Trip Journal

July 8th
The folks we saw yesterday paddled up in two kayaks and a canoe as we were finishing breakfast. They were traveling Voyager style, and were planning to have breakfast at Lookout Point. We left them the campsite and asked them to dismantle the fireplace before leaving. I asked them who had flown them into Hanbury Junction and they said it was Kenn Borek Air in a twin otter on tundra tires. I had not heard of this company, so I wrote down the phone number on the back of my map. This was the first and last people we ran into during the trip. The weather was nice, and though we got a late start we moved well. We checked out an old Old Town Discovery 14 on river right. I wondered if it had drifted from Thelon Canyon or the Hanbury. Where else could anyone have had a mishap on such a docile river? I kept scanning the landscape for musk oxen, but saw nothing. It was funny that we had seen the least wildlife on the Thelon. The weather changed to overcast, and it rained off and on. We ate lunch at the “Welcome to Nunavut” sign. I caught a northern at the end of my retrieve in four inches of water. We took it easy again after lunch because the next day would be our last on the Thelon, and we wanted to camp just before the Morse Portage the next day.

July 9th
We woke to steady rain. It rained harder than usual much of the time, but there were also periods of the usual misty rain. It felt like we were inside the cloud. Everything was gray, and there was fog on the ground. We couldn’t see past the banks of the river on either side, and ahead only mist. In the bow today, I got into a sort of Zen trance since you couldn’t see anything. When the river was shallow I would watch the bottom speed by. There was no wind at all and the surface of the water was like glass. Sometimes I watched the bugs hatching on the surface. There were some red may flies, which the white Arctic Turns would scoop up. There was also a kind of small black fly with white wings, which looked like a trico. Another small fly held its body out of the water on tiny legs. There were also thousands of geese and ducks today. We saw them every day, but this day there were more than usual. Most of the geese were in molt, but the ducks flew everywhere. One started to land ten feet in front of us. Its feet skimmed the water, but it lifted them out again and kept going. Around lunchtime the clouds lifted a bit, and it stopped raining. We ate lunch in the canoes again as we drifted closer to the beautiful Akiliniq Hills. We camped on a bluff on the right opposite the bay where we would leave the Thelon the following day. I was apprehensive about our trek to the Morse River. I wondered if I had been lulled into a sense of complacency on the Thelon. Still, our packs were a little lighter, and I would try to mentally prepare that evening. It rained again, but we were already reading and napping in the tents. It was the first afternoon I didn’t stay out to walk or fish. The rain stopped in time for dinner, and a brilliant rainbow appeared. We chatted a bit by the fire, which turned out to be our last fire of the trip.

July 10th
We paddled to the end of the bay and found the unnamed stream entering the Thelon. We saw a moose on the right of the stream, and after paddling another two hundred yards; we saw another on the left with a baby. The stream gained power and we jumped out of the boats to track the canoes for about 7 kilometers. We ferried across several times to reach the slower current. We paddled in a few sections, though the current was strong. We were confronted with a huge headwind in the first lake, but we got across before lunch. We were able to paddle the stream to the next lake where we found the wind was less intense. Both lakes were beautiful with hills plunging into the water. The portage to the third lake was over moss, willow, and dwarf birch, and the walking was difficult. The third lake had a big rocky hill on the left. As we approached the far shore we spotted a huge dark wolf, which I thought was a grizzly bear at first. Though it was getting late, we decided to do the next portage. It was long and up a steep hill. I struggled with my second load, but Alex stayed with me and kept me going. We finished at about 5:15. I was dead tired, but Chase and Woodhull prepared dinner with their usual energy. The bugs were bad, but we didn’t mind, as our little pothole campsite at the top of the hill was so gorgeous.

July 11th
I have never worked so hard to make six miles, but we felt good about the progress we made. We completed 8 portages through varied terrain including bog, hillocks, rocks, and bushes. The longest was about a mile. We seemed to be continuously portaging, as the potholes we paddled through were so small. Alex carried the boat today and I felt better double loading the wanigan and the small Duluth, and then going back for “the beast” (the breakfast Duluth). We completed portage #8 into the lake at elevation 215m by 3:45. Sledzik trolled across as the rest of us found a campsite. He got a lake trout on the way over. When camp was set up Sledzik went back out in the canoe to fish. At one point I saw a fish break the surface near shore and cruise along near the bank. At first I thought the fish on Sledzik’s stringer had gotten off, but I realized another fish was spooked by it. I put together my fly rod and began walking along the shore about ten feet from the water. When I spotted a fish I cast my streamer in front of it and began stripping it back. The fish hit. Later while Sledzik and I were filleting one fish I saw a pair of big trout cruising the shoreline. I jumped up took a cast and hooked one of them. He took all of my line and half the backing on the first run. Alex got in on the action as well. We returned what we did not have for dinner.