Dragon-flies are now about the shores, and have been in evidence for the past three or four days. They commonly fly back and forth at height of the tree-tops (say 40 to 50 feet) or else very low around the roots of the willows on shore ; to rest on occasions out of the breeze on the sand in the bays.
Daily I note ornithological observations, and continue collecting specimens, but these are omitted here as I deal with them in a later chapter.
Up at 3 a.m. and away early with the desire to make up for time lost on Trout Lake.
Morning very dull and chilly, with wind from the east-it looked like rain, but the sky cleared later in the day and there was none. In early morning entered the north channel of the two riverways which run past the large island which lies between Trout and Dead Lake. Here we had to pass four rapids ; at the first two, Trout and Rock Trout Rapids, it was necessary to run ashore above and portage the canoe and kit overland to quiet water below-laborious work over the rough ground with the huge loads we piled on our backs to lessen as far as possible the number of journeys back and forth on the portage trail. After we had finished at the second rapid I put up my rod and fished the deep, swirling pool at the top with a small minnow, hoping that I might see trout. Here I hooked two great fish, not trout, alas! but pike. The first one finally broke, taking the whole of my tackle; the second, after some twenty minutes' play on my trout rod, I landed-a pike weighing 18 lbs., measuring 3 ft. 5¼ in. in length. Hitherto, until that canoe voyage, I had always looked upon pike as an unclean, poor-quality-food fish; but on the Churchill River, and elsewhere, we caught those fish almost daily at times, and thoroughly relished eating them. Of course, living as they did in clean cold water, those fish were of particularly good quality, and, besides, real hunger cures many a fanciful aversion.
Resuming our journey we ran Light Rock Rapid and the nameless one below, having some exciting moments on the latter, which was stony and very rapid, and somewhat dangerous, but through which our canoe travelled headlong, like the wind, unscathed. And so out to Dead Lake, the shores of which were high and rocky, timbered as usual with willows, poplar, spruce and pine. Camped for the night well to the north-east of Dead Lake.
During the day, on a marsh in the river, we saw a fox prowling, searching for fish or waterfowl. Unaware of the canoe for a few moments, the animal allowed us a full view of it, then, as it saw us, but a glimmer of rusty red and white-tipped brush as it leapt ashore with great bounds through the marsh and into the forest. It is not often that a fox is thus seen during the day in summer, in the open, in country which is for them one vast wilderness of forest cover.
This morning we paddled out into the south-east sun, while before us were the silver-glinting, sun-lit waves that ran merrily with a moderate breeze. The short remaining distance on Dead Lake was soon covered, and we again entered a connecting link of river-the link between Dead Lake and Otter Lake. Here we spent all day getting past rapids which had principally to be portaged.
At Great Devil Rapid, the first of the rapids here, we encountered tough opposition to travel. Portage was necessary-a portage of excessive length, which gave us incessant labour until lunch-time in effecting the transport of the canoe and stores down to the foot of the dangerous water. The portage was sixty-four chains in length, over rough, uneven ground, through forest that skirted the banks of the river. Joe, heavily laden, made three trips over this portage, and I five, for, fitting in our work to save time, as we always did, I went back for a load while Joe prepared lunch, and again for a final one when he washed up and packed our belongings in the canoe. Therefore the distance Joe travelled on that rough portage amounted to almost five miles, and mine to eight miles-all over rough country ; and one-half of those distances, the down-trail half, accomplished while carrying heavy loads. Thus you can conceive the nature of hard river work which the voyageur has to contend with -work so hard that I think it can truthfully be said that no white man can accomplish it who is not accustomed to it. Hardened though I had been with previous outdoor life on the Saskatchewan Plains, I well remember how tiny my first packs seemed in comparison to Joe's 60 lbs. to 100 lbs., and how I perspired and laboured with them, and how impossible it seemed that I should ever be able to carry such a load as he did. Yet to-day my loads could equal his-so can man harden his will and muscle to any task in the face of necessity.
Overcoming Great Devil Rapid was our morning's work, but there our difficulties were by no means at an end, for we found we had yet two more portages to make this day, each necessitating the unloading of the entire contents of the canoe, the carrying of heavy loads to the bottom of each portage, and, finally, the carefully balanced repacking of everything into our frail craft, so that we would, each time we embarked, enter the water snugly compact and weather-worthy.
Below the third portage we camped for the night, after having there cut and cleared a portage pathway through the forest, as we failed to find any old track made by Indians. The river above this rapid broke into more than one channel, and apparently they evade this last rapid by taking through, or portaging, at one of the other branches. No one could run the water we encountered in a canoe.
Fished with fly in river to-night, but saw no sign of trout. Caught 5-lb. pike on minnow.
Mosquitoes and black flies were particularly virulent last evening; it was calm and close-omens of a weather change, and sure enough all to-day it rained heavily. In the morning we decided it was too wet to travel on account of portages ahead where stores would be soaked were we to uncover them for pack transport overland.