Trip to Tadoule Lake (by winter road) March 8 to 13, 2001

I left Winnipeg at 10:00 pm on the bus to Lynn Lake (with a 2 hour stopover at Thompson). Arrived in Lynn Lake on Friday at 2:30 pm.

Met my Dene friend, Tom Ellis, at the bus depot in his 'rebuilt' 1975 Jeep. By 3:00 pm we were on the road and Tom described the origin of our vehicle. The highlights were:
-most parts were acquired from the dump which he later molded and welded to fit the chassis.
-muffler from Corvette, stick shift from Hyundai
-none of the gauges worked except the oil pressure
-3 tires were huge second-hand Yokohama variety purchased for the princely sum of $25.00
Needless to say I was quite concerned about the chances of us reaching our destination over 400 km. away under extreme weather and road conditions. Tom has a reputation for making the best of any situation and I thought that now the stage was indeed set. As the trip unfolded I was to experience this 'never say die' attitude again and again. Tom is simply an individual who believes that anything is possible.
No sooner did we get moving than my door flew open to which Tom replied, "Oh, by the way, for some reason your door opens every time we hit a bump." Eventually I bungee corded it closed. What was happening was that the entire frame was shifting upon striking a bump, thereby releasing the door latch. I was thinking, "What have I gotten myself into?"

1. Beginning our trek by "Official Winter Road Sign"

We drove for several hours trying to cover as much road before sun down. Tom explained that when we stopped we would have 1 hour of daylight left so we must work hard setting up camp during that time. Tom cut the spruce boughs, made tent poles, set up the tent and constructed the all important stove. My job was relatively simple but very significant, cut plenty of fire wood. Running out of wood in the middle of the night which dipped close to -30C. would be extremely hazardous.

2. Tom setting up the tent

By 7:00 pm we were set up. That night I found that my 'good' sleeping bag was far from adequate. Tom lent me his extra one and I still slept in my long underwear, tuque, hoody, shirt and socks.

Mar. 10/Sat.
The next morning we removed the vehicle battery, warmed it up in the tent for several hours, had breakfast, packed up and left. By 2:30 pm we reached the Brochet turnoff and 2 hours later the junction of Lac Brochet and Tadoule Lake.
We stayed that night in the road crew trailer at the road junction. We were happy in the trailer because setting up camp in the bush is hard work. Tom cleaned out the trailer (having to evict a few mice) while I collected fire wood. After supper it was my turn to keep the fire going all night. It was a cold night but the added insulation of the trailer did help.

We rose at 7:00 am, had breakfast, installed the battery and left. We stopped several hours later and Tom noticed we had a gas leak and had lost much gas. We decided to drive as far as possible with the limited amount we had. We were also aware that the chances of meeting traffic on this part of the road were very slim. Two hours later, with little gas left, we drove through a road camp. Tom bartered for 5 gallons of gas from one fellow and then they worked to plug up the leak.

3. Lunch with road crew

We drove non stop and arrived at Tadoule Lake at 5:15 pm. Total road time was 14 hours from Lynn Lake to Tadoule Lake. By this time our jeep was badly in need of repair. Bolts had either been badly damaged or lost entirely. I spent that night and much of the next day lying in bed with a sore back due to the very rough road and minimal suspension in the jeep.

Mar. 12/Mon.
Got up and went for a walk. It was a bright -25C. day. Later that day I went caribou hunting with Jo-Jo Thorassie on his snow mobile. We were joined by Tom Ellis and his friend, Johnny Yassie. It was sunny but very cold with a healthy wind chill on the open ground. Because I insisted on taking pictures along the way, coupled with my inadequate clothes, I was very cold in a short period of time. The guys recognized this and stopped to build a fire for me a little while later.

4. Jo-Jo Thorassie and I
5. Johnny Yassie and Tom Ellis
6. Charlie Kithithee and I

The guys had me sitting on a bed of spruce boughs in front of a roaring fire in 4 minutes. These are the kind of fellows you would like to be with if ever stranded in the far north! We heated up some oysters, bannock, tea, and 2 cans of Heinz beans (one spoon is used and each can makes a few rounds until done). It was a superb meal! There were no caribou in sight so the guys began sighting their rifles on a log a few hundred yards out. Late in the day we left. The sun was going down and it was even colder going back. I can still remember the trip back, speeding along that ice and snow as the sun was disappearing and the shadows growing longer and longer began to close in on us. "This is truly living!!!" I had not felt so ALIVE!!! in a long time.

The next afternoon I photographed Charlie Kithithee outside his home. Charlie was the number one hunter in the 1970's. He later took Jo-Jo, his nephew, under his wing. Jo-Jo is now one of the best young hunters of the Sayisi Dene.

That night Tom Ellis returned from hunting in a very excited manner and told me, he and Tom Cheekie had located and shot 3 caribou.

Next morning Tom strung up parts of the caribou in his garage and showed me how to carve up the meat. That afternoon I flew back to Thompson via Skyward Aviation. It occurred to me as the plane flew over that very country that Tom and I had so laboriously traveled over several days before that it had taken 18 hours to drive from Thompson to Tadoule Lake but only 1 hour to fly back.
But Oh, What An Adventure!!!

A big thank you to Skyward Aviation for flying me back to Winnipeg at no expense, especially on such short notice.
A SPECIAL NOTE: This page is dedicated to Tom Ellis. 1959 - 2009. He was a terrific fellow and will be truly missed by his many friends and relatives.

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