Now we have to change our approach on what we do. We have to plan as far ahead as possible, making sure we don't go down a blocked channel or get grounded in a channel that doesn't have enough water to float our heavy boat. Once the current washes us into a channel there is no way we can retrace our coarse to try another channel as the boat is too heavy to paddle
against the current.
The first hour or so seemed the worse as we where so alert to changing river conditions and not used to the length of time it would take to change our course. Some times we walked along the shore trying to see around the next bend, so as to get a idea what lay ahead, some times we where merrily floating down the center of the river. After three hours of floating and as it was getting dark we made camp on a sand bar. This had been a long day and we where both tired. Zoi, who had been sleeping all day was happy to check the beach for strange smells before going to bed. She preferred to sleep on her cushion between us.
Next morning we were up early and after breakfast we were on the river by 5am. As there were threatening clouds in the sky and the wind was blowing, we made sure our rain jacks where handy. By 6am it started to rain and as we floated past the mouth of the Nelson River it was raining so hard I could barely see ½ mile. Now the boat was filling up with rainwater and getting heavier than it had already been. The current was rushing us along in the swollen waters from the rains south of here, which had entered the Liard by way of the Nelson River. The big trick was trying to keep the boat facing the right way as the wind and current kept trying to turn us sideways. If the current ever pushed us up onto a grounded log in a sideway position it would break our boat in half.
In the heavy rain another jet boat came out of the Nelson River and headed upstream on the Liard behind us. We waved to no avail, he never saw us. An hour later a helicopter flew directly over our heads in the heavy rain and he never saw us waving our paddle either. Sometime before lunch the rain stopped and the sun came out. We stopped and bailed some water out of the boat before making lunch. Lucky the front of the boat was covered over and we had put all our groceries and camping gear under there.
During that day storms were coming and going all day, and at 6pm we could see a big thunder storm coming so decided to make camp before it hit. I set up the tent and covered the boat while William made supper. The storms hit just as he had finish making supper, so we sat in the tent and ate. After supper with nothing to do and poring rain we decided we might as well go to
bed. Later we both woke up to bright daylight and thought we had slept in, couldn't believe it! The storm had passed and it was still daylight at 11:30pm.
Next morning I was awake at 3am and we were on the river at 4am. Around 6am it started to get foggy and within ½ hour we couldn't see fifty feet. We kept paddling towards what we thought was the direction of the shore and after ½ hour we could see the bank and some trees through the fog. As soon as we could get a hold of some over hanging branches we tied the boat up and decided to stay there until the fog lifted.
As we sat there in the fog I noticed a beaver coming upstream towards us. William and I were both watching this animal as it battled the current, when suddenly it dove under the boat. William was watching over the edge of the boat when it came up about two feet from his face and seeing him, it immediately slapped its tail on the water and dove. This caused quite a commotion in the boat, as it nearly scared William to death. As the fog was lifting I noticed a wolf hunting for breakfast on the far side of the river, it had no idea we were sitting there watching it.
When we had tied up on the shore in the fog we didn't know we were on an outside bend in the river with many dangerous snags protruding out from the bank. When we untied our boat we had to paddle as hard as we could to get away from the shore in order to clear any snags that we may get hooked on. After gaining the mainstream current we drifted around the next bent and there was a cow Elk looking at us in amazement. As we passed this gorgeous animal it followed along the shore trying to get a better idea what we where.
We next came to a long slow current in which we lazily drifted down stream. It was a great place for William to make lunch. Spam sandwiches passed back to me on a paddle. We were hungry and they tasted great. Even Zoi agreed. As we finished our lunch the current increased and we where washed into a back channel where there was very little movement of water and we had to paddle our way out. At this time another riverboat came off a side channel and turned towards Fort Liard, again not seeing us.
By now we had pretty much exhausted our energy for that day so we spent the rest of the day exploring the shoreline and preparing our camp for the evening. After a good evening meal we retired to our beds hoping we would make it to Fort Liard the next day.
On our third day of floating we knew we were getting closer to Fort Liard, as we were seeing a few airplanes coming and going. We had decided to try and notify somebody that we were drifting as the river was getting bigger and it was very difficult to maneuver our boat by paddling it. We were scared we may arrive at Fort Liard and find ourselves on the wrong side of the river, if nobody noticed us drifting we could float right past and not be noticed. We both had a large whistle and I had told William to blow as hard as he could if it looked like we where going to float right past without being noticed.
About that time an Islander aircraft came over us at about two thousand feet and both of us stood up and waved the face of our paddles. The plane immediately banked its wings and started to descend. It made two trips past us progressively getting lower and on the last trip past I pointed at our crippled motor and gave the signal it was dead by drawing my flattened hand across my throat, after which time the plane continued on its trip. Being a pilot myself I knew the pilot of that Islander would be advising the radio operator at Fort Liard airport of our predicament.
At lunch time we rounded a bend to be confronted by a tugboat pushing a barge. It was the Shell Canada barge used to cross the river for the gas exploration, which is very active in that area of the NWT. After talking with the captain we decided rather than be picked up by him we would continue down stream as he told us we were only about ten miles or about an hour from Fort Liard.
When we were about a mile from town a boat came out to meet us. They assured us we would be picked up as we floated passed and they gave us fresh drinking water and some chicken burgers which they had been carrying in their boat for their own use. They said the Islander pilot had advised the Air Radio people who had in turn advised the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who had advised some local people, who where working down by the river to keep a eye out for two people and a dog drifting on the Liard.
As we where passing the town a boat came out and towed us into shore where we were treated royally. They showed us where to tie up and set up our camp, gave us five gallons of drinking water, and showed William where the best place was to catch fish.
In the meantime I had to hitchhike south to get my truck and trailer, which took me six hours. I just made it back before nightfall. William had our camp all set up and supper ready and waiting. Needless to say I won't travel on that river without a spare motor now.
Words can't express our gratitude to the people who helped us in Fort Liard. If you are ever in the area be sure and say hello to Charley Hope and his sons who met us on the river. I would also like to thank the unknown pilot who saw our signal from his plane. We highly recommend visiting the Gift Shop in Fort Liard, they have some marvelous hand crafted native art on sale there. TrapperKen
If you would like to spend some time on a real working trapline, summer or winter, send Trapper Ken an e-mail at Info@TrapperKen.com or visit his web site at WWW.TRAPPERKEN.COM for more information. He is available most times of the year for Trapline Adventures. Visit the world renowned Liard Hot Springs or photograph the Northern Lights from the best place on earth.
Be sure and visit our, Trapline Store and purchase a lovely Natural Birch Wood Round c/w an acrylic painting of either a bird or wild flower. These beautiful wall plaques are hand painted by Beverly Moore and suitable for gifts of all occasions. These items are available only from TrapperKen.com.
Visit our store often, as we will be adding new items as the fall goes by. If you are interested in purchasing tanned furs please advice us soon, as they should be ordered before the trapping season, to ensure next spring delivery. We will have available the following hides in limited quantities. Wolf, Wolverine, Beaver and Martin. E-mail us at Info@TrapperKen.com for information.