Water survey trips take place year round and cover huge areas all across northern Canada in a small twin engine bush plane. They put the crew and surveyors out in the wilderness and expose them to the extreme elements. Depending on the season, these trips can be pure pleasure, or pure pain. Last fall I was lucky enough to spend 3 days flying a group around that had to take water level readings on specific lakes and rivers to add to the huge database of information that the government has been collecting over decades on it’s natural resource.
We landed on the watersheds, helped them unload their gear, then pulled out our fishing rods to test our luck for a couple hours while they worked. We must have hit almost a dozen spots including the Coppermine river, Point Lake, and Tree river. The nights were spent in line cabins along the way. We stopped when it got too dark to continue or our duty day timed out. There was always a good meal on camp stoves prepared by our passengers and an oil drip stove heating the cabin and drying out our cloths. The second night, we decided to stop for the night at Tree river, five kilometers from the mouth of the Arctic ocean. The reason we stopped here was because of the Arctic Char fishing. Right next to our line cabin was a fishing lodge that has housed US presidents, and hockey legends like Bush and Gretzky. It was here that the largest Char on record was caught. There was no objection from the crew to make this our camp for the night. Arctic Char is very expensive in Yellowknife, almost impossible to find elsewhere, and here we were sitting on the shore of a river in the tundra fishing for them, and eating them fresher than most ever have. Life was good.
Like I said, the water survey trips take place year round including in the dead of winter. It was on one of these trips that I experienced the cold. Not the -20 deep freeze of southern Canada, nor the -40, week long chill of Yellowknife, but the unrelenting wind of Baker Lake, Nunavut, and the surrounding Barren lands. For this trip we were based in the Hamlet of Baker lake, and would go on Day trip from there to the Thelon, Kazan, Brown, Back, another other designated areas. This trip, instead of carrying an outboard motor with us for the tin boats on site, we had a snowmobile, toboggan, and multiple ice augers. Every stop we would unload the toboggan, the Bravo snowmobile, their survey gear, and watch them ride down the rivers and out of sight. We then had, on average, two hours to kill before they returned. The plane would turn into an ice box quickly so staying sheltered in the plane was never a real option. One stop we dug a hole in the snow on the side the river bank to keep out of the wind but stay in the sun. If we weren’t wearing so many layers you ‘d almost think we were sunbathing. We thought about drilling a hole and doing some fishing but it was just too damn cold.
These water surveys spots are amazing to go to, not just because of how beautiful and remote they are but because of the history they hold. Explorers through the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries have traveled along these waterways exploring and mapping the north. Samuel Hearne, and Sir John Franklin are only a couple who ventured down the Coppermine to the Arctic ocean. And most people who know a little history of northern Canada have heard of John Hornby’s failed attempt of living off the land, leading to his starvation and death along the Thelon river. The more I read about past explorers, the more I want to see for myself. These trips are a good start.