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Recreation/Great Slave Lake
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Great Race on the Great Slave
For genuine open-water drama, head to Yellowknife for the first long weekend in August, when the Great Slave’s home sailing club, the “Great Slave Cruising Club,” holds it annual Commissoner’s Cup Sailing Race. For experienced sailors only, this race takes a hardy handful of competitors directly across the lake, from Yellowknife to Hay River. The race is composed of 4 legs, a total of 220 nautical miles over and back.
Wilderness Great Slave Cruising
For 2 glorious months, when the last of the ice has finally given in to 20 hours of continuous daylight and temperatures that can easily reach the high 20’s (Celsius), Great Slave is a “no-limits” lake. No limits to the endless stretches of clear blue water, dotted with coastal islands. No limits to secluded bays, quiet inlets, shoreline marshes filled with birds, bottomless depths thick with northern pike, arctic grayling, trophy-sized lake trout. No limits to peace, quiet, and the thrill of being one of the few to navigate these uncrowded, undisturbed – and sometimes even uncharted – northern waters.

Winter in the north can be long and harsh, but in July and August, boaters can revel in non-stop sunshine. Rain is rare, thanks to a dominant high pressure system. Mild but steady winds of 10 -15 knots fill sails, but keep the mosquitoes away, and the only sound you’re likely to hear is the cry of a red-throated loon or the high-pitched rasp of an Arctic tern. As autumn nears, and nights grow longer, the aurora borealis – nature’s greatest light show – begins its nightly performance.

For the safest water and most sensational scenery, Great Slave boaters, kayakers and sailors head to the lake’s East Arm, where tendril-like channels, lined with towering red granite cliffs and spruce-pine forests, extend their ice-cold fingers into the heart of the Northwest Territories. (This spectacular section of Great Slave Lake may be destined to become one of Canada’s newest national parks. See “A New Park for Great Slave?” .) A week-long trip from Yellowknife to the lake’s north shore will take you past Devil’s Channel, Goulet Bay, and out into Hearne Channel, where you will pass the Blanchet Islands’ 180-metre-high cliffs. Stop for a swim – or at least a beachside stroll – at Nipin Bay. Hike to the limestone caves above Wildbread Bay, en route to your final destination of the isolated Dene community of Lutsel K’e. Finish your trip with a flight back to Yellowknife. (A Yellowknife charter company offers crewed sailing charters on a 5-passenger sloop, with packages ranging from 5 – 7 nights, including meals, sailing instruction and return flight to Yellowknife. Sailboat and cabin cruiser rentals are also available.)

A New National Park for Great Slave Lake?
In October of 2002, when the Canadian federal government announced their plans to create 10 new national parks across the country, the proposed expansion list included the East Arm of Great Slave Lake.

The selection of the rugged region, with its cold, clear waters and archipelago of rocky islands, is not an entirely new idea: more than 7,000 square kilometers of crown land in the area have been “withdrawn” (protected from industrial development) by the federal government since 1970. In 2001, the Lutsel K’e Dene Nation and other members of Akaitcho Treaty No. 8 indicated their willingness to consider the designation of a park within their territorial area. The decision process will include extensive consultation with Elders concerning the traditional and spiritual activities associated with the East Arm region.

A Kayaking Expedition to the East Arm

Strengthen your body and clear your head as you soak up the serenity of a northern summer with a 12-day paddle through Great Slave’s spectacular East Arm. Guided tours in fully-outfitted expedition sea kayaks begin with a Twin Otter flight from Yellowknife, and traverse the head of the East Arm between Wildbread Bay and Scott’s Arm. Camp on secluded islets, hike through the boreal forest, watch for bald eagles and savour fresh fish, on your way to the community of Lutsel K’e, where Dene elders conduct an evening of storytelling.

Kayaking is a popular pursuit in the lake-studded northern wilderness; check with Yellowknife’s Northern Frontier Regional Visitor Information Centre for canoe/kayaking route maps. Kayak rentals are available through Yellowknife outfitters. Rentals and guided Great Slave/Mackenzie River tours can also be booked on the lake’s south shore, in the community of Hay River. Independent kayakers should be well-prepared and heavily-provisioned; services are few and far between.

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