Dates: August 20-29, 1997
Route: MP 80 to MP 0
Major Dan Drew
Major Gary Esligar
Captain Gary Whelan
Corporal Warren Watson
Kettle The Dog
20 Aug. Departed Yellowknife (YK) at 0815 hours with Commanding Officer (CO) 440 Squadron LCol Tuck and Deputy Commanding Officer (DCO) Maj Terry Strocel at the controls. Weather in YK cloudy. Flight uneventful, no landforms worth looking at until we got close to the MacKenzie. Crossed the Mac and flew about 45 minutes to where our landing strip at Mile 80 on the CANOL trail. Twin Otter landed well by CO in around 500 meters. Pilots were a bit concerned about takeoff, but they taxied to far end and took off up hill and were airborne, though slightly askew, in about 300 meters. Inspected Camp 80, some livable but extremely run down buildings. Found many notes written on the inside of the main standing building along with many articles from what were obviously too heavy packs; food, fuel, dishes, shampoo etc.
Set off at 1204 hours and arrived at Pump Station (PS) #3 at Mile 74.5 at 1610 hours. All downhill but fairly hard on the feet due to extremely broken ground. Road mostly washed out and boulders cover the area. No sign of wildlife except the odd bird. PS#3 is at the junction of the CANOL trail and LITTLE KEELE river. No blisters on anyone yet but all have sore "first day" muscles. Tried new water filters, good but slow. Cooked rice, oxo, caribou jerky and flour. Tea and corn syrup after supper. We are staying the old wooden Quonset (Q) hut, which also has many items from too heavy packs. Included is a pair of boots, nearly brand new, which we think are from the female on the "ill fated" NDHQ expedition that had to be evacuated by helicopter earlier this month. Off to bed at 2030, reveille planned for 0600 and dep 0800. Weather today has been beautiful, sunny, clear, light winds.
21 Aug. Reveille 0600, Gary E. up at 0540 and got stove going. Passed a pleasant night but a few sore muscles. Had tea and granola bars for breakfast, packed dried fruit and a package of jerky for trail food. Stepped off at 0740 after all ranks used nice indoor 3 holer. Going for first mile very good on old section of road. Next 2.5 miles mixture of washed out road, boulders and stream crossings. Identified high trail by orange tape left by Jim Hrymak. Stopped and filled canteens using our filter pump, very good but expensive and tiresome at 1 liter per minute. Kettle trapped a squirrel in a section of oil pipe but we couldn’t shake it out. Lost the trail about ˝ mile up but found it after breaking the tree line, a very hard hump straight up about 200 meters.
Stopped at about noon, which is when we got back onto the road. I gathered blueberries and low bush cranberries and we stepped off again around 1300. Made another 1.5 miles, very difficult climbing and two washouts to cross, nearly 1000 vertical feet. Made camp at projected place at 1530 near a small pool. Same supper of jerky, rice and flour and tea. Everyone in good spirits used a bit of moleskin on hotspots, other than that sore legs and buttocks for all. Beautiful day starting to cloud over about 1800. Lots of good pictures today, scenery magnificent. Could have shot three partridge near camp but we still have plenty of food and need to eat it to lighten packs. A light single engine airplane flew westward up the valley about 1830.
Aug 22. Reveille 0600 again, Gary E. up at 0545 to light stove. Partly cloudy although we were concerned about the red sky in the east. Night passed uneventfully. Breakfasted on Uncle Dan's Mountain Man porridge, a group mung. Touched up feet and stepped off at 0750. Steep climb nearly 3 hours to the summit of what we came to call PISSCUTTER PASS, a climb of 1500 vertical feet and about 2.5 miles on the ground. Along the way spotted at distance either two moose or two bears, too far to confirm but moving very quickly, probably moose.
Nice down hill move of about 2 km to a small creek where we had lunch. Tons of ripe cranberries everywhere. Going very good until our planned campsite at mile 60 near a small lake and an old ruin, probably maintenance shed by the looks of things. Stopped just short of the camp at 1330 and discovered an excellent spring where ice cold water bubbled up out of the ground. Made a fire, changed socks and decided to carry on at 1500. Another steep climb for an hour and then a traverse to area of an old gravel pit. Wanted to stop, but no water. Gary W. found an old trading knife and gave it to me. Carried on down hill on a gentle slope for about a mile where we found a nice little stream crossing the trail and made camp at 1730. Tents up quickly and good fire started, plenty of dry wood. Went into creek for a splendid wash, cooked up supper and finished by 1830. A bit sore from the long march but only 5 miles to do tomorrow where we will cross LITTLE KEELE river.
23 Aug. Reveille at 0530 in a light rain, Gary E. up to build fire, night uneventful though no one except Cpl Watson slept well. Had IMP breakfast and tea and then stepped off at 0735. Going very good, trail obvious though partially overgrown. Plenty of bear signs. Walked through a neat little canyon with many small caverns, looked like bird roosts and at least three high up that could hold humans. Light drizzle continued until we reached the LITTLE KEELE at 1020. Put rucksack, boots and shotgun into bivvy bag and forded and swam river, not too bad but pretty cold. Remainder forded including Kettle who was pulled/swam across, myself and Cpl Watson acting as the pullers. All safely across by 1040 and up to Camp 50 by 1100. Mostly ramshackle collection of knocked down or rotting structures. Our home is a pleasant little inn, (actually an old caboose) which needed a bit of cleaning but it has three plywood beds and a working stove, big time luxury. Got fire going quickly to begin drying boots and sun came out around 1230.
Two Garys and I went down to river to wash clothes and bathe. Got our "North of 60 pin up boy" photos taken and a "sunny holiday in the South" complete with private pool and cocktails (Lambs Navy Rum). Afterwards gathered two by fours from flattened building and sawed them into stove lengths with collapsible bucksaws (good piece of kit). Laid in plenty of wood and extra for next travelers, got an old cupboard from another building to use as a wood box. Also improvised three drying racks inside and clothesline outside. Cpl Watson and I cleaned shotguns and then I went berry picking reaping a half canteen cup of cranberries. Spent the afternoon mostly naked enjoying the sunshine. Repacked all of our now dry kit, boots still up on the racks. Had some supper, strange weather with many big clouds, thunder and sunshine. Weather settled at 2030 but still cloudy and broken- looks like rain. Need to do a bit of footwork tomorrow. Looking forward to a restful night, Gary E. has decided to sleep in another hut because of closeness and foul air emitted by Gary W.
24 Aug. Woke up around 0600, uneventful though comfortable night in our very homey little cabin. Fog and drizzle, no wind. Being as it was the Lord's Day we all refused to move before 0900 so we had leisurely breakfast followed by morning foot taping. Everyone's feet in good order with only a few blisters and hot spots for the whole crew. Stepped off just after 0900, temporarily disoriented but back on the right track by 1000. Initial climb followed by downhill and flat walking, trail very good. About 1030 started walking what we came to call BALL BREAKER HILL (which I subsequently came to know was actually named WHORE'S HILL), two hours straight up, lucky it was very foggy so we couldn't see how far to go!
Got to the summit at 1240 and had a quick lunch and hot drink, put on dry sweater to avoid getting hypothermia, very cool. On the climb down discovered huge mudslide, we think it may have been the large thunder crack we heard last night, streams all discolored from run off. Into DODO CREEK and going was slow and painful due to boulder walking. Made initially planned camp at MILE 40 at 1500. Decided to push on to Pump Station 2 at Mile 34. Found a trail through woods to take us to the beginning of a flood plain on the DODO. Surprised a large black timer wold lying in the grass obviously waiting for caribou or moose. Took a look at us and off he went. Helicopter passed overhead about 1600. Carried on down the flood plain easy going and then entered canyon where we had to cross DODO creek about seven times as the path of the flow went from side to side. I switched to runners to avoid soaking Danners, remainder except Gary E. who had on Gore-Tex socks were soaked. Going very slow but made PS#2 at 1900 to be met by helicopter parked at the site. Pilot Tim Simmons was very nice chap, British having come to Canada in '84. Had a crew of five sightseers with him, think they were waiting to see us arrive. They were all from NORMAN WELLS. New house very grotty, but good stove and bunks so we didn't complain. Cpl Watson smashed up a ruin with an axe and before long plenty of firewood. Had a quick supper and off to bed, everyone pretty tired, 16 miles today!
25 Aug. Reveille 0600, broken clouds could be sunny today. Didn't sleep well but felt rested, bit of a slow start at 0825 after foot doctoring and breakfast. Sounded like a bear out back but not seen. Walked hard all day but only made ten miles due to extremely difficult ground. Very stony and many crossings of DODO CREEK. DODO CANYON very impressive with many magnificent rock formations and colors- didn't really get to appreciate them as much as should have due to painful nature of walking.
Stopped at around 1230 for lunch and had a snooze in the sun, turned into a beautiful day, just about too hot for walking. Saw two caribou, mother and calf around 1430 and followed them down the canyon for about an hour. Came to end of canyon at 1620 and decided to camp for the night. It was great to be out of the canyon from hell. Can see mountains in far distance to the EAST, still a flat and stony two miles to the CARACAJOU RIVER, which we plan to cross before noon tomorrow. Ate supper had a nice wash in DODO CREEK and am presently enjoying fire and conversation with the two Garys. Cpl Watson went to bed beat at about 1830.
26 Aug. Up at 0600, Gary W. made fire. Didn't sleep well again, a bit of rain last night but clear and sunny. Stepped off at 0825 and made the CARACAJOU at 0925. Lots of news to pass but had to cut it short due to cost of sat phone. Did the big engineer recce of river and I swam across with rope tied to me, only to find out later that it could be waded. Traversed the island that we had crossed to and waded the river again.
Boys have commented on my propensity for nudity, I was just taking advantage of last days of Arctic sun. Kettle was most excited to get onto ground that was not covered with stones, she crossed all water obstacles well, particularly the last one which she leapt into voluntarily. Found the trail fairly easily and set off to find a cabin that was to have been our camping spot about three miles from river. Not found so carried on stopping twice for long rest periods. Made camp at 1830 on top of relatively high ground. Trail is completely wooded and only water available is from slough, thank heavens for our filters. Two Garys set up camp and gathered firewood, Cpl Watson and I went to fill canteens, had to scrub filters every 2 liters. Got fire going and passed out last of rum for crossing river. Traded many stories about bears, boys are beginning to dream about french fries, steak and beer. Lots of motivation to make the Mighty Mac tomorrow. Gary W. will phone RCMP at NORMAN WELLS and try to arrange for early pickup. Also contacted Rick Regan and he is in the process of trying to arrange Friday flight home by float or first thing Saturday morning. All in good spirits.
27 Aug. Up at 0600, uneventful night except a light smattering of rain. Sun is up and it looks like another hot day. Light breakfast of granola bars and tea, everyone anxious to go as we plan to do the 15 miles today and get out of the woods. Stepped off at 0750 and got a good soaker about 400 yards from camp in a slough. The trail is mainly straight and slightly undulating hemmed in by alders and jack pine with intermittent sloughs and wet crossings. Very boring. Much moose sign, also saw a group of at least 13 partridge, could have shot four with one round. Stopped to make water at 1030 at a lake and quickly carried on. No real stop except to change socks in area of CAMP CANOL at 1205.
Missed the camp as it was off the trail, didn't even consider hiking back to see it, focussed on the river. Having made 10 miles in wet boots feet were a bit sore starting off at 1245 but the horses could smell the barn and we were quickly back to top speed of just over 2MPH. About 1315 came to large water obstacle with what appeared to be floating remnants of some sort of bridge. Not wanting to slow down I explored feasibility of crossing by jumping onto a floating section which, much to the amusement of the disloyal members of the crew, immediately began to sink. Made it back with two soakers. Watson attempted the same and ended up balls deep about one foot short of the far shore. Ended up crossing a beaver dam about 40 feet upstream, time spent in recce is never wasted! Quickly changed socks and off again, very hot so two standing water breaks and carried on. All water gone we came around the last corner at 1420 and saw the Mighty Mac, a sight for sore feet, 15 miles in 6.5 hours. Phoned the RCMP det and Consts Al Spink and Dave Fox came over in 20 ft aluminum boat with twin 60 hp, nice boat. We had to wade out about 50 yards because of sand bars. Back to NORMAN WELLS and checked into the MACKENZIE INN. Mounties stored shotguns and took me back to hotel. Nice hot shower and clean clothes, off to supper in hotel. Everyone ordered big helping of greasy fries, burgers etc, Garys had soup. Smells made us really hungry for first time in a long time. Couldn't eat it all but most satisfied, off to our rooms about 2000 and all asleep, I think, by 2100. Great to be in a bed with sheets again.
28 Aug. Up at 0800 to breakfast of eggs benedict. About 0930 wandered down to RCMP detachment and hung and cleaned guns. Al gave us the big tour of town including refinery, town campsite and museum.
Lunch and off to museum to see CANOL movie, went to buy a bunch of stuff but they don't take Master Card. Have organized a flight back to YK via RCMP twin otter, Mounties very helpful, 440 wouldn't be able to pick us up until Saturday morning. Early night again.
29 Aug. Up and packed by 0800, eggs benedict again. Picked up by RCMP twin otter which was making a run carrying prisoners down to YK for court appearances. 3.5 hour flight with a short stop over in DELINE to pick up 2 more "passengers". Arrive YK around 1500 and turned in weapons and extra gear. Quick wash up and change into clean clothes and then back to the Mess to be completely and utterly falsely modest. An outstanding trip by all accounts. Stand by for lessons learned.