This post will provide some details that our group has collected about our canoe route from Big Lake to Wekweètì . Although it is impossible to fully understand exact intricacies of an area without seeing it in person, gathering route details and photographs from past travelers is helpful. Below you will find a brief summary of the route from Big Lake to Wekweètì, as well as a collection of landscape photographs of the area.
Big Lake and route south to Little Marten Lake
This beginning section of the route will see us dropped off by float plane at the aptly named Big Lake. This lakes lies above treeline and thus will be mostly devoid of trees, with shrubs and other smaller plants dominating the tundra landscape. This route is known to be a difficult paddle, with past travelers in the area indicating that water levels are lower then they appear. It is likely that the rivers that connect the small lakes south of Big Lake in the above image will be boulder strewn in some places. These areas will have to be portaged (unpacking everything out of the canoes and traveling overland to a more favorable area) or lined (attaching ropes to the canoe and walking them along the shore until the danger is passed).
Little Marten Lake to west outlet of Winter Lake
Little Marten Lake is T-shaped lake found about halfway between our start point at Big Lake and Winter Lake. This lake will likely be a welcome site, providing us with some nice lake paddling uninterrupted by boulders or rapids. In addition to this, Little Marten Lake is known to have a hunting/fishing camp on it, meaning there is a chance we run into others at this section of the journey.
Once leaving Little Marten Lake, however, we will return to chains of smaller lakes connected with fast-moving, often boulder strewn rivers that will have to be negotiated carefully. Dogrib Rock, a prominent feature between Little Marten Lake and Winter Lake, rises above the relatively flat landscape and can be seen for many kilometers in all directions. The local Tłı̨chǫ aboriginal tribe has used this feature to aid travel in the area for centuries. The view from Dogrib rock will also be interesting to us since this area is where the transition from tundra to forest really becomes apparent. As we move closer to Winter Lake trees will change from being a rare site to being almost ubiquitous on the landscape within only a few dozen kilometers distance. This transition zone is of great interest to all of our research and we are thus likely to spend a lot of time in this area.
Winter Lake is an important feature, forming a nature mid-point to our journey. The south and west side of Winter Lake is more densely forested and is home to the location of Fort Enterprise where Lt. Franklin and his companions spent the winter of 1820 and were rescued late in 1821 (Franklin Expedition section upcoming). Although this “fort” is mostly gone at this point, it will be an important point on our journey since many pictures have been taken in that area and it has historical significance.
Fort Enterprise to Snare Lake (through Roundrock Lake)
Fort Enterprise is found at the western outlet of the Snare River from Winter Lake into Roundrock Lake. The connection between Winter Lake and Roundrock Lake is known to have at least two rapids that will likely need to be portaged. We have been told that, due to the amount of travel this section of the route sees, portage trails are marked. Once Roundrock Lake is reached most of the rest of our journey will consist of lake paddling. Although I bet we will be thankful to escape the strenuous work that is portaging and lining canoes we must be careful about wind on these long thin lakes. The forests around Roundrock Lake will likely grow in size and density as we continue to move south.
Part 4: Snare Lake to Wekweètì
The final days of our journey will consist of more lake paddling down Snare Lake towards the Tłı̨chǫ village of Wekweètì. This village, home to about 140 people, is most easily accessed by a daily flight to and from Yellowknife as well as by ice road in the winter. We hope to spend at least a few days in Wekweètì where we can communicate our research to local people. If time permits, we will also travel either south or west of Wekweètì and conduct field sampling in the densest boreal forests that can be found along our route (see 1000:1 tree:tundra ratio from top map).
All in all, our journey by canoe will only be 130 kilometers but we will be able to experience the entirety of the tundra to forest transition zone. Certainly an exciting opportunity!