Kazan River Trip

By Bill Layman

kazan_lakeLast summer Lynda Holland and I paddled our canoe the 540 mile length of Nunavut’s Kazan River, starting at Kasba Lake and ending at Baker Lake. We traveled through this subarctic landscape of infinite skies and deep blue lakes for 26 days. We paddled miles of raging wild rapids and across lakes as smooth as mirrors late into the unending subarctic daylight.

With the exception of caribou and muskox, wolves and arctic foxes, and millions of migratory birds, we were totally alone for our entire trip. Alone, that is, except for the ghosts of the Inland Caribou Inuit who were first able to live year round, and thrive, in this rugged landscape.

plane_picFrom our research, we soon learned that this was a river of large windswept lakes, harsh treeless, rock-strewn landforms, and that we would face miles of challenging rapids. Our waking hours were filled with detailed planning and packing and our dreams were filled with all the possibilities the river might hold in store for us.

The most comprehensive article we read about paddling the Kazan river was by Anne Spriggins-Harmuth in Nastawgan (summer 1991). This article describes in great detail all the rapids on the river. They portaged 14 times along the course of the Kazan.

We were much more aggressive in our decisions to paddle instead of portaging, but we were in an excellent white-water boat, a 17 foot Western Canoeing (Clipper) duraflex Prospector canoe, and we were using a spray deck. We portaged 5 times and each time it was an absolutely mandatory carry past a fall or class 5 rapid.

We were told that duraflex was bomb proof so I tried everything I could think of to test it. Loading the boat on rocky cliffs and sliding it into the river, dragging it loaded with 35 days of gear onto boulder field river banks, bouncing it off rocks in rapids, dropping it off trucks when unloading it — you name it, I tried it. All I really managed to do to it was to scratch the gel coat off the bottom after 550 miles of this kind of abuse.

It is our feeling that a covered canoe is necessary on subarctic rivers, not just for the rapids, but as well to allow an extra degree of safety on big lakes where high wind seems to be a daily occurrence. On cold days, a spray deck is also a blessed relief to keep you warm.

This high spirited river will test your skills to the extreme, but will reward you with muskox, wolves, arctic foxes, wolverines, delicate white fleshed grayling and countless grave sites and tent rings of the former Inuit inhabitants.

The quiet solitude and rugged beauty of the Kazan River captivated Lynda and I. As I write this we are already planning our return to another of Nunavut’s many rivers.

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