One doesn’t have to live in Yellowknife long to hear people talk about their favorite summer vacation destination, the east arm of Great Slave Lake. But this is no ordinary holiday spot. Locals frequently wax lyrically about it, their eyes misting over with an inner vision of its perfection and beauty. It seems to be the north’s very own nirvana. So, of course, we were curious. At the first opportunity, we planned a trip there.
We were lucky enough to get out there for 10 days this summer, just Martin and I in our two lovely sea kayaks, christened on this trip the Moth (my white one) and the Kingfisher. I had no idea that Kingfisher in Spanish is Martin Pescador, which literally translated means Martin Fisherman. But in that strange way of serendipity and coincidence, it seemed like the perfect name for a few reasons.
The east arm is a distance of some 100 to 200 km away, by way of a potentially nasty long and cliff lined stretch of open water, that all wise locals treat with the utmost respect. So we took the easy way and charted our own plane to take us out. We went out in a turbo Beaver plane with Summit Air. It was a pretty neat experience to kayak from our houseboat to the float plane base to meet the plane for the trip, a mere 10 minute paddle away.
We were lucky enough to have amazing weather. It was mostly warm, sunny and calm, with very little wind for the whole trip. Unusual in an area where one can be wind bound on shore for days at a time.
It is a beautiful area, as you can see from the photos, but what you can’t see is the vastness of the place. The sense of solitude. In our 10 days we saw only a few boats off in the distance. The air is so clear it seems like you can see for miles and miles – at one point we thought we could see the end of the lake some 40 km away. (Although perhaps I was under a sort of nirvana spell at the time, as I’ve since read that the curvature of the earth means we can only see about 4 km away, at least on open water. Perhaps someone who knows more about this than I can explain this?) Not only is the air incredibly clean and crisp, so that everything looks like an Ansel Adams painting, the water is also remarkably clear. As I’ve only once before seen such clean water, at the southern tip of Tasmania, this is likely some of the clearest water remaining on the planet. And did I mention the temperature of the water? A shocking plus 4. Not quite warm enough for swimming. Although we found quite a few ‘bathtubs’ – small pools of water in the rocks at the lake shore where the water had warmed up considerably – not exactly hot tub temperature but at least tepid.
The fishing of course was beyond belief. Apparently this is some of the best trout fishing water in the world, home of the really big ones. We generally managed to catch our modest dinner sized trout in one or two casts. We had fish cooked several different ways over the campfire. Delicious.
We saw a great deal of bear, moose and caribou sign, but no actual animals. I didn’t mind, having had enough bear encounters in campsites for one lifetime. We saw a mink several times one night, and saw loons and ducks, the loons carrying babies on their backs. We often fell asleep to their haunting calls. One day a hunting pair of peregrine falcons chased and caught one of a pair of grey jays right in front of us. Plucked him out of the air in the blink of an eye. The next minute he was carried up and away to the high cliffs across from our camp, where we could hear the strident calls of the hungry young. We saw a colony of cliff swallow nests filled with babies. I love swallows – the parents flew back and forth with such a cheerful and hopeful energy. We ate wild blueberry bannock for breakfast.