Imagine a place where the only sound you will hear is the wind and that of your own voice.
Imagine a place so beautiful and unspoiled, that on any given day or moment it can, and will take your breath away.
Imagine drifting through a place where fish float silently just below the surface to soak up the summer sun, not noticing or caring as you pass.
Imagine a place where the Dogrib and Sahtu Dene have gathered for centuries.
Imagine Hottah Lake.
I would hazard a guess, or in keeping with the theme of this story, imagine that few people know much, if anything, about Hottah Lake or the Camsell River system, of which Hottah forms a significant part. To find it pull up a map of the Northwest Territories; locate Great Bear Lake and look directly south – you can't miss it.
Hottah, or Intse Ti, which in Dogrib means Moose Lake, is also part of the historic Idaa Trail. This is the traditional trading route of the Dogrib people that stretches from Great Slave to Great Bear Lake. At the north end of Hottah is a place where the Dogrib and Sahtu Dene once gathered each year to trade and to dance. Other places of significance along this trail include Blood Rock, Fence Narrows, Sliding Hill and Hook Place.
To say that Hottah is a big lake is something of an understatement as it covers an area in excess of 375 square miles. If you factor in the entire lake and river system, you have a water system about the same size as Prince Edward Island. As for its permanent inhabitants, they include Moose, Black Bear, Caribou, numerous bird species, millions of fish – but, other than on the lower reaches of the Camsell, not a single person.
The Camsell is not considered a "designer" canoe trip destination, and therefore receives very few visitors as a result. The route through the Camsell system and Hottah offers very little in the way of challenging white water or the like, but what it does offer is peace, serenity, a taste of history and the opportunity to be the very first to dip your paddle or cast a line along a stretch of shoreline or in one of the hundreds of unnamed and unexplored bays and inlets.
As for amenities, Hottah Lake offers pure, sweet water to drink, meals consisting of fish that are untouched by pollution or other modern day intrusions into the eco system, clean spruce scented air to breathe and at night you will be treated to a star and light show that is beyond description.
In the event you decide that Hottah is worth a visit I would ask you to consider the following.
To truly appreciate the experience you have to approach it with the right mindset. By that I mean give some careful thought to where you are going and what you expect to get out of it. Do some research and that will give you some background and context regarding what you will see and experience – and, once you get there, immerse yourself in it. I have visited Hottah on four occasions, and it was not until the third time around that it really all came together for me.
Unlike some places that have spectacular cliffs, mountains, waterfalls and seemingly endless stretches of white water which can easily capture your attention and that of your camera lens, Hottah is much more subtle, but in my opinion no less beautiful or intriguing. It is one of the few remaining places on Earth, that is reasonably accessible where you have the opportunity to break new ground, to see and experience things as they truly were centuries ago and, if you so choose, to be very much alone – all on your own terms and at your own pace.
So, if you think that you can do it justice, by all means, pay a visit, and perhaps most importantly,