Jonathan and Kirti Walpole's 950 km canoe journey across Northwest Territories and Nunavut in July and August of 2014

We're home!

We were lucky to get out of Yellowknife when we did. The road opened the morning we left and closed down again the next day. Our drive out was relatively uneventful, aside from spotting several herds of buffalo (wood bison) along the road side in the fire-affected areas of Highway 3 between Yellowknife and Fort Providence. Wood bison are the largest terrestrial animals in North America, with large males weighing over 2000 lbs. We saw at least 50 wood bison in several different groups.

We drove home in three days rather than the four it took us to drive to Yellowknife. Three days for the journey between Yellowknife and Portland is quite manageable with two drivers. The drive through Jasper and Mt Robson National Parks is particularly spectacular. In fact, it is quite spectacular all the way from there to the US border, and beyond. Unfortunately, we didn't take the time to stop and explore, or take pictures, as we were hurrying back to catch my mother, sisters, brother-in-law and nephew, who had come over from England to take a vacation at our house in Beaverton.

Thank you to everyone who followed our trip! Now, what should we do next?

Last day in Baker Lake

In the morning we organized and dried our stuff before packing it into bags for our flight out. We also separated out a couple of weeks of extra food, fuel canisters, air horn and bear spray to donate to the local people.

After organizing our stuff we spent some time exploring Baker Lake. It is interesting to see how people live up here. There are snow machines and sleds lying around on the tundra just waiting for a different season. There are also huge snow fences all across the back of town to stop the snow drifting too deep. Apparently, it used to completely cover the houses, not even leaving the roofs visible. Many houses have ATVs and cars even though there is just a mile or so of road, and none of it paved. People zip back and forth on their ATVs at break-neck speeds. The people are wonderfully friendly and welcoming.

In the afternoon we flew out of Baker Lake to Rankin Inlet on Hudson Bay. We were the only passengers on the flight to Rankin Inlet, and enjoyed a large plane all to ourselves with our own personal flight crew. The flight from Rankin Inlet to Yellowknife was slightly busier, but it was a large jet and we had no problem getting a window seat. No sign of any security on these flights -- just walk up and get on the plane. Life is wonderfully simple up here, and the people are amazingly friendly. I think the far north is the last bastion of true civilization.

With luck we will start our drive home tomorrow. It all depends on whether the only road out of Yellowknife is open yet. It has been closed for long periods (days at a time) over the past month, due to forest fires, and people have been stranded. .... the rest of Canada has been isolated!

Day 24

Weather: Calm, cloudy, buggy, then rain and a thunderstorm
Distance: 37 km
Location: Latitude:64.31686, Longitude:-96.05016 at 08/05/2014 14:27:35 PDT
Map link: Click here

It was a cold night. The temperature dropped to freezing and there was ice on the tent in places and a heavy dew. The black flies seemed dead, but they gradually sprang to life as the sun warmed them up. We stayed in bed late and didn't start paddling until after 10 am. The current was quite strong in places and there were some significant rapids as we approached the estuary of Baker Lake. These were not marked, but were in some ways more challenging than Aleksektok Rapids. I think this was the only place on the entire journey where we actually took some water in the canoe due to poor timing with a breaking wave.

The other thing that was tricky was selecting the correct channel. The river is very large as it approaches Baker Lake and it spreads out in a maze of channels, gravel bars and sand spits. There a numerous rapids in the channels as the shallow water cascades over the rocks. We wondered if it might normally be smoother with a higher river discharge.

We arrived in Baker Lake around 2pm. Kirti walked in to the airport as we passed it on the way in to Baker Lake, and managed to book our flight back to Yellowknife (via Rankin Inlet) for the following afternoon. The ticket prices were much more reasonable than we had anticipated.

We found the camp site and set up our tent just in time for the rain to start. Everything got soaked before we could pack it away. Then we walked into Baker Lake to explore the town. People were very nice and we managed to get a shower at the local swimming pool. Unfortunately, there was no place open to eat after 6pm, but we had plenty of food left so we cooked our own dinner as usual.

Shortly after we arrived in Baker Lake, so did 4 other groups from Camp Menogyn. One group had run the Thelon, another had done the Hanbury, a third did the Kazan, and the fourth did the Back and Bailey. They had all been out for 37-40 days. The beach in front of the canoe camp was packed with canoes. Local people from Baker Lake came down to the camp to meet all the visitors. The local people are wonderfully friendly.

There was a huge thunder storm at night, right over the top of us. The thunder was really loud in the tent.

Day 23

Weather: Strong cross wind (20+ mph), then head wind (15 mph), then gentle tailwind. Hot and sunny. Extremely buggy.
Distance: 103 km
Location: Latitude:64.47720, Longitude:-96.47073 at 08/04/2014 19:52:57 PDT
Map link: Click here

We were up at 3am and on the water by 3.45 am. We had a strong cross wind for the first 15 km. The wind was dropping off the hills to our north as we hugged the north shore of Schultz Lake. Eventually we turned south east to round a long peninsula and had quartering seas for 20 km or so. At the end of the peninsula we bumped into our friends again and enjoyed a break with swarms of black flies.

After rounding the peninsula we had a stiff headwind with small whitecaps to contend with for the next 10 km which involved several open crossings. After that the lake narrowed and became the Thelon River. The current picked up and there was a significant rapid before the river turned south east and we had the wind at our backs and the current with us. This wind and current assist is what we had been looking forward to throughout the morning's 50 km struggle.

We paddled down to Aleksektok Rapids where we stopped to scout. We hiked all the way to the bottom of these large rapids which are a km or more long. At this low water level there was a relatively straightforward sneak route on river right, so we decided to run it. This saved a lot of time as we had anticipated doing a long portage around these rapids, based on previous reports.

Below Aleksektok Rapids we enjoyed miles of smooth fast current. The wind was almost calm and the sun was out. The light was fantastic, but the black flies were horrendous. By the time we stopped they were swarming all over us. They were so thick on the tent that they were swarming on top of each other and tumbling down in clumps. It was not possible to get into the tent with out bringing in thousands of them. Even our usual tactic of pitching the tent flat to the ground (poles inside but not installed) running down wind for 200 m and then sprinting back upwind to the tent and having one of us dive in while the other brushed the flies off them and zipped up the tent immediately, didn't work. Thousands got in. We were killing them for an hour after getting in the tent and everything was smeared in black grunge. Our gloves and clothes were filthy. It was really squalid, but finally we got to relax a bit.

We were pleased to have paddled 103 km, with more than half the distance on lakes with wind hinderance, in what felt like an over stuffer dry bag. We may complain about the lack of speed of our PakCanoe, but it can't be that slow if we covered over 100 km in a day. We could easily have continued for another hour or two, but after 15 hours on the water we were tired and even with the black fly insanity with was worth stopping.

Day 22

Weather: Some tail wind, then calm, warm and very buggy, then increasing west wind to 20 mph
Distance: 66 km
Location: Latitude:64.80021, Longitude:-97.61208 at 08/03/2014 15:52:29 PDT
Map link: Click here

We were up at 3.30 am and on the water by 4.30 am. The conditions were good. It was fairly calm with a slight tailwind. Just enough to keep the bugs around our faces all day. We saw a skinny arctic fox on the lake shore. We also met up with Adam, Hillary, Jonah, and Elena again.

We briefly enjoyed some current assist through the narrows. We made good progress and even managed to complete the first 15 km section of Schultz Lake. The wind gradually increase until it was blowing 20 mph or so. Fortunately, it was behind us. We could have continued but we were exhausted by the time we had done 66 km of predominantly lake paddling. This hard effort has positioned us well though. We only have about 50 km of exposed paddling on Schultz Lake before we get back on the Thelon River and hopefully enjoy some current assistance.

We saw lots of fish today, especially in the short sections with current. As usual, the black flies are insane. They are currently hammering into our tent and it sounds like a heavy rain storm, even though its dry out.

Day 21

Weather: Windy, cloudy.
Distance: 0 km
Location: Latitude:64.60686, Longitude:-98.49954 at 08/02/2014 16:09:57 PDT
Map link: Click here

We woke up at 5.30 am ready to paddle, but the seas were quite rough, and the surf was roaring on the beach. A 20-25 mph wind was blowing from the west. We waited all day for the seas and surf to diminish, but they didn't, so this ended up being another rest day from paddling. The sky was grey and the barometer was steadily falling.

We hung around in the tent and finished reading Jon Turk's "Raven's Gift". We also sent our weekly message out on the inReach device. We have about 200 km to go, 100 km of which is exposed, so with almost three weeks of food left we can afford to be picky about the conditions we paddle in.

We went for a couple of short hikes, but did not see any animals today.

Day 20

Weather: Sunny, windy. Distance: 0 km
Location: Latitude:64.60683, Longitude:-98.49954 at 08/01/2014 14:42:29 PDT
Map link: Click here

We had a very windy night. The tent was flapping and buffeting so loudly that it was difficult to sleep. It is still windy today, and finally we have a break from the black flies. The wind is about 25 mph and coming from the west. There are lots of whitecaps on the lake, so we decided that this would be a good day for hiking. We are particularly well positioned for a hike up Peqetuaz Hill, which is very rugged and rocky with multiple layers of escarpments. It is one of the higher hills we have seen, at 237 meters.

The hike was excellent. We were able to keep our bug hoods down all day, which was a new experience for this trip. The views were excellent, and we even saw a lone muskox grazing not far from our camp. We also saw a caribou on the beach. The huckleberries and cloud berries were abundant and we gorged ourselves.

This sunny but windy weather was lovely. It actually felt like we were on vacation. By 4pm the wind dropped slightly and the black flies came out again. They were hitting our hoods hard and it sounded like it was raining.