9th July – First day.
Our favourite driver, the hotel shuttle man, picked us up at noon. We had made arrangements with him the day before. He met us in the front of the hotel and packed our gear into a huge trailer he had brought with the hotel shuttle van. Our first mistake of the day was that he drove us to the wrong hangar. We where supposed to go to the airport, but both we and the shuttleman thought we where to meet our plane at the hangar for floatplanes down by the lake. Before we got things sorted out, we had tipped the driver with our last dollars and sent him off. Luckily the charter-company had a guy at the hangar that called the office and arranged to get us picked up and brought to the correct adress. Again the northern Canadians showed their kindness, and we got served coffee and tales of the north before the van arrived.
Finaly at the right hangar, we got our gear, dogs and canoe into the small floater, that where to bring us to the tundra. A French speaking pilot showed us the safety routine (Lifejacket under your seat, firstaid kit in the door, and refreshments and coffee in the lunchbox behind the seat), before the small plane rolled onto the airstrip with its exited passengers.
It was a two hour flight to our destination, and the route went over the east arm of Great Slave Lake. The sight of the great lake was fantastic, and we thought of Ingstads who bravely had canoed this innland ocean eighty years ago.
After an hour flight we passed Lutselk’e, our endingpoint for the trip, and followed Snowdrift River east. We got a good look at the river we where to canoe back home, and it looked so beautiful, moving beneath us like a serpent with sandy shores trough the land, that even the French speaking pilot awed himself and asked with envy in his voice if that was the river we where to padle home.
Both me and Bernt looked down on our route back with excitement, but as the land passed beneath us, and the Beaver brought us further into the wild, we where struck by the distance we where supposed to canoe ourself back to civilization.
An hour passed while we watched “the Land”, as the locals call it, pass beneath us. Bernt spotted two bears running of, scared by the noicy air engine. Carefully reading the map I saw that we where approacing our destination, and got Bernt to confirm that the pilot had taken us to the right lake with his GPS. Even though we trusted the pilot to take us to the correct spot, we wanted to be sure.
The Beaver made a turn over Sled Lake, before the pilot found a good spot to take us down. Even though the wind came strong from the north, and the waves fell heavy against the southshore of the lake, the Beaver landed steady as a old canada goose.
The pilot navigated the flotplane, backing it up to a small beach, and we threw our gear onto land. A short goodbye was made with the pilot before Lincoln could watch the small aeroplane speeding over the waves, leaving us alone in the wild. The dogs where extatic, finally being able to rund freely, after days in kennels and hotel rooms. And what a place they had entered. There were 300 kilometers of rivers and lakes back to the closest human settelment, and around us there were unspoiled tundra for as long as our eyes cold see.
It was about four in the afternoon when we saw the Beaver disappear, heading for Lutselk’e for refueling. We collected our backpacks, and found a good place for our first campsite, on the top of a small hill overlooking the east part of Sled Lake. We set up a “kitchen” and dining site behind a large rock, down by the beach, making sure that any smells of cooking would be far enough from our tent to avoid unwanted bearvisits during the night.
Going through our gear, we discoverd our second mistake of the day. It turned out that two out of four gas cartridges had the wrong valve, and was not usable for our stove. It was a minor mistake, and we belived that we hardly would get use of the stove anyway.
For the first time of our camping careers, we elevated our waterproof packs up into a tree. It proved to be a harder task than expected, and would troughout our trip become a timeconsuming, scabrous work and source of headscratching engineering thougths.
We decided to build our portable canoe the next day, and could not get our fishing rods assembled fast enough. Though Bernt caught a small trout, that he carefully released, on one of his first attempts, Sled Lake did not want to give us any more fish that evening.
About to give up my fishing I caught a large animal moving in the small bushes less than hundred meter from us. Amazed I called at Bernt, and we stood looking at this large muskox moving slowly trough the terrain. Behind him several others dwelled, eating and looked to be setteling in the bushes for the night. We had not been on the tundra for more than a few hours, and allready we were in close contact with these ancient animals of the north.
We crawled into our sleeping bags, with the bright summernight of the north surrounding us. Talking about the route ahead of us, and of course about the possibility of close contact with bears. I was just about to fall to sleep, when Bernt broke the silence:
“Do you remember how the guy in “Grizzly Man” died?”
“Uhm, he was eaten by a grizzly.” I replied, half asleep.
“Eaten in his tent…” Bernt added.
After that, we moved one of the loaded shotguns into the innertent. Sleeping with it under our pillows.