Black Lake to Baker Lake 2014


We spent two days in Stony Rapids in Northern Saskatchewan organizing our supplies and preparing the canoe and camping equipment which had been in storage since the end of the first half of our La Ronge to Baker Trip in 2013. We commenced paddling on nearby Black Lake on June 13th 2014. Commencing on the north shore of Black Lake we spent almost two days carrying our gear over the Chipman Portage. Leaving the Chipman we went through a series of small lakes and short portages to Selwyn Lake. On Selwyn we struck our first ice. Portaging out of Selwyn Lake we travelled over the height of land to Flett Lake and on to Wholdaia Lake and then entered the fast flowing Dubawnt River. The Dubawnt carried us steadily north through Carey Lake where we visited Tyrrell’s historic cairn and on to Dubawnt Lake where we struck more ice. After Dubawnt Lake we portaged around the magnificent Dubawnt Canyon, back into the river and onto the confluence of the Thelon River via Dubawnt Gates. The Thelon took us in a easterly direction through Aberdeen and Schultz Lakes to our destination at Baker Lake. We arrived at Baker Lake on August 1st, 50 days after leaving Black Lake.

Route map Black Lake to Baker Lake 2014

Route map Black Lake to Baker Lake 2014

History and Significance of the Route

The route we decided on for 2014 was first travelled and mapped by geologist Joseph Burr Tyrrell from the Canadian Geological Survey in 1893. At that time the area known as the Barren Lands was virtually “ terra incognito” with some hundred thousand square miles unmapped. Tyrrell, his brother James and six experienced canoe men of Indian descent travelled through this area in three long, wooden canoes, mapping, surveying, noting geological and botanical features and collecting specimens. The 1200 km we would travel formed the middle section of their total journey.

Throughout this journey James Tyrrell kept a detailed journal which became a primary reference for us. This journal is a remarkable adventure tale which having travelled in their footsteps leaves us in awe of their courage, navigational skills and persistence. They set forth with only stories in the lore of the Dene and Cree people of a great river flowing north and similar historic references by Samuel Hearn who reached Dubawnt Lake in 1770 whilst searching for copper on behalf of the Hudson Bay Company. We had excellent maps, access to the trip notes of several parties who had gone before us, a compass and a GPS as backup and yet whereas we covered the distance between Black Lake and Baker Lake in 50 days Tyrrell’s party only took an extra 8 days to both explore and map the same route.

Earlier Travellers

Following Tyrrell’s remarkable 1893 journey the Dubawnt route remained unvisited wilderness for half a century until the ill fated canoe voyage of experienced wilderness canoeist Art Moffatt who with 5 companions attempted the trip in 1955. During this trip Art died of exposure having capsized his canoe on the Dubawnt River. Throughout the 70’s and 80’s a number of canoeists made the trip each summer, these even included school groups and many USA outward bound type camps. Sadly, despite the vast improvement in canoes and camping equipment, plus the advent of GPS and light weight satellite communication devices the interest in long distance wilderness canoeing appears to have diminished and it is unlikely that more than one or perhaps two canoeing parties per summer now make the trip, certainly we saw no sign of other humans.

John’s many hours of preparation involved studying the route, down loading, printing and laminating two sets of maps, and searching the web for the accounts of other canoeists who had made the trip, of special interest to us was their descriptions of portage conditions and comments on the nature and length of the many sets of rapids we would encounter. We were fortunate to find the trip notes of Anne and Henning Harmuth who had paddled most of the route in 1983, also those of Bill and Lynda Layman from 2001 and an excellent account from the six young women who paddled as the Borealis Paddling Expedition in 2003. Using these accounts John was able to annotate our maps with useful comments on portages and rapids.
Click here for daily journal entries and photos.