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 Post subject: The "Small River" Trail
PostPosted: August 10th, 2008, 4:38 pm 
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Joined: September 29th, 2005, 5:57 pm
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I thought I would post a brief trip report and some pictures from this summer’s solo trip in the NWT.

The route derived from my curiosity about two streams: an unnamed drainage flowing south from Pate Lake into Snare Lake, which old GSC reports described as a route (with many portages) used in 1949 to access the headwaters of the Indin River; and the Bousso River, which the GSC had described in the 1930’s as a good route (for light canoes) to explore the country north of Rae (now Behchoko). I had flown over this area several times, but never uncovered any detailed information on the Bousso route until I found out last summer that the high school trip from Behchoko had paddled it. I wrote John B. Zoe, the program leader, and he kindly marked the route – known to the Tlicho (Dogrib) as the “Small River Trail” - on my map. (Some WCS Symposium attendees may remember John B’s 1999 presentation on the “Trails of Our Ancestors” program, which takes Tlicho students, leaders, and elders out each summer to canoe the ancestral trails linking their communities.)

According to John, the Small River Trail had been an important route between the Snare Lake (Wekweti) area and Behchoko. But the route he drew only followed the Bousso River for its last five kilometres to Russell Lake – it in fact followed a more northerly tributary of the Bousso which originated near the western tip of Ghost Lake. So here was another interesting question: was this the Bousso route the GSC referred to? Or was there another trail up the Bousso proper? One more thing to look into.

I flew to Pate Lake, 220km north of Yellowknife, with Air Tindi on the evening of June 23rd to start the trip. Pate was an attractive lake, on the edge of the Barrens, and offered good camping on an esker in its southwest corner. I spent the next two days descending its outlet stream to Snare Lake, a distance of about 40 km. It was strenuous in places – it would have been a very difficult ascent for the GSC team in wood-canvas boats – but plastic slides so well, and I only had to make 4 portages. And it offered a fine campsite halfway.

After an easy day’s paddle to the west end of Snare Lake, I made the portage to Cotterill Lake and started on the trail south to Behchoko. I was glad to see the portage trails were well worn and generally easy to follow – confirmation this had been an important route in the past. From Cotterill, the route is a chain of lakes and portages to the east end of Ghost Lake. After a 33 km paddle to its western tip, an easy portage over a sand ridge – obviously an important traditional camping area – puts you in the headwaters of the “small river”, which you follow to its junction with the Bousso just above Russell Lake. This is no whitewater river: it lacks the volume to make any serious rapids paddleable. Rather it is a pretty, if unspectacular, stretch of small lakes, quiet streams, and portages – a classic taiga shield canoe route.

From the lake just above Russell Lake where it joins the Bousso, I took a day and a half to explore up the Bousso proper, to see if it had been a canoe route as well. The answer was no: after a promising start, I had to struggle up through deadfalls and sweepers to reach the first sizeable lake. Above there, I worked up to the third rapid. None of these showed any signs of old portage trails. The first rapid was passed in open forest; the second with half an hour’s machete work; the third would have eaten up a day with a chain saw. Lacking one, I backtracked, headed down the Bousso to Russell Lake, and paddled 60 km down Russell and Marian Lakes to my take out at the Yellowknife highway bridge near Edzo. Strong south winds made this stretch a challenge. Fortunately it was light enough to paddle at any time, and a couple of midnight paddles got me to my takeout on time to meet my friend from Yellowknife who drove out to pick me up.

Trip summary – including the Bousso side trip – 17 days, 300 km, 47 portages, a lot of wading, lining, and dragging. Lots of eagles and ospreys, ducks, beavers and muskrats. One near-albino moose and her calf; one (thankfully) very timid black bear. Many good memories.

A map and some photos follow -
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The beginning - Pate Lake:

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Scenes along the Pate outflow, on route to Snare Lake:

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Onto the small river trail:

Start of the portage from Snare Lake to Cotterill Lake:

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Old canoe in Cotterill:

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Good trails!

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Portaging towards Ghost Lake:

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Scenes from the small river:

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Not enough water when the river spreads out!

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Last rapids on the little river:

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Below the last rapids - a gentle stream flowing to Russell Lake:

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Russell Lake -almost home:

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Regards,

jmc


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PostPosted: August 10th, 2008, 10:54 pm 
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Joined: July 17th, 2005, 11:55 am
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Location: Bolton, ON
Very nice indeed!

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PostPosted: August 11th, 2008, 7:21 am 
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Joined: February 8th, 2006, 5:17 pm
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Ditto thanks John for sharing.
It has me daydreaming of wilderness trails I may never see.
George


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PostPosted: August 11th, 2008, 6:13 pm 
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Joined: August 9th, 2002, 7:00 pm
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Location: Missouri, U.S.A
Nice report and pics.

What kind of canoe are you paddling. Some kind of Bell?


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PostPosted: August 11th, 2008, 6:28 pm 
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Joined: September 29th, 2005, 5:57 pm
Posts: 616
Thanks to all for the kind words.

Been Digging, the canoe is a Swift Raven in royalite.

-jmc


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PostPosted: August 11th, 2008, 7:44 pm 
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Joined: August 19th, 2001, 7:00 pm
Posts: 1879
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario Canada
Thanks JMC,

This summer is one in a long time that I did not get out on a big solo. (complicated reasons). It is these types of TR’s like yours in the open taiga and Barrens that keeps me alive as I languish in the city. I will have to get my maps out and follow your route description in more detail.

Questions:

How did you find the Raven for pack-ability for 17 days of food and gear? Did you use a barrel?

I like standing when negotiating slow flow rock gardens, and tilting up my 34 inch beam boat way up on edge to squeeze between rocks. I have never paddled a Raven and wondering how you liked it for standing paddling and in-river scouting?

Those rivers looked kinda bony. How did the R-lite hold up?

Would you say this is an early season route based on your fairly early start?

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PostPosted: August 12th, 2008, 11:26 am 
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Hello HOOP,

Let me try and answer your questions.

1. The Raven packs easily for 17 days. I don’t use a barrel, though. For up to roughly 3 weeks, it packs as shown in the picture. I have a permanent centre yoke, with the front edge of the seat mounted ~ 15 inches back of centre. Having short legs is sometimes a good thing – I have enough room to sit or kneel with this arrangement. I moved the front thwart forward to leave space to lay my big pack down. This is an Ostrom Wabikimi: it holds food, fuel, equipment, tent, tarp, bug tent, phone, rain gear, etc. for three weeks quite easily (although lifting it at this point can be less than easy). Personal gear, first aid, etc. go in a Sealine 70 L pack (blue). It is shown lying down behind the seat, but usually fits across the boat, on edge, right behind the seat. Pelican box for camera sits at my feet, “bear banger” and spare single blade paddle beside the big pack. I wear a hip pack with necessities I don’t want to lose, and have a small under seat pack for sunscreen and sunglasses.

I think using soft packs I could get another 3 weeks food and fuel in the boat staying below the gunnels, and retaining the small end float bags – although I might have to split that extra load (about 50 pounds, I would guess) into two duffels to make trimming easier.

2. Standing? Well, it’s not bad when the water is flat and it’s loaded. I don’t have trouble standing up for a quick look ahead, or to pole / push through a short shallow stretch. But if I wanted to pole frequently, or do a lot of standing work, I would look for a slightly wider and more flat bottomed boat to do it in.

3. I don’t think the R-lite is bad. You can see from the picture that it is losing its colour coat, and it has lots of scratches, but nothing through to the core. I’ve been tripping in it for about a dozen trips now. I may put some thin skid plates on next spring, and perhaps touch up the bottom a bit. But it’s still a long way from leaking.

4. The stream from Pate Lake to Snare Lake showed no sign of being a traditional canoe route. Here there are no portage trails and being early (with higher water) would (did) make the lining and dragging much easier. The small river trail itself, from Snare Lake down to Rae, would have been an all-season route – likely most heavily used when people travelled north from Rae to the treeline in August (and then back) for the fall caribou hunt. I likely missed a half dozen of the traditional portages (and shortened a couple more) by being able to paddle or wade/drag at spring water levels. But if you were willing to use all the traditional trails, I think you could follow it at any time. That being said, I think there are other traditional trails from Rae to the Barrens that would be better choices in times of low water.

Regards,

jmc


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PostPosted: January 26th, 2009, 10:32 pm 
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Joined: January 22nd, 2005, 12:16 pm
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Location: Toronto
Just had a look at this one on Toporama.
Only a highly experienced paddler would be able to find the way through all those ponds and creeks.
Wow!

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