Paddling the Fond du Lac

Canada's Friendly Wilderness
North Rapids, Churchill River
Riverside camping

The wind hit me with its full force as I clambered to the top of the sandy esker. My breath came hard and I felt my heart racing. As I wiped the sweat from my brow I looked up at the dark sky. Banks of gray-black clouds raced past with the speed of a dream, so close that it felt as if an outstretched arm would surely be lost from sight.

I could see Lynda crouched in front of our little Coleman camp stove under the shelter of the tarp, where I had left her tending to a pot of tea and a bannock. Durrant Lake — from which we had just paddled in mere minutes ago — was alive with lines of racing whitecaps, their peaks blowing off in submission to the strong northwest wind that howled in from the Arctic Ocean with the speed and ferocity of a tundra wolf.

The top of the esker was narrow, no more than twenty feet wide, and along its center I could see a deeply rutted, serpentine game trail; these eskers make easy walking for all wild animals, even the two-legged kind. Tendrils of mist hung on the tops of the black spruce that clung to each other for dear life in tightly knit clumps along the top of the esker; further down the slope, seeking a less harsh place to grow, jack pine and birch dotted the fields of caribou moss, cranberries, and bearberry.

In the soft light cast by the storm the colors were a vibrant mix of greens, yellows, and reds; my heart was light as I walked beside the trail and looked out, as if master of my own private world, at the unending solitude. Lost deep in my dreams and my feeling of independence, I almost walked right past it: a roughly hewn, four-sided, five-inch-diameter post made from a jack pine tree to mark one corner of a mining claim. As I looked at the post bearing a bronze mining tag, and the inscription written in my own hand, my mind wandered back many years. I remembered the cold January day when I had snowshoed four miles to mark out one of the boundaries of a tract of land that a mining company had hired me and ten Cree Indians to stake for them. When I walked through the stands of open jack pine and saw for the first time what my fellow workers called"parkland," I vowed I would paddle by canoe through the area someday. And now here I was on my third trip on the WaterfoundFond du Lac River system in northern Saskatchewan.

Article copyright © Bill Layman, 2000. Photos copyright © Bill Layman, 2000.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »