Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Upper Elk River: The Big Lakes

The Upper Elk river is characterized by several large lakes, the largest being Vermette, Rennie and Damant. The first day out saw us paddling to the northern end of Rennie, stopping where the lake branches to the west and the east. Traversing the inlets and bays of the large lakes meant that we had to check and re-check our position on the topo maps. I was glad that I had pre-loaded the waypoints into my GPS before setting out, when we were in doubt a simple check was all we needed to stay on course.

Rapids Between the lakes
For the next two days we paddled east through Rennie Lake, picking up the Elk river at the narrows between Rennie Lake and Damant Lake. It was at this point that we encountered our first set of rapids; a set of class I and a few swifts. I learned here that my travel companions had little prior experience with white water. Skills that are needed to run rapids safely include being able to, execute special strokes (draw, pry, ferries etc.), "read" the water and wave action to predict the presence of rocks and execute canoe rescues in fast water. My new canoe mates did not have practice with these skills, or any training through courses. I made a note in my journey that, we would need to be careful through the rest of the fast water that we might encounter. Fortunately, the rapids we had just completed were not technical and we were able to make a successful run with the loaded canoes.

Damant Lake
Damant Lake proved to be more confusing than Rennie, given the abundance of bays and inlets. It took us two days to traverse this large lake and we were quite fortunate not to have encountered much by way of head wind. The weather was warm, mainly clear and only moderately windy. It was very fortunate, indeed, that the wind through Damant was at our back, not only were we pushed along with a 2.5 km/hr boost, but the wind kept the black flies at bay.

On both of the days on Damant Lake Nestor showed off his fishing prowess. By trolling the large lake on the first day he and Taras were able to catch a couple of nice sized lake trout for our dinners. Nestor and I caught arctic greyling on the second afternoon. These we caught in the rapids where the Elk river leaves Damant Lake's north shore.

Bird Life

One of the delights that I appreciated on the large lakes (and throughout the trip) was he abundance of bird life. Birds that we had identified in large numbers up to now included Harris Sparrows, Hooded Mergansers, Lapland Longspurs and Arctic and Common Terns and Thayers Gulls.

On our campsite at the north end of Damant we were treated throughout the evening and next morning to the alarm calls of a pair of nesting Whimbrels (a member of the curlew family).

Whimbrel Video

Next: The Elk River white water. (click to continue)

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