so we support the commercial fishing industry and buy a char for $30. Then they haul three packs en route by quad to near her parents' place, where we will stay tonight, in a little cabin (Kuptana Lodging). We portaged the canoe. It is the first time we use the portable portage yoke, which turned out not to fit quite right. Agnes and Robert come to set a fishing net so we help them get the boat into the water, as the tide has gone out. Once the net is set then return with several Arctic char—a quick catch! On their ride home they took the rest of our gear. 

At our new locale, Kuptana Lodging, we start the progress, making packing preparations. Then we pause for a mid afternoon bump—coffee and tea. By 5 p.m. we have dismantled, cleaned, dried, and packed up the Pakcanoe, packed an empty red food pack with extra stuff, packed the blue pack with the tent and PFDs, and have a collection of food items to give away. 


Kuptana lodging image

Off to the Quick Stop to get the T-shirt. Once back we start supper, salad, potatoes, and fish. There has been a misunderstanding, as Robert is expecting us for supper, so we finish up our cooking and bring along our food. For supper, we share our salad, potatoes, and fish and Agnes has cooked two Arctic char, one with a white sauce, one with barbecue sauce—all are excellent. To cook fast, she scored the fish similar to when drying it. A friend of theirs, Donald also joined us for dinner. We washed up the dishes while our hosts left to get the fishing net. Robert also has the smoke house going, smoking char. 

arctic char drying image

We retire. Our checked baggage is organized. 

8 August

Gary from First Air is to arrive sometime this morning to transport our cargo to the airport. We have a simple breakfast and pack up the remaining food as well as the kitchen pack. We borrow a broom and sweep out the cabin. I pass our left over white gas stove fuel to Robert. 

Patrick visits for a while and returns to tell us Garry will come at 10:30 a.m. After a bit we load up and take everything to the airport. We snack on some lunch food and wait for our flight. 

There were five of us on the flight. The normal routine on such a flight is to have the bulkhead far back with cargo up front and a few seats at the rear.

Our flights from Holman to Coppermine and then Coppermine to Yellowknife were fine. We waited in Coppermine for the ground crew to load some canoes and fuel. 

The Yellowknife to Edmonton flight was uneventful. We have a short stay or overnight before an early morning flight. We had a beer in the bar and slept. 

9 August

We were up early shortly after 4 a.m. and off to the airport, with the extra empty gun case that we had left at the hotel. 

The check-in kiosk was not working so we waited in line, which took a minute. Then to oversized baggage and onward to pass through security. Again it took a minute. 

We asked at the bookstore about good coffee and were directed to a café. There we purchase drinks and a snack with just enough time to get to our gate in time. As it turned out the boarding was late so we had time to drink and eat. 

After travelling with First Air, Air Canada is without any food. 

Our ride was waiting in Winnipeg when we arrived. It was quick to get our two bags and the gun case. We stopping in at First Air Cargo on the way home to ask about our shipment. He said call him after 2 p.m. and he should know if it made the Rankin to Winnipeg flight. 

Our bags did not make the connection, as the Yellowknife to Rankin flight was a little late. Hopefully they will arrive tomorrow. 

We walked to check out the four restaurant options and had tacos and beer. Three paddlers, all local kayakers, were also in the restaurant so we joined their table. 

10 August

After breakfast we had a tour at Half Pints, a local craft brewing company. The tour guide was very good. 

We then shopped at Wilderness Supply before having lunch at Black’s Coffee café on Portage near Assiniboine Park. We paused at the used bookstore and walked across the river to see a bit of the park, including the duck pond area and the Leo Mol sculptures. 

Off to First Air Cargo for 5 p.m. to pick up are cargo. All is well. We departed, going opposite directions—south and north. 


Kuujjua beauty desertscape image

Trip Statistics

Canoeing the Nanook River, Kuujjua River, and the Beaufort Sea to Holman

Approx. 600 km

July 4 - August 9, 2013

Time on the water: 30 days (July 7 – Aug 6)

Territories paddled:  2 (Nunavut, Northwest Territories)

Average daily rate of travel: 12.53 miles (20.17 km)/day 

Days spent wind bound (no travel): 3

Average realized daily rate of travel (not counting wind bound days): 13.9 miles (22.4 km)/day

Kuujjua R. average daily rate of travel: 15.3 miles (24.5 km)/day (range: 2.5 – 21 miles)

Longest paddling session without a land break: 12.3 miles (19.8 km) on Amundsen Gulf

Class of rapids run: class 3/4

Precipitation encountered: snow, sleet, and rain

Lowest temperature: 30° F (estimated

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
77H12, 77H5, 77H4, 77G1, 77F16, 77F15
Topo Maps (1:250,000): 
77H, 77G, 77F