In late September of 2014 I was crewed on a trip to bring some local Dene trappers from Yellowknife to Hornell lake, on the Horn plateau, roughly 250 kilometers west of Yellowknife.
Late September is pushing it when it comes to flying floats in Yellowknife. The weather turns ugly and the lakes start to freeze, but the trip was a yearly event and had to get done. The plan was for the trappers to be shuttled up to the lake with all their gear, snowmobiles and fuel where they’d spend the next few months working trap lines in the area. Then, just before Christmas, they planned on snowmobiling across lakes, and down cut lines back to town. We loaded up the plane for the first trip to the lake, which included camping gear, an 800cc snowmobile (not as small or light as the old Bravos) and one of the trappers. We flew over and found the lake without incident. There was a cabin on the shore which the guy insisted on docking at. The problem was that there was no dock. The water level was so low that the floats bottomed out in the sandy mud 20 feet away from shore. I had no choice but to jump off the float into the icy water to tie a rope from the plane to a tree on land. The snowmobile was packed into the plane last, and with the cargo door in the back, it had to be the first thing out. We brought a pair of 4×4 wooden ramps to help unload the plane but our thought was that they would be used for unloading onto solid land. We weighted down the ends of the ramps with rocks so they wouldn’t float up in the water. The idea was to maneuver the sled onto the ramps, turn it on, and drive it down the ramps, through the water (quickly) and up onto the shore. When we put this plan into action the skis dug into the muddy lake bottom and got stuck. I took the Snowmobile toboggan out of the plane and used it as a boat to ferry the captain to dry land without him having to feel the chill of near frozen water from where he would pull on a rope attached to the snowmobile. It was up to me and the trapper to reach down into the icy water to pull the skis out of the mud before we could all collectively haul it to shore. I ferried the captain back to the airplane float. He handed down the gear to the makeshift boat and I waded though the water to shore with it, where the trapper brought it to higher ground. I had a pair of company chest waders on but found out that they weren’t free of holes. Bending down to grab the snowmobile also let in quite a bit of water which stayed with me until I took them off, just before heading back to Yellowknife.
When we left, the trapper was under the impression that we would be returning within a few hours with another load and another trapper, but as we left, the clouds move in and we were forced to postpone the next trip until the weather got better. A few days went by before the weather cleared enough to land, and when we finally returned, we found that the trapper had constructed a crude dock. It still wasn’t quite long enough to reach the loaded plane so we unloaded a few sealed barrels of fuel. Being a few hundred pounds lighter, the floats lifted off the lake bottom and we were able to back the plane up to the dock. Even though the lake wasn’t frozen, the air temperature was below freezing and the log dock was covered with ice making it very hazardous to walk on. Unloading the plane became much faster with the dock installed, and with every trip we gained more and more hands to help move the freight. It took four trips to the lake to move everything they had. I haven’t heard from the since we left, but assume that they made it home safe since there hasn’t been any searches missing people. I’d just like to know how successful their trapping season was.