De Pas/George River trip 2008
Lynette saw an ad for a bow paddler needed to join 3 other paddlers who were planning this trip. Knowing the person organizing the trip, we decided to email & ask to be included as an extra boat on the trip. We'd done the Moisie with one of them & all three paddlers had impressive resumes of far northern & extended trips. We felt lucky to be included with such an 'elite' group of trippers. It turned out that another pair of our friends, Joe & Paul, from Newfoundland had seen the same add & made the same call & the trip ended up starting out with 8 people & 4 boats: the original planners & their bow recruit in 2 Pakboats & J&P & us in our 'plastic tubs'. Having paddled the Moisie with J&P also, we were delighted to have the opportunity to trip with them again. The route (621km) & time frame (Jul6-Aug2 & 23 paddle days = 27km/day if no 'days off') were restricted by the planners' schedules. We would have preferred (and would recommend) later into August & more time (hoping the bugs would not be so bad & allowing time for hiking and/or wind/weather/rest days), but we felt lucky to be part of such a great group.
We drove Ottawa to Sept Iles. Motel overnight in Sept Iles. Train departs 8am twice a week & arrives for loading 6:30am. Train will take canoes but appreciates prebooking. Luggage limits required minimal additional overweight charges. Parked car at train station. All day (usually 11-13 hours) ride to Schefferville, where we were met by the local Taxi service (pre-arranged) with a 12 passenger van and a flatbed. 20km shuttle over height of land rough road to Iron Arm Bay on Attikamagen Lake in Labrador. Paddled 621 km to Kangiqsualujjuaq. Hotel there expensive - previous group camped at airport. Leave canoes with Jean Guy St. Aubin or with Coop Store for shipment back to Montreal in Oct/Nov via Desgagnes Transarctik. We tied some of our gear into the canoe, as the airline is not obliged to take extra & we did not want to be left waiting for it in Sept Iles. Flew commercial flights Kangiqsualujjuaq > Kuujjuaq > Schefferville > Sept Iles. Taxi to car / drive back to Ottawa. Drive to Montreal later for canoe.
Safety and Navigation
One person carried a Sat phone & emergency kit strapped to the back of his lifejacket. Joe carried a SPOT in his lifejacket & activated it's "we're here & we're OK" feature every evening at each of our campsites & most lunchtime stops as well. These SPOT messages were being received by several people, one of whom (Laco's son) had the job to upload our campsite locations each evening to an online Google map of our progress. One of us, having been in the pharmaceutical industry, provided a large & well-equipped first aid kit for the group & we each carried our own personal kits. Someone else brought along a complete whitewater rescue kit, complete with ropes & all the boats carried enough parts between them to assemble another rescue rig. All boats were equipped with spray decks. Each boat had a complete set of maps, which had been produced & premarked (mostly with FQCK information) by Laco (=Lester, & pronounced "Latzo"). I think every boat had a GPS also. The boats stayed within sight of each other. Four of us had drysuits, 3 had farmer john wetsuits & the eighth had some borrowed wetsuit pieces - shorts & vest, I think. The water was cold at the start of the trip, but warmed up enough so that we could swim enough to wash up during the last 2 weeks of the trip. We found snow banks still melting in the heat wave we experienced along the lower river (quite unusual weather for north Quebec - we
are more accustomed to nasty weather there & were prepared for cold rain & wind, even snow!)
July 6 Sunday
Laco drove Ottawa to Sept Iles in almost 13 hours, where we saw Paul's canoe in front of the hotel. Greeted the rest of the crew who had organized the kitchen into a wannigan for us, so we re-organized kitchen stuff, adding our pot set & discarding some extra stuff. Laco & I generally do not trip with a wannigan, but the size of the group warranted it. Someone had also purchased a bug shelter & tarp for the group. Laco & I had planned on camping up the road, but J&P invited us to share their room. We organized packs for the early start the next morning & went out to dinner.
July 7 Monday
Sept Iles to Schefferville to Iron Arm on Attikamagen Lake
Train station: there at 6:30 for 8am departure. Loaded canoes & Mountain of luggage, paying $165 for our canoe, $20 for our overweight food barrel
& $95 each for our fare to Schefferville. The others paid more for overweight luggage. We boarded the train
& turned 16 chairs to face each other right at the back & settled in for the day-long ride. We played cards, traded stories, ate, drank (alcohol not allowed), snoozed, gawked out the windows. There was a 'restaurant' car, but most passengers were regulars who brought their own food & so had we. It was fun to watch the Moisie go by from this perspective - the water level looked quite high - we recognized almost every turn & were sad when the train finally turned away from it. The most spectacular place along the railroad seemed to be Waterfall Tonkas on Wacouno River.
We got to Schefferville at 7:30 (11.5 hours - good time). Gilles Porlier taxi service met us with a big white van & called for a flatbed to accommodate our canoes & luggage. They shuttled us to Iron Arm on Attikamagen Lake ($400 = $50/person), about 20km of rough road that took about an hour. Will & his Dad drove - very interesting people. We set up camp amongst some cabins & the Pakcanoe owners decided to wait for morning light to assemble them, even though it meant starting later while early morning hours are generally less windy (important when crossing a huge lake). The wind was strong offshore, dieing a bit with the dark.
July 8 Tuesday
Day One on the Water
Iron Arm of Lake Attikamagen, Km 621.5 to Fox Lake, km 589.5 = 32km
Daybreak dawned sunny & windy. My breakfast was an experiment of couscous, dry egg mix & pre-cooked bacon bits, that, though it was nutritious & tasty, was a bit too salty (I had not accounted for the extra saltiness of the bacon). There was too much (another frequent failure of mine), so Laco & I got it cold for lunch too, which was actually quite yummy - I'm a salt fiend - to heck with the sugar... The rest of our breakfasts are granola (with milk or hot chocolate powder & lots of yummy dry fruit & nut additions), which can be eaten cold & fast or with hot water added for a quick warm-up. We washed up & packed up the kitchen while the others began to assemble their boats and packs.
The mountain of luggage left over after the first two (plastic) boats were packed seemed outrageous. We discovered one suitcase that did not belong to anyone in our group so we left it on the front porch of one of the cabins & tried to call the taxi later to let them know to pick it up, but the remaining heap that had to fit into the last two boats still seemed ludicrous. Laco & I were packed, including the group shelter pack (we could not fit the wannigan into our efficiently packed & tightly skirted 16' Old Town Appalachian
). The bugs chewed as the north wind built & we waited. We finally told the group we'd wait in the lee of the first island, within sight, & headed out. J&P followed. The four of us languished in the wind eddy of the first island, waiting for another hour. The waves had been scary already for our crossing, so we waited & watched with binoculars to make sure the Pakcanoes were OK, but when they finally rounded the corner, I could not believe how little freeboard their 17' boats had, and one of them had not bothered to install their spraydeck, which had become part of their huge load rather than a safety feature on this windy, wavy cold lake. We collectively took another hour to redistribute more of their load into our boats, repack and install their spraydecks sort-of properly over their ungainly loads. I hoped that packing practice over the first few flatwater days would streamline operations & spraydeck profiles. Fortunately, by the time we were done, the wind actually seemed to have dropped a bit & we did not feel too endangered as we headed out again.
We spent the day traversing the big lakes from point to point, waiting for the overloaded (i.e. slower) Pakcanoes in the lee of every point. First Portage
We got to the first portage creek on our way back up to the crest of the watershed (the Quebec/Labrador border) & the first two plastic tubs were able to cooperate on a slide/drag (fully loaded) up the creek. The over-loaded Pakcanoes were impossible, so we had to portage their loads & then drag their boats up. The portage trail(s) had been used fairly recently by a group or groups that were large enough to leave lots of sign and a large piece of torn nylon (which had been through a winter, so did not belong to whoever was ahead of now), so we knew we were not alone on the river.
This first portage, depending on one's attitude, could be described as either a nightmare or a comedy - you had to either laugh or start worrying whether this trip was a go or not - and I was doing both as I helped drag/carry numerous items through the multi-trailed portage. My favourite & much-touted technical term for such flotsam & jetsam is "loose shit"... and I hate "loose shit" with a passion. "Loose shit" gets lost, wet, dirty & creates the need for much more portage time, risk, effort, frustration, discomfort and distance than is necessary. Laco & I organize our load so we can portage in two trips on a whitewater trip & one on a flatwater trip. I'm so organized that my hands are left free to carry paddles so I can use them to steady myself over uneven ground or help me up steep grades. The drawback is I usually have no pictures of portages because even my camera gets stashed safely away into the daypack which gets strapped to the top of a barrel. As Joe (by himself) delivered one of the Pakcanoes at the top of the creek, there were no paddles in it, so I had to paddle back to fetch paddles for it while Joe disappeared back through the alders after the last Pakcanoe. Having never had to unload our boats, J&P & L&L did not wait for the loading of the Pakboats again & forged ahead to scout out the next portage, not too far away. It's a good thing we did: Second Portage
We scouted up the next creek but bottomed out again, so partially unloaded & bushwhacked up the creek with our barrels to the next lake, where we 'discovered' a highway of a portage - a clearcut 10-20m wide & almost direct.
We hastily dumped our loads & Laco trotted back to the start of it to head off the Pakcanoes before they followed us into the creek. They started their portage up the boggy highway while J&P&L continued to drag the first boat up the creek, finding it too difficult to repeat with the 2nd boat, so Laco bushwhack portaged the 2nd boat, then we all continued onto the main portage, helping the Pakcanoe crew with their stuff, including Paul carrying one of the Pakcanoes because neither of its occupants was capable of carrying it. Yes - it turned out that out of the 4 folks in the Pakcanoes, only one of them was capable of carrying a canoe. We were quietly flabbergasted at this revelation: Who goes on a canoe expedition with portages if they know they cannot portage their own canoe? This was getting more worrying than funny now... Portages were going to be a major obstacle on this trip & the Helen falls one was reputed to be 3km. We were doing a minimum of 4 passes each, with Paul counting 7 passes for himself on this last one. And we hadn't even gotten to the headwaters yet! This, & the rate at which it seemed we were not going to make the miles, sparked discussions speculating on whether it might be possible to end the trip early & charter a plane to fly us out from above Helen Falls... on day one of this trip! It was disheartening, to say the least, to already be thinking like this.
As the sun set, we tiredly paddled the last 3km up Fox Lake to the clear-cut head of the next portage to set up camp - an army could camp there - acres of space. In retrospect, we realized that there had been a wide clear-cut swath, which we had mistaken for a natural meadow, a few hundred meters to the right of where our very first portage had been marked also. We speculated that this height of land route was probably also a winter road, which could explain the extent of the clearing of these portages. Everybody was very tired & Laco & I got right to cooking up dinner in the dark: a hot chilli with warm tortilla 'bowl-liners', coleslaw & simple chocolate for dessert, along with a belly-warming tot of Arak passed around the fire. The stars sparkled as the temperature dropped below freezing & I kept my hands warm doing the dishes again. Frost sparkled on the tent in the moonlight as we brushed our teeth & retired to our cozy sleeping bags.
July 9 Wednesday
Day of Height of Land!
Fox Lake, Km 589.5 to Lac Doublet 573.5 = 16 km
The tired crew took our time rising & shining, so Laco hiked 2km up to the top of 'Teddy Bear Hill' where he & his only companion, Peace Bear, posed long enough for a self-portrait, but not long enough to be too badly chewed on by the bugs who swarmed on this quiet sunny morning. Breakfast still wasn't ready by the time they got back. With the sun hot on the tent, I'd had lots of time to dry it and pack up, so I did dishes again, cleaning up after breakfast & packing up the kitchen while everybody else took the time to organize their 'stuff' into more cohesive units for this portage. Having already carried our canoe over this short, easy portage, Laco carried the 'extra' Pakcanoe this time. During the packing of the kitchen, I took the opportunity to separate the heavy firebox from the wannigan & at the end of the portage I managed to fit it into our canoe under the group shelter pack.
We hit the water by 11am for a short crossing to the next portage - also a highway, but 500m south of where it was marked. We ate lunch at the end of it, seeking out a shady spot with a log to sit on. Joe served a very fancy & tasty (i.e.- rumsoaked) fruitcake to celebrate our crossing of the height of land (our last "border crossing" from Labrador back into Quebec). Woo-hoo! It's all downhill from here!
Started paddling again around 1:30. Our first "rapids" were "bump & grind" for our plastic tubs & "stick & walk" for the overloaded Pakcanoes. An R2 was steep & challenging rock-dodging for the plastic boats, the first Pak made it through, but the 2nd walked it down the right - in the water because the tangled willow & alder grew right over the water. The Pakcanoes kept getting hung up in the shallow R1's. We waited so much after every rapid that we started pulling out the fishing rod after I saw a big pike in one pool. The fish were hungry & we lost one lure, caught a big pike, no net, so tried to dispatch it with one of our rescue knives, but it flapped & got away with a 2nd lure. Did get a picture though… The Pakcanoes walked a lot while we fished the pools. Gorgeous weather. Found 2 campsites & a frame hunt camp - none where campsites were noted on the FQCK maps. 16 km by 6-ish pm - sloooow day. Dinner was tasty, but complicated, dirtying every pot in camp, and once the gang realized that L&L were being relegated to wash them again, everyone pitched in & they all got done quite quickly. We all agreed to an early morning so we could get the distance in that we needed to and at least try to do the whole trip as planned.
July 10 Thursday
Lac Doublet, km 573.5 to after Lac Blenac, km 552.7 = 20.8 km
We woke to a light rain & debated drysuits, but the rain let up & we breakfasted at 7am without the tarp. It was warm so we stayed in raingear & we packed up faster today & paddled away at 8:30 with the Paks following fairly quickly.
The wind & rain picked up & we ended up doing lake crossings into cold driving rain. We got chilled waiting at every point. One shivering person, after several promptings to try keep his head warm, finally had to be shown how to secure the hood properly on their new Gore-Tex rain jacket. We decided to quit early, but the next campsite was rumoured to be at km 555 or 552. We kept our eyes peeled, but spied only dense bush along the riverbanks. Everybody was miserable. We had all underestimated the weather that morning.
At km 558.5, a sternsman directed his partner not to get out of the bow of a Pakcanoe & tried to walk it solo down an R1 where they had bottomed out again. After watching several previous near-mishaps, I had already coached these experienced canoeists to stay with the canoe (if they could not get out on shore to line it), using it as a tripod to stabilize themselves when needing to get their weight out of it, but he continued to hold onto just the stern rope, when walking with it in the rapids, which left him quite unsteady in his knee-high neoprene rubber boots. This time, his heavy canoe escaped ahead of him into deeper water & current, then his bowline knot let go & he was left floundering for his footing in an R1 that was emptying over a shallow ledge into deep water while his canoe & bowperson were sucked downstream by the current. In slow, cartoon-like, motion, his water-heavy boots got washed out from under him, he sat in the R1 & then got washed over the ledge into deep, freezing water, the current pulling him & his canoe further from shore. Laco & I went into upstream race-paddle mode & quickly got to him. The bow paddler managed to rejoin us, but upon asking if the swimmer was capable of climbing into his canoe in deep water, even with our help, he said no (those boots must've felt like anchors on his feet) & we had to knuckle down & tow them back to the shallows. Once there, he stood up, & was able to reinstall himself in the stern, insisting he was all right, had a wetsuit on & was OK to continue. Then we noticed that the other two were also standing in the water close to the edge of the same ledge, with one coaching the other to flap & hop about to try & warm up. This looked like another swim about to happen, because the owner of the Gore-Tex hood was so stiff with cold that he was very unsteady on his feet (and in the same boots!) - and he had no wetsuit on. We finally got everyone back into their boats & paddling hard to find any possible campsite. We had two borderline hypothermia cases & we could not afford any more shenanigans.
The two boats with tarp & wannigan paddled hard & surged ahead searching for a campspot. The other 2 boats were not far behind. The campsite at km 555 was thick bush, so we regrouped and paddled into driving rain and wind down the next couple R1's 'ducky style', waiting briefly to make sure all made it. I spied a hopeful looking opening in the bush; Laco hopped out to investigate; declared it adequate; so we all hopped to getting a tarp rigged, a fire going & hot soup on. The cold folks set up tents to change into warm, dry clothes & then warmed in their sleeping bags until soup was ready, at which time they proudly declined room service & joined us under the tarp at 4:30 for Joe's gourmet style canoe cooking. Homemade hot ham & pea soup really warmed our cockles, & cheesy scalloped potatoes, cranberry ham & sweet yams cheered us up no end. The cold folks did the dishes this time... after all, it is a good way to warm up the hands... A very tired crew hit the tents by 7pm, & I wrote this in daylight & dry fleecies. Ended the day early at Km 552.5. The next day we passed what looked like great camping a half km downstream.
July 11 Friday
Lac Blenac, km 552.7 to Lac Jamin, km 525 = 27.7 km
After a long, restful night, we were eager to try make up some time. Even though it was raining a bit when we awoke, J&P had porridge breakfast waiting for us at 7am. The day's weather turned out OK - cloudy at first, but clearing with a bit of a north wind. We managed to get on the water by 8:45... no... 9:00, due to one Pakboat having to go back to retrieve gloves. The very first, nice & easy R1 resulted in both Pakcanoes stuck right of the main channel, and then with one paddler left behind standing in the rapid again. From then on, we did even the R1's ducky style. Although there were still some shallows, the river grew. It became quite clear that this is high water level, especially on the Lakes like Lapointe & Talon. Mayflies were hatching everywhere. We had lots of flatwater with a light wind, so we did well.
We stopped early (4:15) at a Camp at km 525 as rain moved in. The unwritten, yet universally understood 'open door' policy of the north allows us to use shelters belonging to others as long as we respect this generosity by re-securing doors & windows and leaving the shelter cleaner and better stocked (if we can) than we found it. Doors are never locked - just barred, nailed or tied (against bears
). Dinner was made quickly (poured boiling water into freeze-dried packets = easy dishes!) over our fuel stove in the kitchen cabin, where we could all gather & sit around a nice big table with chairs. Freeze-dried dessert was interesting. All agreed again to get an early start the next morning.
July 12 Saturday
Lac Jamin, km 525 to de Pas, km 488.5 = 36.5 km
The whole crew woke up early enough for our breakfast at 6am. We had planned to be on the water for 7 & the last ones were there by 7:20, which was excellent for this crew! Around the corner from the cabins was the start of the 'real' de Pas River - we had an R1 leading into an R4 (portage), so we cautiously approached the drop along the left bank & pulled out to line the last bit to the portage trail, which was well used.
Another (150m) Portage
Being first, we unloaded & Laco headed out first while I loaded up. Someone else grabbed our food barrel & headed down the path. Up until now, having our gear organized into 4 appropriately weighted loads (= 2 heavy for Laco & 2 lighter for me), we had always finished first & then continued with helping the others. As I watched our barrel disappear, I didn't say anything, figuring it would all end up at the same place & we'd be carrying other people's stuff anyway - it's common practice in canoe travel in groups for everyone to pitch in & the portage isn't over 'til it's over. So off we went - it wasn't supposed to be a long one & the path looked well used. I got to where Laco had dumped our canoe - a very narrow (= one canoe at a time) put-in spot just below the chute of the R4. Downriver appeared to be all R1-R2. Our food barrel was not there. Went back for more loads. The heap of packs and barrels grew beside our canoe, beginning to block the trail, so we loaded our boat, and upon asking where our food barrel was, were informed it was at the end of the portage, (wherever that was?)... so... we loaded without it & moved our boat downstream (so that others could begin to load), tied it up & searched for the missing barrel. Stuff was all over the place up & down the river, but all the canoes were at the same place, so missing packs had to be searched for & retrieved before loading. Once we got our barrel into our boat, we walked back upstream to help load the other boats. J&P had their boat loaded, slid it in, got out of the way, went & tied off downstream so they could come help load the Pakboats also. They could not be loaded on land, so we had to stand in the current holding & loading while packs were sorted through, passed down, & we tried to help fit stuff in. It took longer to load this one Pakboat than the whole portage had taken so far. We eventually asked them to move the whole thing downstream to organize their load. We then got the last Pakboa t into the water & loading commenced... I was getting cold standing in the water while they tried to organize & fit their load in... so headed back to our boat to wait. Such a simple portage/ such a protracted, painful operation - an easy 150 meters took maybe 2 hours?
The "Real" de Pas begins...
Once everyone was along the shoreline in their boats, we hugged the left shore, backferrying, keeping stern in & waited in eddies thru the R2. Got T-boned by one Pak when they got going too fast & tried to eddy out. The other Pak got hung up on rocks & we all waited. As the river went around a right corner, it was necessary to get out into the current to avoid a shallow shelf & then the island below it. All followed us out into the current & then into the nice big gentle eddy behind the shelf except the last Pak - they ended up grinding up onto the shallow shelf, having to get out & drag over it. Once they were in the eddy with us, we C-turned into the next big gentle eddy around the island to wait again while they got into their boat. Next we heard a whistle blast, & hurriedly hopped onto the island to see what warranted all the ruckus: They had flipped their boat upside down while trying to get into it. They got it rolled up and started to bail while standing waist deep in the eddy. The bailer appeared to be the size of a water bottle & this was going to be another long wait. Someone thoughtfully grabbed a pump & walked with it across the island, but when I realized he was walking into the rapid - in his big rubber boots - to walk the pump over to them, I had to yell at him - twice! - to not try to walk across the R1 & risk swimming - he had no paddle to steady himself, nor his throw rope which he could've tied it to, to throw it across, but, at this point, I did not have the patience left to suggest the safer methods of providing assistance to the bailers. They then started yelling at us to set up safety downstream - for what I don't know - they were stable in their big, quiet eddy & the pump-walker had stopped & retreated back to the island. I was so fed-up by now that I approached the last Pakboat occupant for a quiet talk, stating how worried I was, and asking, in all seriousness, if they had bitten off more than they could chew, and finally got an admission that they were having serious doubts as well. The last Pakboat finally made it to the huge eddy behind the island with us and I called a Powwow.
Powwow on "Separation Island"
I asked everybody to disembark & stand in a circle on the island with me so we could have a talk where everybody would get a chance to say their piece. I told them point blank that I did not want to watch someone die on this trip and that the time to bail or not was right now, when it was possible to go back up the portage - we were still less than a 1 km walk from the cabins we had spent the night at (at 10:30 am, after a 7:20 am start!). The cabins were on a lake where they could call for an airlift out, or they had lots of time to paddle back out the way we had come in. I pointed at the maps, which showed 90 km of narrow river ahead with lots of rapids, starting with R3 & R4 just around the corner. There were no obvious evacuation points downriver if we should get into serious trouble, which seemed fairly likely to everyone. The Pakboat paddlers admitted they were maybe in over their heads & were willing to examine their options and consider aborting the trip. So we sat down and discussed details and our options: If L&L & J&P were able & willing to continue on in their 2 boats, what would we need out of group gear: we retrieved the firebox & group shelter out of our boat and exchanged them for a ladle, scrubbie, our pot with our zip stove out of the wannigan. We also kept the WW rescue kit, the emergency kit, and the tarp. We took a close look at our 1st aid supplies & did not need to borrow from the group one. A big loss was the SAT phone - they would need it to call in a plane - but we had the SPOT which we organized with them to set up an extra non-emergency "Help" option for us when they got back. We could have gone back upriver with them & waited for the plane & then had the Sat phone as well, but we decided the SPOT was sufficient. We sat down at 11:30 and had a subdued lunch.
Separation - 4 go on & 4 go back
Noon - a freezing rainburst hit just as we were saying goodbye & good luck. We left them sitting on the island contemplating how to go the 1km back upriver. We disappeared quickly around the corner into the next R2 - R3. We all agreed to be ultra-conservative as we scouted ahead. We scouted, ran, lined very cautiously past the R4. We found the ratings to be fairly conservative - they must have been rated at a different water level - we judged the level to be high because the shoreline grasses and willows were drowned out, including flowers under water. It was a Huge Relief to finally be not worrying about and waiting for the Pakcanoes. We 4 motored along, able to pick lines and river scout most of the R1 & R2's. We covered the next 35 km to Paul River by 6pm, making up for the lost time over the last few days in this single afternoon. When we got to Paul River, we searched fruitlessly for the campsite marked there, & concluding that it was maybe under water, we crossed the river to a set of cabins that were within sight of the 'missing' campsite and set up camp there instead. Joe & Paul cooked up a really nice Newfie tradition - fish & brewis. Joe's cake and a tot of Newfie 'screech' finished the day & I write all this down by headlamp as the 3 men all gently snore. We are all so relieved and are now excited and looking forward to a much more relaxed trip from here on down...
Laco says: I got bitten on the eyelid by a blackfly & I lost my black marker sometime during the day when marking rapids on the laminated maps as we went, but, by a miracle, Joe had one! This camp (@ km 488.5) had an outhouse with a view. The day was sunny & warm, with dark clouds here & there that brought sharp, cold but brief showers. Bugs were active & vicious & we are all chewed up.
July 13 Sunday
de Pas, km 488.5 to de Pas, km 458.5 = 30 km
Up shortly after 6 - it was so cold we saw our breath - so we took our time while the bugs were slow to re-organize our food barrels. Our meals for 8 were going to have to be divided in ½ & eaten twice, but we weren't complaining! Didn't get on the water until about 8:30.
Now that we are just 4 of us, back on schedule in just one afternoon, and making excellent time with nobody to wait for, we are much more relaxed. We again concluded that the rapid ratings seemed conservative for this water level - it's high enough to be covering shoreline grasses, willows and even flowering plants, so it must have risen very recently. Joe has marked the water level a couple times and says it is dropping steadily. Good weather / bad bugs. Drysuits were hot / rapids were fun - especially a long R2. An R2-3 was divided by an R4, which we lined & eddy hopped down the right side. It clouded over and rained as we lined and then as we set up camp - making us glad we'd taken the tarp. Cooked mushroom
fettuccini over our zip stove after Paul and Laco came back with a small trout. (We'd quit early at 3:30 because it was rainy and we were tired after an R3-4 and the next rapid was also going to be a challenge.) The campsite up on the hill was nice, but a steep climb with water & gear. We'd seen big fish jumping quite high out of the water.
July 14 Monday
de Pas, km 458.5 to de Pas, km 438 = 20.5 km
We woke up to a very buggy morning & were briefly regretful of not having a bug shelter, but the size and weight of the thing had decided us against it, so between bug shirts, bug bags & tarp, we had to make do. Porridge with nuts & brown sugar for breakfast.
Paddling, lining & similar stuff today: During one lining, Lynette did not stow her paddle properly & the lining rope snagged its T-grip and flipped it into the river and in a split second it was bouncing downriver at a merry speed with Lynette on the stern rope watching it not so merrily. Laco dropped the bow rope and raced downriver after it. The bright yellow foam on the shaft kept it floating high & visible and after a couple misses, Laco was able to catch it after a few rocks slowed it down, much to everyone's relief. We travel with one good WW paddle and one good FW bent-shaft, lightweight racing paddle each, all with bright yellow foam on their shafts, which make them easier to find in just such a situation. The FW paddle is really nice on the FW sections, but not really robust enough for the abuse of WW & we had a lot of miles yet to cover!
At lunch break we found a nest with 4 eggs. The Susan Valley Rapids portage was very difficult, being mostly through old burnt forest with lots of deadfall. Laco caught 3 fish & lost a lure to another. We finished the day quite late, quite exhausted and very tired of bugs. Paul looks very chewed up and bloody - a bit like the victim of an attack of fine shrapnel, but he's fine with it & just teases Joe that he's the tastier one, because Joe is one of those guys who seems to be fairly immune to the little devils. The weather is mostly sunny and warm, but there were clouds and it drizzled a bit when we were portaging (adding to the joy). This was a tough day & it was difficult to find a campspot (not till 7:30) which was not too pretty, but the moon is full and shining brightly.
July 15 Tuesday
de Pas, km 438 to de Pas, km 415.5 = 22.5 km
Leftover fish brewis for breakfast - much better than porridge, in my view. Slow start - on the water after 9. Nice R2 to start though. Warm morning - we had to swim in our drysuits to cool off. Cloudy, sunny, rain showers - typical North Quebec weather. Did lots of lining today - the R3's are getting big and powerful now. We can often stay in the boat and sneak the shorelines too. Got to a portage at lunchtime. It rained while we ate and contemplated another long ordeal, but the trails were pretty good this time - actually excellent once we found the main one on the way back for our 2nd load. Saw a bald eagle. Laco is the one quite chewed up this time - his hands are swollen, even though he used gloves the whole day. We cooked curry over the zip stove and Laco & I shared our 'personal bug bags' (full body size) again with Joe & Paul & we paired up, standing inside them facing each other so we could lift our headnets enough to eat in relative peace, but certainly not in comfort! For me, emptying and cleaning my 'Keeper' means wading into the water with this big net on, letting the net seal against the surface of the water while I undress & clean up, a delicate & finicky operation. Trying to do this with no bug protection would be pure torture. Some folks use bug repellent on their nether regions, but bug repellent does not do Gore-Tex (or 'Keeper') any favours.
July 16 Wednesday
de Pas, km 415.5 to Indian House Lake, km 379 = 36.5 km
Hot buggy morning, but we decided to wear our drysuits anyway - they slow the bugs down.
J&P unhappily donned their neoprene because we still had a last R3 on the De Pas left to do, then lots of flatwater. We saw a small bear at Bear Creek because the geese were fussing. It was very hot when the sun was out. When we got to the R3, Laco said to scout left this time and we were very lucky because it ended up being all runable down that side, and afterwards, we could see that the right side would have been un-runable and also had a very difficult shoreline. We had lunch right below the R3 on a tiny goose poop island. It was too hot for the bugs so we washed our hair and J&P joyously removed their neoprene. Long flats followed with a slight headwind that kept the bugs at bay and we were able to paddle without headnets. It was so hot we took off our lifejackets. We arrived at the confluence of the De Pas and George
Rivers, marked by a teepee
frame on a hill overlooking the rivers. We behaved like tourists, taking a lot of pictures. The beautiful weather held all day - no rain except a light sprinkle after dinner.
We stopped to take a look around Twin Rivers Lodge - there were fresh prints on the beach - of a heavy large man in bare feet(!) and a large dog, but no-one was there. We continued down glassy smooth Indian House Lake for another 15km and camped on a pretty beach (with lots of bear tracks) in a bay. The hot sun had us sweating in our drysuits, so we stripped down, waded in to wash up quickly, did some laundry and hung it all to dry on the bushes in the sun. The water was barely bearable! Beautiful sunset enhanced by distant rain that we got a sprinkle of, so the laundry had to be brought in wet. Wow, it feels great to be clean again!
July 17 Thursday
Indian House Lake, km 379 to Indian House Lake, km 345 = 34 km
It rained through the night with some breaks in between. We woke up to a grey day. At least there was some wind, though it was mostly against us. We were on the water by about 9:15am. It rained a bit, then quit. We even got to see some holes in the cloud cover, but the sun never peeked through. We stopped for lunch on the left shore, at a small & buggy campsite. Two bald eagles. The current was swift as we passed by remnants of an old abandoned US Army weather station. As we paddled on, the wind & waves got bigger. Eventually we camped at a nice big beach with the old remains of two caribou. There were bear tracks everywhere. We've seen bear tracks on almost every beach we've landed on. When the wind died, the bugs became atrocious. There was a small shallow brook coming in here, so Laco tried fishing, with no luck. After the dinner, rain drove us to tents, but it didn't last long.
July 18 Friday
Indian House Lake, km 345 to Slippery Brook, km 319 = 26 km
Not raining, but close to so we slept until 7:30 am and didn't get on the water till 9:45 am. Sand gets in everything. Paddled into a north wind again and started yawning very soon, in spite of the long sleep we'd had. Had to use sunglasses because the wind in the face/eyes is very tiring. Paddled about 10 km towards Wedge Point, which seemed to take forever to get to. Our conception of distances here is distorted, because everything is so big and open & trees are so small.
When I thought Wedge Point was under ½ km away, Laco said the GPS said it was 1.2 km away. The current was going over a low point on the peninsula, so we crossed it there & eddied out for a leg stretch. We saw a cabin at Teepee Point 2 km further and stopped there for lunch. There we found a very interesting series of teepee circles and tepee skeletons (frames) & a neat outhouse (Aventures Ashini
camp). A good breeze on top kept the bugs away enough to eat lunch. This would be a great campsite. The river starts flowing here again & we could feel the current sucking on us, but the wind dragged us back at about the same rate. The mix of north wind (the prevailing direction here) and north-bound current made for a very interesting swell and rollers with whitecaps being blown off the top of them, so it looked a little scary ahead, but ended up being OK. We all paddled hard into the wind for another 10+ km, the river widening and seeming like a lake again. Decided to camp at Slippery Brook on a nice huge beach (historic place, where Hesketh Prichard's expedition
reached George River in 1910). We found a small grassy area for the tents but cooked on the beach, so sand got in everything again. Laco & I paddled up the brook to try our luck fishing - no luck - and as we got back, rain hit so I tried to rig the tarp using rocks to anchor the high side on the grass plateau, paddles under & tied low side to our canoe. Good thing there was no wind and the rain quit soon anyway and we happily had Joe's gourmet mango moose
again and a shot of absinthe
Nice fire, pretty sunset & great company. Bugs not bad here - we were able to take our headnets off long enough to eat.
July 19 Saturday
Slippery Brook, km 319 to Camp across from Kamistiuetinast Creek, km 287 = 32 km
We woke up to a beautiful morning, sunny, water like a mirror. Laco went for about a 1-hour hike with Peace Bear on the barren hills behind the campsite. Lynette tried to follow the tracks of a small fox which had done a thorough job checking out the beach sometime during the night. We started on the water around 9:15 and by that time the wind had already picked up. Paddling into the wind was slow & tiring. We arrived at a cabin 15 km downstream at about 1pm where we could eat lunch out of the bugs. Clouded over in the afternoon and we saw the rain to the east, but we did not get rained on today. There was a nice current (9 km/h) leaving the cabins (for about 15 min), but then the river widened into a lake again and the wind picked up and made us work hard all the way to km 287 where we camped at a cabin in a small bay on river left. At km 290, across from a big river tumbling into the George, we saw a lot of fish jumping and then a school of dorsal fins at the surface just ahead of our canoe. It was strange paddling over where they had been - it seemed like we were just about to bump them with our paddles at any stroke. Beautiful evening and sunset.
July 20 Sunday
Kamistiuetinast Creek, km 287 to Norpaq Hades Hills Camp, km 256.5 = 30.5 km
Again we woke to a beautiful sunny morning. We hit the water shortly after 9:30, ready for our first serious rapids on the George River. We approached cautiously the first R2-3 rapid, going at first eddy to eddy down the left side, but then decided to cross the river. It appeared that the rapid was just huge water without major obstacles, so it ended up being a fun run.
Friendly Faces: 1st People in 13 Days...
At the bottom of the rapid, where the river widens, we saw a large red-roofed camp with motorboats and, once we were away from the rapids and crossing the wider expanse of water,
the wind brought to us the sound of either a chainsaw or a buzzing generator. We stopped there & Pierre Paquet, the owner, came down the beach to welcome us. With him were his nephew Matthew and another big guy, Sheldon. They were preparing all their Norpaq camps
for the fish & hunt season, which starts in mid-August (after the worst of the bugs are over). They were first people we'd seen in 13 days. We admired the log cabins. Pierre told us he built them himself, mostly in the winter. Lynette took the opportunity to ask about bathroom facilities and was kindly directed to a genuine clean flush toilet with soap beside the sink in a luxurious main cabin and came out with a big happy smile on her face. We inquired whether Pierre knew anything about our 4 companions who had needed a flight out of Lac Jamin about a week ago, so he got on his Sat phone immediately to his head pilot and was able to tell us that they'd been picked up and delivered to Schefferville where they had had to stay a night before being able to board the train back south. We were happy to know they were back safe & sound and that also meant that the extra "need help, but not urgently" option would be set up on our SPOT by now. Pierre also told us about 4 canoeists who had been flown to Wedge Point on Indian House Lake and were probably 3-4 days ahead of us. We knew also that a group of 3 soloists had started 2 or 3 days behind us. Pierre admired Laco's maps, gave us advice on the next few rapids, told us the current was good and strong from here on down, making for a fast, easy trip and that we should take plenty of time off the river also to hike the countryside, rather than just zipping past it all.
We left after about 45 minutes of chatting & were soon into a strong current & numerous R1's and R2's with lots of big waves - we tried to pick 'dry' lines out of the big stuff but caught the occasional bounce anyway - all fun, no scary stuff - and not much to give a miss. Got to the day's target destination at 2:45pm, so we decided to change and go for a hike up the hill behind the campsite we'd set up at the Hades Hills Norpaq camp.
Wolf Hike - 3.9 km
The bush was thick behind the camp, so we paddled back upstream 4-500m to start our hike on a barren slope and followed easy caribou trails uphill. Peace Bear stayed behind to keep an eye on the canoes. It was wet in the hollows and we found lots of Bolete mushrooms, arctic blackberries & blueberries. We rebuilt a tumbled inukshuk
on top of the hill and we noticed other inukshuks on the tops of the hills leading back to the camp. As we went over the rise, we saw a lone wolf
, which ran away, stopped & looked, trotted away, stopped & looked, then finally paused for a last photo/movie opportunity on the top of the ridge before disappearing over it. Joe saw 3 caribou
in the distance. Collected quite a few Boletes for dinner on our way back, which we then fried in olive oil with a sprinkle of salt - a fine accompaniment to Joe's gourmet cooking again. Second day of no rain!
July 21 Monday
Norpaq Hades Hills Camp, km 256.5 to George River, km 229 = 27.5 km
We woke up to a beautiful morning, but immediately clouds moved in from the north. Before we left, it was raining. Running easy rapids in drysuits & headnets. We saw a lone female caribou crossing the river ahead of us from west to east - she was a fast, it was raining and J&P, with their wet glasses, didn't see her standing on shore as they passed her by. We were fast too - we were on the water at 9:15 and we had covered the distance for the day (27 km) before noon (moving average 9.7 km/h). As we paddled the sky cleared, the slight wind veered around to come from the south and blew on our backs as the day became beautiful again. We quit paddling for the day and set up camp at lunchtime on a pretty spot on top of a small hill, overlooking a strip of willows and a wide beach.
Hidden Canyon and Hanging Ponds Hike - 6.1 km
After lunch we went for a hike to Lake Kashapuetshitik (Hidden Canyon) and Hanging Ponds. The hiking terrain varied from sand plains smooth enough to land a plane on, to boulder fields, to rock hills to thick alders and bog gorges. Caribou trails were everywhere. A round trip of 6 km took us to see the Hanging Ponds pouring into a lake hidden deep in a secret canyon which a fellow artist/tripper
had told us about. Most canoeists on the George would pass it by, never knowing it was there - though it is on the topo maps. On our way back, we collected a frypan load of Boletes again to fry up as an appetizer for our spaghetti dinner. (Warning: never eat wild mushrooms unless you are 100% sure that you know exactly what they are! I sliced these ones ahead of time to give the worms a chance to escape this time, instead of cooking them quickly for the additional protein.)
Back in camp, we were all tired, sweaty and thirsty from our hike, so we headed for the beach to jump into the crystal clear sandy bay for a quick, "refreshing" wash-up, and laundry day again. A nice breeze and hot sun kept the bugs down. Caribou hair made a band of 'froth' along the shoreline. Our laundry was dry by dinnertime. Another pretty sunset & early to bed as the bugs came out again.
July 22 Tuesday
George River, km 229 to George River, km 188 = 41 km
We woke up to a beautiful, sunny, cloudless morning and were in our boats around 9:15. We dressed in our drysuits because there were big rapids ahead. We had gone for a swim before launching to cool off and Lynette discovered that her drysuit has a small leak at the bottom of the chest zipper. We paddled nice big rapids today (6 R3's), lots & lots of big waves. The day was absolutely gorgeous with quite a strong wind against us.
We passed by the Wedge Hills camp, though we were confused because the huge Uishak Island that was marked on the map in front of it appeared to be covered by water - the water level was high for our trip - it was up in the willows/alders & covering many potential beach campsites. It was a big operation & the generator & a chain saw were going, but we'd stopped yesterday at the main Norpaq camp and were in a hurry the day we passed Wedge Hills.
Paddling R3's into the wind is tiring, so we started looking for a campsite fairly early, but it wasn't easy to find a suitable spot - ice has pushed the riverbanks up into steep unstable boulder walls. We checked some cabins at km 190, but finding them dilapidated (= piles of firewood, only the one main cabin still having walls, though the outhouse still had a nice seat) and though the site they were on was flat enough to camp on, it was far from the river and we'd had to climb a very unstable boulder wall to get up there and didn't relish the idea of having to haul all our gear and canoes up there. We continued slowly - we did not have much energy left and more R3's were coming up. We don't like contemplating difficult rapids at the end of a tiring day - that's when mistakes happen. Finally, after 41 km we got lucky in a last eddy on the left and found an unlikely, but upon closer inspection, surprisingly nice spot, although it had been recently flooded. As long as the river didn't rise again overnight, we'd be fine - there were a choice of several firm, flat tent sites and a nice huge table rock. Laco tried fishing again, catching only one small one, which had to go back.
Our Trip Companions...
We enjoyed Joe's gourmet cooking again - how many times have I said that? Well... I can't say enough about our two trip companions - we were so lucky to have them along and we can't say enough good things about them: They are both good-natured, gentle, polite, affable with delightful senses of humour; Paul is fit as a fiddle and strong as an ox; Joe is a natural wilderness cook with a talent around the campfire seldom seen; they were not over-confident of their river skills - which is a good thing - but are a strong, well-matched pair in a canoe; they never quit on camp chores 'till they're all done; and they bring really good booze on trips!
Another pretty sunset.
July 23 Wednesday
George River, km 188 to George River, km 165 = 23 km
To be repetitive: We woke up to a beautiful sunny morning... again... not a cloud in the sky...
The only way to cool off through the day was to jump into the water and soak your head so your wet hair would keep you cool, but we could not afford to stop every 30 minutes. On the water by 8:45 am. Easy R1 & swifts before ledge 4. Scouted from the left side and discovered a series of ledges, all runable. but down the right side. Hard ferry across & stopped halfway down to scout again. The whole thing was runable. Next R3 was also a right side run. Gasnault River joined from the right and we saw Pyramid Peak. Pyramid Peak Hike
Decided to climb the Peak for the view - we stopped at 10:20 to change out of our water gear and climbed it in less than an hour. Once above the trees & bush, it was so bugless that we removed our bugnets & Joe even went shirtless. We ate lunch on top and enjoyed the spectacular 360-degree view. The north wind whipped up & our sweat dried quickly. Far below us the river was being whipped up into white caps that were going to be against us. Pyramid Hills Lodge across the river looks like a big operation with its own sand runway & ATV trails all over the flats. It appeared unoccupied. We were able to scout ahead from up there - saw that a supposed 'R3' 12 km downriver looked like another white line - possibly a ledge, so we made a note to ourselves to approach with caution & definitely get out for a scout there.
On the way down, we stopped frequently to snack on lots of arctic blackberries & blueberries.
Back at the canoes, I dunked & washed the sweat off, removed my lightweight long undie top, washed it out, wrung it out and donned it wet, (but clean) before donning the drysuit again and the idea worked really well to keep me cool from within and it was dry again in a couple hours of paddling anyway. I do love the way Gore-Tex works!
At 2pm we paddled out into a stiff wind, which slowed our downriver progress, but the current was pretty strong & we could still see the bottom of the river whipping by underneath us. Ran all the rapids & started into the last R2-3-2 (which had appeared to be a ledge from Pyramid Peak). The bottom of the R3 - Helik Rapid - could not be river-scouted, so we eddied on the right shore. Lucky that we did, because it was as huge as it had appeared to be from 12 km away! It might have been runable on river left, but too late for us as we were on the right side, with no chance of making it across such a powerful current. So we lined into the rocks and made camp right there on the beautiful, huge flat rocks.
We'll carry past the 50 m of ledges in the morning. A stiff wind kept the bugs off & we were able to strip down, go for a wash, do laundry and then go belly-up on the rocks in the sun like a bunch of naked white turtles. The hot sun and warm wind dried everything quickly. Laco collected rocks to hold the tent down. I took the time to re-arrange all our food into the big food barrel, leaving a small barrel empty for the bow. As the guys went for firewood, they brought back with them hordes of blackflies out of the bush, so I finally had to get dressed, start a fire and get on with dinner. We watched the water level drop as we cooked, ate and passed the Arak around.
July 24 Thursday
George River, km 165 to George River, km 137 = 28 km
Lynette woke before sunrise and went outside for a pee because there were no bugs and enjoyed the surreal combination of bright moonlight, pre-dawn pink sky, pretty rapids and clean smooth rocks to wander across in bare feet.
The bugs were up for Laco's 1st morning foray, though. Light breeze from south & clear warm morning again. It was so nice to camp on the rock - no sand to shake out of everything. We 4-person-humped the canoes 50m to below the ledges/holes on our side of the river and loaded them there after packing up camp. Starting at 9 am, we headed downriver into a few R3's, many swifts, R1's and R2's. The hot sun & breeze from behind made us all very hot & sweaty. Reached Nitilillik Creek by 10:30 am (~20 km?) & stopped for a swim. It was too hot to climb the ridge so we just hiked the campsite trails up the creek to the spectacular falls - very pretty - water clear & glacial-looking, quite blue.
Saw a bear mowing berries on the hillside on the other side of the creek & watched it for quite a while before it picked up our scent and scooted over the hill. The wind had switched and was in our faces as we headed into more R2's and R3's, all river-scoutable & runable with lots of big water to avoid. Stopped for lunch before another R3, then headed for a campsite & were there in 30 minutes (1:30 pm). We wanted to camp on the left for the hiking but the spot where the campsite was marked on the FQCK map
was all ploughed up by ice & there was still snow and ice melting all over the shoreline, so we crossed to some nice flat rocks again on the right shore. Paul & Laco paddled back across the river for a hike - about 3.5 km, through come cliffy terrain, huge flat sandbank & to the top of another hill overlooking a bend of the river. Lynette & Joe had a lazy afternoon in camp, first washing a bit of laundry, and wearing it wet to keep cool while setting up the tents and cutting up firewood, then snoozing in the sun - the breeze kept bugs away enough to bare some skin to the sunshine. Joe's yummy cooking hit the spot again and Laco affably endured more teasing over how much he'd enjoyed the dessert. (Before the trip, he had tried to tell everyone to not pack desserts 'cause they weigh extra, but luckily, no one had paid attention.) At 9:30 pm we finally got a cooler breeze.
July 25 Friday
George River, km 137 to George River, km 86 = 51 km
Lynette woke up early again and went out, enjoying bare feet on the rock and the moon in the pre-dawn light again. Laco started to pack, but she came back with the news that the Newfoundlanders were still sleeping, so we went for a second dream. Hot morning with a few clouds, haze & breeze from south again. We got on the water at 8:40am and got right into an R2-3-2 & ledge 4 which was on the left & runable on the right, after shore scouting on the right.
Steeply ploughed & eroding boulder banks with some severe overhanging growth with roots precariously holding up hanging boulders overhead. Very hot - had to stop for a swim to cool off. Swifts, shallows, pretty islands, more seagulls & young geese running along the shoreline. Long hot flats with slight tail/side wind. Clouds moving in from the south. Progress of 25 km by lunchtime.
More flats before more long, easy rapids, then an R3 with big water but negotiable. Fast river to long R3 (Elson Rapid) that ended in falls/ledges on the right and possibly navigable R4 on the left (but. being unaware of that beforehand, we were on the right). We backferried down the right shore, then lined, then again paddled cautiously. Meanwhile it started to sprinkle. We paddled almost to the brink of the ledge/falls, then lined, then took the heaviest of the barrels over, then humped the canoes through a couple lift-overs to finish in the eddy at bottom of the falls, beside a huge wavetrain. Paddled out the bottom of the eddy into another R2,
then more simple R1-2's. At the bottom we got into the flats and started looking for a campsite. Campsites marked according to FQCK info were not very good, but we took the last one on the left because we were tired (too many lift-overs today), it was past 6 pm & rain had started to sprinkle. Bugs were horrible as we set up the tents but the clouds broke up a little & the rain held off as we cooked on the zip stove and the south wind picked up enough to keep biting insects at bay while we ate. Joe & Paul broke out the 180 proof rum for our hot chocolate - darn, that was good! Helen Falls tomorrow, yahoo!! We did 51 km today.
July 26 Saturday
George River, km 86 to after Helen Falls, km 71.3 = 14.7 km
We woke to a mixed day, but no rain. On the water at 8:38 am. South wind, so we finally tried out our newly devised canoe-sail system & it worked well.
Lynette has sewn paddle handle pockets on each side of our tent footprint, so Laco just tied them to two paddles, held it up (not a trivial task) & we sailed down 10.5 km of flatwater with bit of a swift. It's hard on Laco's arms for any stretch of time though, so for future use on any serious open water, we'd have to think up an easier way of holding it up. It definitely added to our speed - we drew away quickly from J&P until they pulled out their tent floor too. Helen Falls Portage - & the Lost Canoe...
We got to the top of Helen Falls and started cautiously down the right side looking for the portage trail. We were able to run & line the first km before rounding into an eddy that had 3 canoes & a few packs sitting on the beach. We had caught up with the Chewonki group
(a large Maine
camp) that we'd heard was going to be on the river around the same time. We pulled up & started to organize for our portage.
7 people showed up all together and I asked if they were 7 in 3 canoes and a big silence dropped over the crowd. Then an 8th appeared and one of the leaders - Paul Arthur
- came forward,
introduced himself and told us that they had just had a lining mishap shortly before the take-out and it turned out they had lost a red canoe while lining above the falls, and although they chased it as far as they could, they had lost sight of it in the falls and they could not find it. They are a group of 6 teenagers and 2 leaders. Without their lost canoe, and all the gear in it, they assured us that they still had enough stuff to shelter & feed them OK for the last 3 days of their trip. They glumly loaded up for their last pass, gave us advice on how to find the main trail & disappeared, saying they were camping at the end but that there was tons of space for everybody.
We swam to cool off, ate lunch, then tried to organize for the usual efficient double-pass, but Joe & Paul were one pack over, so they had to go three times. As we joined a path just off the river, we intuitively followed it downriver and it wasn't too bad, winding through a few damp spots, but near the end, it kind of petered out before it suddenly hit a main trail. All along the trail, you could hear and feel the dull rumble of the falls and we were looking forward to taking the time to hike along the shoreline to get a good look at them. We passed the Chewonki group who had decided to camp in the bush because they were missing their tarp and a tent with sleeping gear and needed the extra shelter of the woods. They were a Christian group and gathered to pray several times for their canoe and then their leaders were searching the shorelines hopefully. We continued down a steep hill and out onto a sand flat where we decided to camp, a little closer to the water. When we went back for our last load,
we stuck to the 'main drag' - a very well-used, easy, high & dry highway of a trail with well maintained boardwalk crossing a couple wet spots, but our GPS was telling us we were overshooting the rest of our gear. Barred by a steep drop into a bog and being in no hurry, we continued and found a cut-off trail down the drop and back to the river and our gear. We assume the main trail continues to a take-out further upriver but we did not investigate it all the way to see where it started. On our second pass, we turned upriver on the path back to the main trail and had an easier trip this time. My second load was very light because of the one empty bow barrel, so we used it to stuff all the "loose shit" into and it even accommodated our drysuits. The portage ended up being 2060 m long & the trail was mostly quite excellent. While Joe & Paul went back for their last pack, L&L took their cameras and binoculars to walk back up the sand dune & boulder field shoreline to have a better look at the falls & it was impressive - two major ledges and quite a few major drops and major holes. You could hear and feel the dull rumble of the power of the water (we hope no important Hydro Quebec
officer ever reads this) during the whole portage. We scoured the shorelines, eddies and holes with the binoculars looking for the lost red Chewonki canoe, with no success. We did find a wolf corpse along a steep section of the shoreline though. We tried to collect wood on the way back, but the alders were too thick to drag it through, so we gave up and fetched firewood from closer to camp. Out on the sand bar, we were a little exposed when the wind whipped up & storms threatened in the distance, but all we got was blowing sand so we propped a canoe to shelter the fire. It eventually dropped, but still kept bugs away while we ate.
The Chewonki group passed us quietly numerous times that evening as they carried barrels of water back up to their campsite and sent out search parties hoping to find their canoe.
They paddled down along the shoreline of the vast lake-sized eddy that we were camped on at the bottom of the falls. As incredible and miraculous as it sounds, their prayers were heard: They found their missing red canoe on the sandy right shore of the giant eddy lake below us! They triumphantly towed it back and, miraculously again, it barely had a couple extra scratches - seemingly none the worse after its exciting trip down the falls (it was an ABS Esquif Prospector 17
). However, only one pack of someone's personal gear (which had been the only piece of gear that had been tied in) was still intact, although well washed (inside & out), and the rest of the gear was missing. So at this point, they were missing a tent, a tarp, one person's personal gear and most of their pots - not all - God did not want them to go completely hungry! Couldn't have picked a worse place to let go of a canoe - they were lucky and blessed to get it back in one piece! ...Quite the experience for a bunch of 15&16 yr-olds (who'd paid $8,200 US ea for this trip)... The Chewonki group did a lot of lining & thus had to spend much longer days (the 3 days we crossed paths with them, they were up around 4 & on the water by 6 am) in order to cover the same distance as we did (they had exactly the same time frame & route as us, but 2 days earlier). Solid whitewater & map- & river-reading skills are essential to the enjoyment of a trip like this.
July 27 Sunday
Helen Falls, km 71.3 to George River, km 54 = 17.3 km
Had to close up the tent tightly during the night due to blowing sand.
Chewonkis were on the water by 6 am - they had a lot of kilometers to do today. After breakfast we went for a hike (about 2.5 km) back up to get a good look at the falls. It would be a shame to portage past these falls and not have the time to go get a look at them - they are powerfully beautiful. Bear tracks, trails & poops everywhere on this river - this is real black bear country! We were on the water at 10:30 am and we went to the Ford River outlet, across from the bottom of the falls, to try our luck fishing. The water was remarkably blue and yet silty. Only caught 2 small trout & kept one, wrapped in a collapsible bucket in the bottom of the boat where it would stay cool. We stopped for lunch and scouting at Sarvakallak Rapid. We pulled out well ahead - it looked like a river-wide ledge - and climbed an old wooden staircase for a good look. There is a nice, big & quite new camp on the right shore. Most of the rapid is a huge, dangerous river-wide hole/ledge, but at this water level there was a clear shoot down the right side. We noted canoe paint on the rocks where (the Chewonkis?) had lined?
We were able to run it easily, finishing in the eddy on the right side. Though we had not planned to eddy out, we ran the eddy line too close & it sucked us in, requiring a fierce tilt to stay upright as it spun us around - that eddy line was pretty severe! J&P followed us into the eddy, thinking we'd seen something downstream. By this time it was hot & sunny and we were cooking in our own juices. The wind was strong and, fortunately, behind us. Joe & Paul used a bugshirt to sail, while we continued to paddle & sweat. After we stopped for the day, we all had to go for a swim & do laundry. A stiff wind kept the bugs off. Thunder in the distance and we watched a storm go by north of us. We were going to try a hike, but the ominous storm clouds hastened us into doing the camp chores quickly instead, and we ate in fine weather under a spectacular dark yet sunrayed sky. Then another storm finally came our way & we took pictures of a double rainbow - someone mentioned that the colours are opposite to each other in a double rainbow and I had never noticed that before! Some artist, huh?! I love learning new things! The water is still sweet - we have no idea when the water will start getting salty & are already tasting it! We plan to use our empty 30 l. barrel to carry water if we need to. We packed hastily and hit the tents when it finally started to spatter rain.
July 28 Monday
George River, km 54 to George River, km 14 = 40 km
Rained a bit but not much & we woke up to another warm & sunny morning. Wind was from the south again so we sailed merrily for 12 km until the first R1 which was simple.
We paddled on to Sarvallak Rapid (aka Ullitaniup Killinga), at km 39 which was labelled on FQCK map as R1-2 at high tide and R3 at low tide. After doing most of the R3's, we were not too concerned and we believed it would be a simple R1, because our tide charts said we were supposed to be at almost high tide and even if not, so far, the R3's marked on the George had usually been just exciting big wavetrains. The rapid ended up being R1 - ledge 3 - R2 - ledge 3, together something like R3-4. We ran it blind and, luckily, we were able to find deep enough water to flush us through chute-like sections of the ledges. This set should be lined or maybe run cautiously along the right shore (we were right of middle). It was a pretty scary experience being surprised by those drop-offs! This was the most dangerous thing we did through the whole trip & we learned yet another lesson - we should not have trusted others' evaluations - we should have scouted it & we should have known better than to believe tide charts where the tide is measured so far away, and more importantly, so far downriver! In retrospect, we don't believe that the tide would affect this rapid, unless it was the highest tide of the two-week cycle.
We also were told in Kangiqsualujjuaq, that this might be the rapid that has killed 9 people
in relatively recent years. The water below it was still sweet and there was no evidence of tide lines around (though it really might have been high tide when we were there?!). Had lunch on a little island with a red-roof cabin where the beach was right out of a picture of the tropics, though we found a dead ATV
in the bushes. Very hot. Continued paddling (on the high tide?) through many shallows, with many rocks to miss. There was a good current and the water was still fresh. 10 km to the last rapid which was labelled R3 (at low tide)on FQCK map, and we approached cautiously, after our previous experience.
We ran it down the right side, rock-dodging all the way. As we dropped, bright green fronds of hairy algae/seaweed flowed amongst the rocks. We pulled out before the biggest drop to take a better look, and it was an R2 (at high but dropping tide now?) if you ran it down the main channel, otherwise lots of rock dodging (=R3?), and because we were on the right, we ended up doing a bump & scrape down the right shore with barely enough water to scoot us through. I suspect that side would be dry quite soon? After watching the tide recede 11 km later, we imagine this last rapid would be hugely different at low tide - maybe it's the R1 (or R3, depending on tide) one? Then we were suddenly in briny water - with large jumping fish... very briny - at km 20 - 21. The scenery was quite different down here, with the tree line disappearing and large, barren hills eroded into the steps of previous shorelines through the glacial ages
We tried sailing but the wind was from the side so we gave up and paddled towards the km 14 marked campsite (where there was a fresh water creek marked), only to find it occupied by the Chewonki group,
whom we had not expected to see again. We camped 200m further along the shoreline, on the flat top of the hill, near an old abandoned runway. It was a steep, bush-choked climb up so we stashed our canoes and set up our kitchen amongst the shoreline rocks above the high tide line. We paddled back to fetch water from the creek, and, there being no evidence of it, we asked the Chewonki group and they told us it was dried up, but that they had had the forethought to bring water in barrels with them. Laco & Paul took the GPS, shouldered the pack frame with our barrel, and a daypack with all our water bottles and went in search, quickly finding that the creek had not dried up, but that it had just disappeared into the rocks a few meters back in behind the shoreline vegetation which hid it from view. They carried the water back from the creek this time, but next morning, they filled the barrel, left it there, and paddled back for it, though the big waves/swell made it difficult to load it on that shoreline. Made dinner down on the rocks at the shoreline and watched the tide go out: 5-6 m made a huge difference to our steep shoreline. The newly exposed rocks were wildly slimy and slippery. Lazy evening, then a thunderstorm moved in so we bushwhacked up to the tents & got in just in time for a lightning & thunder concerto & hard rain. We felt a little exposed up on that plateau! Mountains around here are impressive. Berries everywhere.
July 29 Tuesday
George River, km 14 to George River, km 5 = 9 km
When Laco left the tent at 6 am for a hike with his friend, Peace Bear, the Chewonkis were gone.
The weather was again excellent; sunny & hot. There was a lot of old garbage around the runway - bottles, cables, metal frames. On top of the hill overlooking our campsite and the sweeping views up and down the great river, the two of them built an inukshuk.
Laco loves hiking above the tree line. When they got back, Joe & Paul were already up and Lynette was still fussing around inside the hot tent. We had a slow morning and watched the tide. To our big surprise, our tide table is off by four hours: it has low tide at 8:26 am, while in reality it was at about 12:30 pm. We went for a short loop hike (about 4-5 km), 3-4 hours wandering the hillsides and berry picking. It was very hot but the constant wind kept us cool enough. Laco's camera got blown off the top of a rock when he set it up to take a group shot of us - ouch - but it seems OK - that poor camera has taken a lot of abuse! Just after lunch, rain clouds surrounded us, scaring us a bit, but they circled and bypassed us and we got only a few wind-blown drops. We eventually came back via the same hill Laco had hiked in the morning with Peace Bear. The ground was thick with berries and on the windy rises, we stopped frequently to snack on them. Once back in camp, we packed everything and waited for high tide (recalculated with 4 hour offset). Laco went with Paul to fill the 30 l barrel with fresh water from the creek. We were in no hurry and trying to portage our stuff down the steep shoreline, across the slimy rocks and the mud flats did not even occur to us - we waited for the water to come to us and we had no desire to try to paddle into the incoming tide either - you could see the eddies on the upstream side of all the rocks! We decided to have dinner here and save desert as a reward for reaching our next campsite, not too far downriver: We did not want to reach Kangiqsualujjuaq tonight (2 days early); the hotel is expensive there.
At 6pm, we found that loading and launching our boats into the high tide, wind and big waves was a challenge and then we had to paddle up the shoreline to load up the water barrel too. Happy that ABS takes such a beating!
There were motorboats in the distance and we watched them netting lots of fish along a huge shore eddy. The current was already picking up - we were going 8 km/h - and the eddies were now on the correct (downstream) sides of the rocks. At some points offshore, the outgoing tide started to speed up and turn into big rollers heading for the ocean - if we didn't cross now, we'd be sucked past our next campsite and even past Kang before we'd realize how fast we were moving! As we crossed to the right (Kang) side of the river, we saw a small seal
poke its head up to watch us paddle by. Found the 5 km campsite quickly and easily, after only an hour and 17 minutes point to point, and pulled up still at high tide, though it was just starting to drop and was already receding, quickly leaving our canoes quite high & dry. We tied the canoes to each other and then to a huge rock, just in case. Wind & rain threatened so we pitched our tents fast but the rain held off long enough to allow us to have our dessert of soupy chocolate pudding and super proof rum - a winning combination. We all toasted to a great trip and great company as we watched the red sun set into the distant northern ocean horizon as rain approached from behind us. Only 5 km to Kangiqsualujjuaq tomorrow.
July 30 Wednesday
George River, km 5 to Kangiqsualujjuaq, km 0 = 5km
Early in the morning Laco again went for a hike up the steep slopes of the shoreline, to explore and take a few photos of our campsite and George River Bay. We ate cold granola for breakfast, with hordes of hungry insects all around us, despite the quite cold weather (first cold weather after such a long, hot spell). Planning to be on the water at 6:20, we actually launched at 6:37 am (We had calculated to reach Kangiqsualujjuaq at the highest point of the high tide, which should have been around 7:20am). It was still quite cold & dark as we paddled, but at least
it didn't rain and there was almost no wind, so the paddling was smooth and easy. We saw one motorboat leaving Kangiqsualujjaq, heading left, out into Ungava Bay
. On our way past the town's new low tide harbour into the main bay, we were surprised by huge rocks just under the surface of the seemingly otherwise very deep water, but later we saw that where we had paddled over them became mudflats dotted with rocks, so maybe the water was about 5m deep there? Kangiqsualujjuaq
(Meaning: "Very large bay")
We reached the village harbour as the tide started to recede (7:43 am). There were one or two cars moving around, but otherwise the town was quiet. Lynette & Paul went to look for Jean-Guy, the contact for the shipping company, where we were to leave our canoes. Meanwhile, another local, Matthew (working at the gas station) approached Joe & Laco in his truck, offering his assistance. He complained about the hot weather this summer and the number of insects and told us that the town used to be called Akilasakalluq (pronounced Akalishukallak). He took Laco for a ride around, showing him what was where, hoping to find Lynette & Paul. In the meantime, L&P had found Jobie, who was driving the local fuel truck. Lynette asked if there were any bathrooms in town and Jobie opened the door of the building next to him, stuck his head in, had a short conversation in Inuktitut
before waving her into that house, where she negotiated a scattering of kids toys to the bathroom where she used the low-flush
toilet, washed hands and then thanked the barely dressed young man and his wife who was still in bed with the kids. Jobie, in the meantime, had borrowed his daughter's jeep so he could give P&L a tour of the town and a ride to Jean-Guy's house, but Jean-Guy was not home (and his door was even locked!) Guessing that Jean-Guy had headed out in his boat, (his was most likely the motorboat we'd seen leaving earlier that morning), Jobie ran us out to the deep water harbour to see if his boat was there - it was missing, but Jean-Guy's truck and trailer were there, so it was obvious to Jobie that he'd left for the day, if not for a few days. Jobie suggested that we talk to Claude, Jean-Guy's son, so we ended up waking him up as well. Our parties met again at the canoes, by now high and dry - the tide long gone, leaving the bay one huge rock-strewn mudflat. Matthew took us and all our stuff (except our canoes) in his truck up to Jean-Guy's place, where we slowly woke up Jean-Guy's son Claude living next door with his family. When we asked if there was a cheaper place than the hotel to stay in town, Claude first tried to procure us a cabin that someone he knew rented out, but when that didn't work out, he found us a garage to sleep in for the night and also gave Joe and Paul an older ATV - with trailer and without working brakes - to get around in. He later brought us our canoes and water for drinking from a creek. We settled in the garage, played with the dog who never got bored of chasing and retrieving rocks, and went walk-about twice to check out the town and it's two expensive-as-expected coop stores. Lynette happily bought two big bags of potato chips (so she'd have enough to share)! Lots of friendly dogs roamed around and followed along companionably as we wandered.
Paul & Joe, during their ATV excursions, found the Chewonki group camping at the airport
, expecting to fly out at 4 pm. We checked on Emily's take-out for lunch but they were open only between 11 am and 1 pm and it was 2pm already. Explored the local graveyard on our walk back. Claude gave us a huge frozen Arctic Char
, and a big pot of homemade Arctic Char soup. Everyone except Laco was tired, so we tried to get an afternoon nap on the garage floor, but were interrupted by the arrival of Claude's brother Felix who wanted to buy Joe's canoe. The deal went through, with a few extra concessions due to how well we'd been treated and another 50 bucks off for getting L&L's canoe onto a Montreal-bound ship in the fall. Laco went exploring which led to another hike and great picture-taking opportunities. He investigated a series of mini-greenhouses and tape-marked areas in the field and discovered a sign which explained them to be little research plots where the effects of climate change was being studied. He followed the road a bit further to the next two cabins and was passed by Claude and his family in their truck heading for a lake nearby. He headed up the hill overlooking the town and a small lake with another research sign posted. Jean-Guy finally came home with a friend from Kuujjuaq who was staying in the hotel. They brought in a lot of fish. We visited in J-G's cabin, which was very different from all the other pre-fab government houses in the village - he'd built with real wood and had decorated with spruce-burl art he'd carved himself. His windows overlooked the bay.
Back in the garage, we used a hotplate from a homemade smoker to reheat the char chowder. Claude also brought us some smoked char, which was also delicious. We stashed the frozen char into our food barrel where it would defrost slowly for our next night's dinner. We ended up taking all our leftover trip food and a few things we did not need to take home and asked Claude if he knew of anyone in the village who could use any of it & he assured us he would make sure it all went to good use. Lynette & Laco set up their tent in the garage, but Paul & Joe were content with mosquito
coils only. We went to bed 9-10pm and it seemed very dark out after our eyes had become accustomed to the electric lights again. Woke up 2-ish & went outside for a nice view of the little town and all its street lights and many windows still lit up and many ATV's still zooming around. Heavy rain during the night drummed on the metal roof.
July 31 Thursday
Woke up to heavy rain but it quit by the time we actually got up. The sky broke up, it was very windy and the temperature had dropped dramatically - apparently back to normal - it was much cooler now at 15-17 ° C, after the stretch of 20-30-degree weather we had had. We puttered about in the garage and had a slow morning organizing, re-packing, and getting stuff tied into our canoe for shipping (2x 30 l barrels in ends, 1 60 l barrel and harness frame in the centre, all securely tied), then flipped it upside down beside Jean-Guy's wood pile to wait for the last out-going shipment of the season in October. J-G laughed at Lynette using up all the rope to tie stuff in so she said her Mom was a spider & she was good at webs (we'd left expensive gear - tent, spraydeck, stove etc in those barrels, so were making sure nothing could possibly fall out!
Hotel & Hot Showers!
Then we loaded up the ATV & trailer with our baggage and L&L walked to the hotel while J&P yahooed with the load.
Got checked-in ($332.98 for a room with 2 single beds) with the manager, Jessie-Marie & Matthew (a different one), had some lunch, started some laundry and finally headed out on a (6 km) hike up the road to the town's reservoir, then uphill to re-erect the highest point marker stick, take photos of the view of the town on one side and the airport and Ungava Bay on the other side. Tons of berries and strong cool wind so we could stop & eat a few handfuls on the way back down. Teddy bear and Laco were the only two who wanted to continue hiking (=9 km), so, while the rest of the group went back via the airport road to the hotel, they continued up the hill on the other side, behind the dog kennels. It was even windier up on that hill. Laco took lots of pictures from the avalanche spot (where the town's school had been destroyed) and around the main inukshuk of the town. Meanwhile, L&J&P got themselves all showered, scrubbed down & squeaky clean in the Wonderful Hot Clean showers and most of the laundry done & folded. Then we got to work on dinner - Jessie said the Coop closed in ½ hour (6pm) and showed us through the window which house to go to to buy some local smoked char - so we bought lemons, onions, cookies, pepsi and enough smoked char for appetizer and breakfast from "Junior" in the red house just downhill from the hotel. In the hotel kitchen & dining room, we baked the char in foil with lemon & onions for an hour (it was big and fat) and made cheesy fettuccini to go with it for dinner. We toasted our last (presumably) evening with high-test rum (with water or pepsi) & had a fine meal.
Loaded the dishwasher and sat round talking to a couple of other guys who were teaching a heavy equipment course there (4 months in the hotel paid by the schoolboard) - they were interested in our trips and our pictures & brought us each a beer. Dancing Bear
After the hotel was supposed to be locked, a diffident young man wandered in and stood a soapstone "dancing bear" on the table near us, and told us he'd carved it and would sell it for $150. Our surprise at this approach left us silent and he immediately (and even more diffidently) offered to drop his price. Lynette picked it up and admired the way it could be displayed in several balanced positions after he showed her. Joe & Lynette met eyes and it seemed they both wanted it, but gentleman Joe allowed Lynette to bid full price first, telling the man that she made her living as an artist too and that she did not want him to discount his price, but she ended up having to borrow cash from Joe to be able to pay the man! So Lynette added the dancing bear, carefully wrapped, to her luggage and made note to send Joe the money once she got back home. Back to late nights under the influence of electricity, company and comfort. It was quite dark out after 11 pm.
August 1 Friday
Kangiqsualujjuaq to Kuujjuaq to Schefferville
Got up 7-8am, took another shower, ate smoked char, cookies & coffee. Packed up & Jessie-Marie gave us the ride to the airport, while Laco walked (it's good for body) with that silly, pretty dog again. Jean-Guy showed up at the airport later because he'd been expecting to drive us there. We found the community of Kangiqsualujjuaq to be friendly, helpful, hospitable & unbelievably (by southern white standards) generous to us. We had a nice chat with him while waiting for the plane which was slightly late - our 10:30 flight took off around 11:00. Very pretty flight in Twin Otter along the coast to Kuujjuaq. No extra or oversize baggage issues - not even for our bundle of paddles. Got to Kuujjuaq in plenty of time to connect to Schefferville, but our next plane was delayed by 3 hours due to bad weather elsewhere and our 1:30 flight didn't leave until 4:30. That made us miss our connection at Schefferville for Sept Iles (and also resulted in Paul & Joe missing all their ferry reservations to Newfoundland). So...
the weather had finally caught up with us... guess we had to pay for all that fine weather and dry tents every morning on the river sometime!! The plane to Schefferville was a bit bigger - it even had a stewardess who even served us refreshments (juice, coffee etc). The airport closes up overnight, so we had to spend one night in Schefferville, but our tent was nicely packed in a barrel attached to our canoe in Kangiqsualujjuaq... so we had to call Hotel Auberge
and spend the night there. The $6 taxi came right away and delivered us to a simple, hostel-type auberge on the shores of Knob Lake, where the manager showed us to a very simple room with shared bathroom & showers down the hall, saying we were lucky because they were fully booked for the next night. It was not as expensive ($100/person, not including $30wine or taxes) as Kangiqsualujjuaq Hotel, and the stay included salmon dinner and breakfast too - both hearty, healthy home cooked meals. Laco went to explore the town before sunset and found that it appeared to be much more alive than the population census would suggest
. He found two hotels, a pizzeria, Northern Store, SAQ, Montagnais Centre, school and a church. Houses were nice, many quite new or nicely renovated. 3 crescent streets near our hotel were closed, with the homes having been removed. Slight breeze made for excellent, bug free weather. Back in the hotel, French-speaking geologists were busy with their laptops, connected to the internet. Mineral exploration is still in full swing up here.
August 2 Saturday
Schefferville to Sept Iles to Ottawa
Breakfast was excellent, and the taxi picked us up at 8am, as arranged the night before, and we were at the airport before it opened. Because we'd missed yesterday's flight, my status was stand-by for this flight, but they unquestioningly herded us all onto the plane without boarding passes. They loaded our luggage into a 9-passenger KingAir A100, including our bundle of paddles, which were squeezed into the rear of the left wing engine casing, and we departed on time and flew 1½ hours to Sept Iles. Laco & Paul taxied to the train station for our cars. The hand brake was stuck on the rear right wheel, but let go after the 2nd try. Travelled 1134 km from 11:27 am to 12:50 am (Sunday). Paul & Joe drove to the ferry at Godbout. It was mostly rainy, so it was a slow drive: very heavy rain just past Montreal and we even had to stop during one intense downpour, visibility was so bad. The North Shore Rivers that we were crossing were swollen - up in the trees - with brown flood waters. We heard afterwards that the last month "down here in the south" had been very wet and cold, leading to very high water in 'our' rivers - it seems we had traded weather systems just in time for our trip on the George!
Back into our own bed in Ottawa at 1am Aug 3rd!
Summary Note posted on MYCCR.COM after Trip
We 4 (in the 2 plastic boats) are back, safe & sound, after reaching Kangiqsualujjuaq fairly easily in the allotted time frame. Our families and friends much appreciated our daily updates via Joe's SPOT, letting them know we were safe and where we were as we progressed down the rivers. The overloaded Pakboats had to turn back after 5 days, a huge disappointment to the 4 paddlers in them, but to continue would have compromised their safety, so a tough decision was made to retreat back to Lac Jamin where there was a safe landing spot for a float plane which flew them back to Schefferville, where they caught the next train back south.
Weather: Be prepared for cold, wind, rain, heat and bugs... and rain, wind and lotsa bugs. Early in the trip, we suffered a couple borderline hypothermia cases. We also had a highly unusual stretch of hot dry weather for the last two weeks of the trip & were able to actually swim & wash-up in the river several times after the first week of normal (cold, rain every day) weather. We sailed a couple days before a warm south breeze & we got used to packing up our tent barrels dry most mornings for the last two weeks - unheard of in that part of the world!!! The weather returned to normal the day we reached Kangiqsualujjuaq - big cold wind & bursts of rain.
Water: Icy cold. Tides. Lots of easy rapids interspersed with challenging ones, ledges, falls and portages - don't depend on maps - do your own scouting! The lower George was a 'Fleuve' - a huge river, with a strong current (& some killer rapids - 9 people have been killed on Sarvallak rapid), & we easily made our distance by lunchtime a few days, so we were able to hike & see some amazing off-river scenery & spectacular places that most river travellers pass by. Solid whitewater, river-reading & map-reading skills are essential to the enjoyment of a trip like this.
The 2 Newfies we travelled with were fantastic, perfect companions & we all had a great time. The community of Kangiqsualujjuaq was friendly, helpful, hospitable & unbelievably (by southern white standards) generous - they fed us, housed us, drove us around to show us where things were & even gave us an ATV with trailer to 'portage' our stuff around.
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