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Yellowknife day 2: Great northern outdoors

Updated: Nov 27, 2020

Since our first day in Yellowknife stretched on so long, we got a bit of a later start on the second one. But that didn't stop us from squeezing a lot into it. After all, we knew the sun would never really set. It became a day of mostly outdoor adventure.

(Late) morning hike: Cameron Falls

It took about an hour  traveling east from the city along the scenic Ingraham Trail to reach our destination. We saw lake after lake along both sides of the road in between stretches of rocky terrain. The lakes had pretty names like Prosperous, Pontoon and Prelude. The landscape was dotted by squat spruce and pine trees, sometimes spaced out so perfectly that it seemed like a gardener must have planned it so.

We were headed for Hidden Lake Territorial Park, the starting point of the Cameron Falls hike. We almost missed it because the sign was, well ...sort of hidden. Some park planner clearly had a sense of humour when deciding where to install it.

As soon as the car stopped, a swirl of mosquitoes, black flies, deer flies and the occasional hornet surrounded it. They were buzzing outside the windows just waiting for us to open the doors. It was like they knew shiny metal machines were good sources of flesh ripe for the stinging. I started to wonder if they'd evolved into highly intelligent and organized creatures like those in the TV series Zoo (don't bother - it's B-grave viewing despite the intriguing concept).

So, bottles of bug spray in hand, we sprung out of the vehicle and immediately started dousing ourselves. That included both exposed skin and clothing, since some of those nasty buggers can bite right through fabric. It worked even better than expected. A few determined fliers buzzed around our heads in the most annoying of manners, but they didn't land. Thank heaven for modern chemicals. I may get cancer, but I'll be comfortably insect-bite free.

The trail was different from anything I've hiked elsewhere. Some parts through treed areas were well-marked, but the rocky sections were only signaled by the occasional signpost. The markers were spaced barely close enough to see the next. Sometimes a short boardwalk or set of stairs within sight was the best clue to the path's direction. Finding the trail was part of the adventure.

We saw wildflowers everywhere, and they often seemed to be springing forth from the rocks. Green and red mosses and lichens decorated the boulders. The rock varied in shading from grey and brown to reddish and pinkish. We saw a speckles and veins of quartz and other glittering striations too.

We had the trail to ourselves most of the way, until a group of three crazy trail runners bounded by. I couldn't imagine running on such an uneven path. That would have beeen two broken ankles and a head injury waiting to happen. No, I was content to leave such pursuits to the more sturdy-ankled of our species.

The pathway ended on a cliff directly across from the waterfalls. It was the perfect natural viewing platform, although we had to be careful not to walk to close to the edge to avoid an accidental cliff-dive. The broad twin falls were a lush and lovely sight, tumbling into a calm turquoise section of the Cameron River.

By the time we got back to the car, just over an hour had passed. It was time for ...

Lunch at a new-school diner

If I hadn't read about Twin Pine Diner in advance of our trip, we never would have noticed it tucked into a corner of the Arnica Inn. The menu was comfort food meets new world fusion flavours. Before opening the restaurant, Chef Robin Wasicuna was a Yellowknife food truck pioneer and a Chopped Canada contestant. I'm so glad we found the place, because the food was off the charts.

There was a breakfast burger on offer, so Nonie staked a claim on the last one and I ordered the Naan Scramble. It was heavenly. Fresh-cut fried potatoes were topped with scrambled eggs, aromatic curry gravy (like the kind you get on curry chips in British pubs), arugula, cubes of sauteed paneer, crispy fried chickpeas, a few dabs of goat cheese and warm naan bread on the side. My mouth still waters just thinking back on it.

Nonie was thrilled with her burger, and we both loved the house-made sweet tea. The service for the rest of our meal was top notch too.

Sadly, the restaurant has since closed, but hopefully Chef Wasicuna will re-emerge on the Yellowknife dining scene soon.

Afternoon hike: Frame Lake

Starting out from the Visitor's Centre downtown, we expected this 5 km hike circling the lake to be a flat, easy walk. The staff who pointed us in the right direction said it would take about 90 minutes, so we didn't even bother bringing water.

The first half of the path along the lakeshore was groomed and obvious. There was a memorial garden and some cool public art along the first section, followed by groomed paths through the trees.

As we reached the far side of the lake, the landscape became rockier and rose up from the water. The Visitor's Centre staff had advised that the back half of the pathway was more of a nature trail, but they sure didn't warn us about the scrambling we'd be doing. Nor did they offer any advice on how to recognize the trail direction in those rocky sections.

The terrain was similar to what we'd traversed at Cameron Falls. In other words - no discernible path. And this time there were no little blue hiker signs to point the way. We spotted a stubby metal post painted with orange and white stripes at the top, but dismissed it as some sort of utility marker. We knew the trail followed the lakeshore, so headed that direction. It would be impossible to get lost, wouldn't it?

We ended up at a cliff edge with the lake far below - oops! Luckily, there were some teens hanging out nearby with legs dangling over the cliff, so we asked them for directions. It turned out that metal post was a trail marker after all.

With that sorted out, we were back to enjoying our walk/hike/scramble. The higher sections provided some nice views of the lake and surrounding city. Navigating among the rocks was fun, but the mid-20's sun did make it sweaty work. I was soon regretting leaving my water bottle behind.

It was almost 90 minutes exactly when we were gratefully reunited with our water. Thirsty, but very much still smiling.

Evening kayak in Back Bay

Since the idea for this trip was hatched while kayaking (on the Reservoir in Calgary), it was only fitting that we should go for a paddle in Great Slave Lake. We had reserved through Narwal Northern Adventures (located right on the water on Back Bay) for a 6:30 pm start. Carrying the boats down to the launch area was a test of our strength, and also another insect-laden experience. This time we'd sprayed ourselves in advance, so we managed to make it into our kayaks mostly unbitten.

On the water, it was pure peace and sunshine. The lake was like glass and the evening light was gorgeous. We paddled past float planes and boats docked along the shore before making our way across to Joliffe Island for a circumnavigation. There we got a close-up view of the colourful houseboats, and even exchanged hellos with a few of the residents lounging on their front decks.

At the time, we thought the houseboats must be seasonal, but I've since learned that they actually freeze in place in the winter. What's more, their owners are essentially "squatters" living off the grid. A fascinating subculture.

It was more natural and peaceful on the back side of Joliffe island. It was just us, the birds, the rocks and the trees. We took our time, paddling lazily and enjoying the views.

On our way back to base, we were surprised by a float plane who started up his engine just as we were passing. The pilot leaned out the window and told us he was about to take off. In other words "Get out of my way, ladies!" He didn't even have to raise his voice - that's how close we were. We did our best to clear his path quickly and then watched him take off.

Nonie tries to out-race a float plane!

Back onshore, it took one more burst of energy to haul the boats up to the lodge. That's when we got the idea for ice cream. We hopped in the car and made a beeline for the Reddi Mart for some sweet creamy goodness. After all the day's adventures, we deserved it.

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