This post begins a series on time spent in Canada’s North West Territories. Little Doctor Lake is the first stop. It will be followed by a journey to the Nahanni River and the world famous Cirque of the Unclimbables.
When I went to this region of Canada, I was reminded yet again that my country just takes my breath away. It just keeps giving and giving. It’s like the national landscape is in cahoots with the Energizer Bunny!
But getting to our exceptional northern places can be an adventure onto itself. Although I was headed for the Nahanni, the adventure really began in Churchill, Manitoba. This is how it all unfolded…
Wind shear was the culprit and believe you me one doesn’t want to fool around with that bit of nature! As we started our emergency descent into Churchill, Manitoba I thought the end was near and that Hudson’s Bay was to be my new home. Cabin luggage was flying around and screaming was the major form of communication. Even the stewardesses were looking ghostly pale when we finally taxied to the terminal in a full out electrical storm.
When the lightening stopped, we were able to deplane while the plane was refuelled. Then I was off to Yellowknife in the North West Territories with a cabin full of northerners and their Tim Horton Donuts. Their supply of THDs, which had been brought on board in Winnipeg, were destined to be somewhat depleted by the time their owners really reached home, a full twenty four hours after they were expected. But such is travel in the north and there had been only minor complaints about the long line up in the Churchill Terminal when passengers were calling loved ones to tell of their delay and rerouting.
When I finally landed in Yellowknife, the jump off point for my northern adventure, I found my way to the Bayside B&B and there I prepared for my morning rendezvous at the airport with the other adventurers on this journey as we were to join Mike Beedell, owner of O Canada Expeditions, in Fort Simpson. Mike’s a wildlife photographer and explorer. He would lead our group via Fort Simpson and Little Doctor Lake to the fabled Nahanni and then on to the Cirque of the Unclimbables.
I find that one has to ease into the North in order to appreciate its rhythm. By the time I reached Fort Simpson, I was cooling out. Something happens when I see the tundra unfold at my feet and a million lakes and rivers twinkle in the sunlight.
An overnight stay at Bannockland, a spectacular but out of context modern home that once belonged to the former premiere of the territory, stands at the confluence of the Liard and the Mackenzie rivers. It has now become a bed and breakfast.
Having piled our kit in our rooms, the group piled into the truck and headed for town. We stopped off at the local grocery store to top up our supplies and support the local economy. There was time to wander the streets of Fort Simpson and sit by the river wishing it could talk.
At the Parks Canada visitors centre there was a film on the legendary Arthur Faille and a display of incredible pictures of his life on the Nahanni. Then we had a preview of the pioneering Kraus family and their cabin on Little Doctor Lake. This would be our first destination once we got airborne in the morning.
But tonight, it was back to the Arctic Sub (a cool name for a northern restaurant, I thought) for a supper of Chinese food followed by a banjo serenade in the living room in Bannockland. I was ready for an early night and climbed the stairs to my mattress on the floor — I was the third person in a room meant for two. I tried not to think too hard about the huge cracks in the walls of the house. These were apparently caused by the undermining of the foundation by the powerful force of the northern rivers at its doorstep.
The next morning, it was 10:30 before we had all our stuff sorted, repacked and loaded in the truck for the trip to Simpson Air. Our flight time kept changing to accommodate the weather fronts that were moving through. Another group headed for Moose Pond at the headwaters of the Nahanni had to unload their canoe that was lashed to the pontoon on the floatplane and wait it out as their destination was now totally inaccessible because of the low ceiling. The other half of their party had flown in earlier in the day. The early-birds had the tents and the food. No one knew if they had the matches!
Eventually, but not before some rock-juggling, banjo playing and raindrop dodging, half of our group wedged themselves and their gear into the single prop float plane that took off for Little Doctor Lake. The rest of us walked through town, past the “Rug Rat Carpet Cleaners” and the cemetery where a freshly dug grave was ready to receive the remains of a person recently burned in a chemical mishap up country. Dust covered our boots and ordinary northern life spun around us.
While we cooled our heels at the terminal building our tentative departure times came and went and then we were informed that we would be taking off in ten minutes! So it was back to the landing where, in short order, the rest of our gear was stowed and I climbed aboard using high wire skills I did not know I had!
As we rose above the Mackenzie, the landscape turned to shades of green marked by winding rivers and clear-cut roads. The Nahanni Range was visible in the distance and we scanned the ground beneath us for moose and caribou. As the song goes, “The mighty moose wander at will”… but not below us. We got skunked!
The lake was surreal. It was a total mirror for the surrounding trees, mountains, and ever-changing light.
Before long, I was ensconced in a top bunk. I scribbled in my journal and hunkered down to the scratching sounds of mice. It was 12:15am but it was still light!