Trip Journal

July 12th
It didn’t take us long to get over the next two portages. We had a few minutes of paddling in the narrow lake before a very long one. We took a compass barring, but we were further east than we realized when we set our direction, and we walked off course. When we corrected our mistake we came over a bluff and could see our destination about a mile away. The zig-zagging path made our portage well over a mile, and it didn’t seem to help having the destination in sight. I had a lot of difficulty with this one, and Alex helped keep me going. We pulled through the stream form pothole to pothole doing some short portages until it was no longer navigable. With my load on I fell into the small stream, and floundered like a bug on its back trying to free myself from the pack. It must have looked comical, except for my blood-curdling scream. We ate lunch and then portaged the remaining half mile to the lake at elevation 188. We could see this lake too as we began the portage. Once in the lake we headed north and negotiated a shallow channel leading to the lake marked 187. Everyone was ready to camp. Sam and Alex each caught big lakers at the campsite.

July 13th
We had headwinds from the start today. When we got into the second part of lake 187 the waves were big. Before crossing we decided to portage from the lake into the stream rather than paddling up from its mouth (Sam’s idea). We cut off a few kilometers of headwind paddling, and the portage was easy. In the stream we had strong headwinds and the current against us. Once we got past the first sandy open area we tracked our canoes up stream. The landscape was full of sand hills and eskers. There were musk oxen prints everywhere, and their soft wooly fur was tangled in many bushes. There must have been hundreds, but we still hadn’t seen a single one. We finally had to portage a steep rocky rapid. Now around every bend there was another rapid so we decided to portage directly to the next lake. Paddling again, we missed a turn, and paddled into a bay. The error turned out to be fortuitous, since there was only a small spit of sand separating us from the main body of the lake and we avoided another two kilometers of headwind paddling. We decided to wait out the wind and ended up camping there.

July 14th
The wind was still blowing when we got on the water before 7:00. Still, it wasn’t too bad. This was the largest lake on the portage route, and while paddling it we felt like we weren’t making progress. The features of the landscape seemed to stand still. When we came to the end of the lake I thought we had gone into a false bay, not believing we were already at the end. We portaged into a pothole, and at the far end we did our height-of-land portage into another pothole. From this point we would be in water draining into the Arctic Ocean. From the surface of the potholes we couldn’t see any landscape beyond its banks despite the clear day and the low banks. It felt like being at the top of the world. The landscape change was also astonishing here. Gone were the sand hills and eskers, and in their place were sharp angular rocks of all sizes, like some giants quarry. It felt like the surface of another planet. The stream we had to descend to get to “Morse Lake” passed through the center of these rocks. Where the Peake’s could at least contemplate lining, we had no choice but to portage between each expansion. We portaged eight or nine times, and they became more difficult each time. It felt to me like being trapped in the Minotour’s labyrinth, but the others dubbed it Mordor. The last was the most difficult. We took out of the stream, and instead of trying stay on it we decided to portage all the way to Morse Lake, which we could see when we climbed out of the big boulders by the stream. The wind was howling by this time and the boats were difficult to portage as they were blown around like kites. We developed several strategies for getting the boats across including two manning them sometimes with packs on, and having one person lead the bow of the canoe like a donkey so it wouldn’t get pin-wheeled by the wind. We were exhausted when we made it to Morse Lake and the wind was blowing hard against us. We made it to the site of Peake’s cairn around 6:00. We were elated to have the portage behind us and we felt good about taking the next day off – well deserved and way over due.

July 15th
We took a zero day and had a blast. We slept in a bit, though I still woke up pretty early. Still, it was nice to just lie there and look at the Arctic plant book. When I came out of the tent, Chase was already working on his laundry. I followed suit and did my own and washed my hair while I was at it. The day was beautiful though windy (perfect for drying laundry). After breakfast we relaxed, and the others did laundry while I went to work fixing my whitewater paddle, which I had damaged on the Morse portage pushing off rocks. The carbon lamination had separated in one corner. I fixed it with marine epoxy, and put it under weight (the fix held up perfectly for the rest of the trip). Before lunch we all walked up to the cairn and took a group shot. The hillside was full of Lingon berries, which we couldn’t resist. For lunch each boat team paired up to make Cache Lake pizza bread with Usinger’s sausage added. We celebrated our completion of the trek and we all stayed together in the kitchen for a long time drinking maté. We also made a large vat of apple sauce that Rita Black gave us when we were packing. It kept soaking up more and more water and we added Just Raspberries and cinnamon. Sam, Sledzik, and I each picked a cup of lingon berries for the next days breakfast, and I went out for a long hike. The potholes I looked at had no fish, but the views were good. Before dinner we discussed the possibility of getting to our pick-up point early.