Charpentier/Leaf River trip 2007
YCCC members Laco Kovac & Lynette Chubb’s epic journey - 1900km (2 days) drive, 400km (2 hrs) flight & 450km paddle (22 days).
From Lac Nedlouc of the interior Ungava tundra plateau via a first known descent of the rushing whitewater of the Riviere Charpentier into Lac Minto & then via the powerful sweep of the Riviere aux Feuilles to the swirling (15m) tidal currents of Leaf Bay, the Inuit village of Tasiujaq, & finally back up the Finger River into the Finger Lake to our rendezvous with our flight back to Caniapiscau.
Stories to tell: how we grew with the river; our first fish; our first humans; our first caribou… the 1000’s who followed; and our last bear...
July 26 Thurs
Left Ottawa 16:30 31ºC & head north thru rush-hour Hull. Reached Le Domaine, 240km, 27ºC by 19:30. Saw small black bear & killed a wee yellow-throated sparrow in the roof racks. Already noticing the change from mixed tall forests to largely black spruce taiga forest, with the spruce gradually thinning & getting smaller as we travelled north. Stopped in Val d'Or for nice al fresco dinner at Pacini's on the main drag which was warm & in a hoppin' party mood.
July 27 Fri
Still driving - km 520 @ midnight 17ºC. 1:30am - missed live porcupine. Missed dead moose shortly after. Km 682: turn right into Matagami for gas, then go back to km 682 to the start of the James Bay Road.
JAMES BAY ROAD
2am - registered at the tourist info centre as "Lynette Chubb/2 people/26 days/Brisay/Caniapiscau" (which is as far as can be driven) 3am - stopped at Waswanipi R. boat launch to sleep. 6am - up to red sunrise & dry tent. 6:20 on the road km 730.
Raining by 8am.
Rest stop @ Broadback River.
Landscape taiga - small black spruce, lots of bare spots & forest fires.
Crossed Oatmeal Falls on the Rupert, soon to be dammed & dried up.
Crossed the Pontaxes: III (teeny), I (big, FW, current), II (FW, quiet).
Passed 1000 km! Jolicoeur R - teeny.
Forest fires, sparse spruce, tamarack, sand, gravel, rock, bog.
Green along road!?
Passed 52º Parallel of Latitude.
Acceuil - Relais Routier at km 1074 - gas.
Opinaca R. - lookout, camp, toilets.
Passed roadkill - small bear.
Just remembered what was missing from our packing for the trip - hoops for our spraydeck, oops!
Km 1281 - Yasinski rest stop & turn-off onto the Trans-Taiga Hwy, a looong (668km) gravel road.
(668 km gravel road to Caniapiscau). Moose crossed road. Road pretty good so far - 70-100km/hr, avg. 80. Sparse taiga - small spruce, lots moss. Reached Pourvoirie Mirage (expensive hunting/fishing establishment) @ 5pm, gassed up, bought pizza & fries. Road after Mirage still good, one lane, 60-90 km/hr, maintained by Hydro Quebec. Found nice view after dam & stopped to camp on the top of a hill overlooking Caniapiscau Reservoir, km 1834, bad bugs. One car passed by in the night.
July 28 Sat
12ºC 7:30am driving again, breakfast in car (bugs bad). Road not so good anymore - large gravel with occasional big rocks. 8:25 - flat/shredded tire. 9:10 - spare snow tire on & rolling again. Now only "donut" left as spare. Bugs not so bad during tire change, thank you very much. 10am - 1900 km , reached Air Saguenay Base, Lac Pau, after 22 hours of driving time.
Checked in to see if they could take us a day early. They were fully booked + did not have the Beaver there, so we drove back to take a look at the Caniapiscau Reservoir & Dam, Lac Duplanter, & the old river bed of the Caniapiscau. Went to the top of the hill for a better overall view, but found garbage dump instead, with the burned remains of a bear carcass. Got back to the Air base to the still bleeding sibling bear. The mother had also been shot earlier in the week - this bear family had become 'nuisance' bears, aggressive in their attempts to break into cabins (while people in them!) after food.
While the Caniapiscau River doesn't appear to be paddleable below the dam, we were told about a lone kayaker who passed through here a few years ago on his route from the St. Lawrence to Kuujjuaq. He came up through the Manicouagan dams and reservoir, over the height of land and down the Upper Caniapiscau River to Caniapiscau Reservoir, portaging over the dam and continuing through Lac Duplanter down the trickle of what's left of a once mighty river. Maybe that year there was more water, or his kayak wasn't too deep, or maybe he was just too tough to be defeated by all the scraping, pulling, pushing & carry-overs. Yes, he eventually made it to Kuujjuaq. We also talked with another fellow, here in Ottawa (he & his daughter, one open canoe), who intended to paddle the Caniapiscau from the dam down, but who decided on a side tributary (he chose the Serigny, which bypasses Eaton Canyon, though there are several options) to access the Caniapiscau further down because of the lack of water in it below the dam.
We met Pierre, our pilot-to-be at the end of the day, then for $90 we were fed a great fondu dinner with beer & assigned a nice room (with hot shower!) for the night in the old hydro work camp. Our flight scheduled for 8am tomorrow, weather dependant. We spent the evening sorting through everything & organizing it all into 'what goes & what stays' & into packs/barrels.
OUR PACKING 'SYSTEM'
(for 3 weeks, cold, wet weather):
2 X 30 litre barrels - one heavy w food for end of trip, one 'light' with tent & wind/rain/cook shelter (not so light once everything got wet, but the heavy vs light was intended to make it easier to trim the canoe depending on which of us was paddling bow/stern, as these barrels were strapped into each end of the canoe.
H-frame with straps for both 30 .l barrels & spray deck.
2 x 60 l. barrels - one food & cook gear, one clothes/dry suits/1st aid.
1 large 90 l. waterproof pack, kinda light (to be carried with canoe) with sleeping bags, thermarests, fishing gear, etc.
1 day pack for daily quick-access stuff & for day hikes - rain gear, lunch bag, cameras, survival kit, bear bangers & spray etc.
July 29 Sun
7am breakfast. 8am flight. They used their Turbo Otter (but charged us Beaver rates $3264.37/335km / 2 hours), as they had to continue on for a larger load after dropping us. The pilot, Pierre was worried about us - thought we were nuts - & gave us Alain's name - owner of Leaf River Lodge to check in with to pass the word we were OK + told Alain to watch for us too. Loaded up, canoe on strut & took off, heading almost due North. A strong west wind blew the whole way - we could see whitecaps on the lakes below. Watched the landscape below change from taiga to tundra.
Pierre wanted to land us on an island in Lac Nedlouc that he knew had a beach, but couldn't use the beach because of the high wind, so he just landed (10am) downwind of the island & had to leave the prop turning into the wind enough to keep the plane close enough to shore while we unloaded our gear into the canoe. We landed on shore (two brown eggs hidden in low bushes) to watch the wind blow the plane back far enough so that he could take off into it again & felt just a little committed to our venture as the wind quickly dimmed the sound of the plane as it disappeared just as quickly into the low horizon. In the lee of "Duck Island" we stowed our load & installed the spray deck over it.
11:30 - started to paddle up the north side of the island, but as we tried to head into the teeth of the wind past the tip of it, the waves & wind made the effort both fruitless (we were advancing at maybe 0.5km/hr & the next island was 1.5 km ahead) & dangerous, so we retreated & set up the cook shelter inside a stone circle (Inuit tent ring?), using the stones on the back of the tarp to hold it against the wind. (I carefully replaced the stones later in their original positions, as you could tell it had taken the thin vegetation many years to grow up around them.) Wind whistled all day, dieing a little bit with the sun. Spotty weather - rain/sun. Walked the island for twigs for our twig stove so we could cook. Surprisingly easy to find a few handfuls of twigs on such a "barren" island! The twig stove - very efficient - Sierra Titanium Zip Stove (2 person) - does not need much to boil up enough water for dinner & tea! There we were with a whole afternoon & evening to ourselves & my doggone period started (no surprise though - right on time as usual). Using a menstrual cup is no fun in these chilly windy conditions, but at least there's no limit of fresh clean water! Our exploration of the island revealed previous use - parts of an old dock (imported wood!), caribou head (green skull/antlers) in water, snowmobile/ATV tracks?
Very pretty barren (yet not barren at all when you look closely) landscape around us. Very even topography - no hills, shallow water - we'll have to pay extremely close attention to map & GPS to navigate through this! Laco is our expert navigator - he has a keen sense of direction, really enjoys orienteering competitions & is very comfortable with map, compass & GPS. I wanted him in the bow, at least for this leg of the trip, so he could pay close attention to the map & GPS & be able to tell me which way to steer. I find trying to watch a map closely & steer at the same time tends to result in the boat tracking a rather crooked path. I thought that once we were into the main channel of a river the navigating would be easier so I could take my turn, but it actually did not become a 'no-brainer' until the Leaf, by which time we had settled happily into our steering/navigating roles & did not feel a need to start switching back & forth.
I keep calling them "occasionals", but the correct term, I think, is "erratics" - which refers to the occasional huge (actually all sizes, but it's the big ones you tend to notice) rocks which the glaciers left sitting on top of the landscape eons ago. Now that I'm back skiing through the southern forests, I am recognizing the same phenomenon down here in the south (Ottawa area), though they're mostly disguised/hidden by the forest growth down here.
Called (via sat phone) Patty (sister-in-law) around 2pm to let our 'guardian angel' (my brother Robert & Nigel, a fellow canoe-aholic shared the job of keeping track of us in case the shit hit the fan, so-to-speak) know that we were safely ensconsed at km 453. Both our guardian angels had our route, with km markings & corresponding coordinates(lat/long), & a call-in schedule. The arrangement was that we would call in on a fairly flexible 2-3 day schedule & if we went past the limit of the schedule by 24-36 hours, our guardian angels would call in the troops (literally!) to search for & rescue us, from our last known location. We rented a Satellite phone (an 'Iridium' - all our friends who own 'Globalstar' Sat phones told us we would not be able to count on Globalstar's reception where we were going) with two batteries & charged & tested them both before we left & on the way up.
The Sat phone lived in a Pelican survival kit which stayed strapped to the back of my lifejacket, which was either on me or in the tent with us at night. Lots of other mini essentials were packed into the case around the phone. Things like the phone & batteries, phone lists, fleece hats, emergency bivvies, matches, fire starters, fish hooks, string, power bars, heavy foil, & oh... I can't remember what-all, but you get the idea... Decided not to carry a PLB. The first Sat phone battery died relatively quickly - surprised the heck out of us, because we only used it for 1-3 minute calls every few days. We're still not sure whether it was a defective battery, or if I might have left the phone on after one of the calls... Being down to one battery was a little scary.
Wind started to die a little around 8pm, but never died completely. Seagulls & ducks (similar to mergansers?). Cooked up a spaghetti dinner - too much food for 2 people who had been lazing around all afternoon. Fed the fishes with the extra. Gorgeous sunset 9:15 pm. The GPS said a moonrise would happen in the east @9:30, but no show... Mosquitoes arrived with sunset/wind drop so we dropped the cook shelter to the ground & retired to the tent. Paddled 1km; camped at km 452.5.
July 30 Mon
Awake 3:45, up @ 4, packed up & paddling 5am - we wanted to beat the wind - did not want to be wind-bound another day (or two or 3!). Gorgeous setting moon & rising sun at the same time. Wind not too bad, but always in our faces, no matter how many "corners" we went around! Very shallow lakes - could see the bottom most of the time. Big waves broken by many shoals / islands. Lots waterfowl - gulls, geese, ducks.
Paddled past a caribou carcass - head & spine with a few ribs, picked clean. Human garbage on one island. Passes between lakes very shallow & willowy. Left a lot of green vinyl paint behind! Hard work dragging that heavy boat... We may have over-estimated on the food & that food barrel is not going to be fun to carry! Mushrooms everywhere - quite spectacular, metallic shiny coppery large ones. 9:30 - breakfast of cold granola eaten out of our hands. Lunch - we climbed a small hill & ate at the top in the lee of a large erratic. Caribou paths everywhere. Berries everywhere too - cloud, lingon, green ones, blue, black, white, red... most don't seem ripe yet. Pretty expansive view - never having travelled in the barrens before, it's very deceiving, the distances you can see from even a small rise - no forest to stop the eye. Our 'southern' eyes can't get used to the different understanding of the distances we can see. Very tired by 14:00, but kept going to camp beside a "creek", which ended up being not suitable, so continued into the wind to a small flat island by 3:30. Set up tent by 4, rain came, so snoozed 'till 6, & cooked up curry. Temp 8 - 10ºC (sun or not), so bugs a little slow, but the REAL bug hours start @ 8pm & they're horrible, so plan on getting into the tent by 8:30! ... & use a pee bottle, 'cause they seem to swarm all night. Paddled 25.5km; camped at km 427.
July 31 Tues
Up 7-ish, hot breakfast, on water by 9. Seems to take us a long time to get on the water - we're used to travelling with groups, where the camp chores are shared out. We've been leaving the cook shelter (collapsed but out) so we can use it against bugs/wind/rain both evenings & mornings - this trip would have been very uncomfortable without it, as I've had bears go thru tents before & am quite religious about keeping food smells away from my sleeping quarters, as much as possible. Trying to cook & eat without a separate shelter would have been miserable most of the time. The day woke with rain, but it slowly stopped & we packed up not too wet. Crossed lake.
River current developing in the narrows - we had swifts, though rocky & shallow, 2 R-1's, then more little shallow lakes & R-2's (NOTE REGARDING RAPID RATINGS: We rated rapids on the R1-5 system, WITHOUT taking into consideration the remoteness of the region. The remoteness of this area SHOULD add a complete R# to each & all of our ratings.) We got sideways on a rock once, with the upstream gunwale threatening to start filling, but quick action saved us from a major wrestling job in the middle of a shallow but steep rapid. This minor incident reminded us that we are truly on our own & need to be ultra- cautious. Scouted next: easy run with a main route down the right side.
At the end of the rapid we were feeling fairly jubilant & decided to pull out our 'Mickey Mouse' "survival" fishing gear before lunch - a collapsible rod with some kinda light line & some kiddie lures - & try a couple casts. The first few casts landed in the main current, until I remembered that fish are at least as smart as we are, & tend to hang out in the eddies, so I directed the angler to cast into an eddy line & the second cast there got grabbed by a very big fish - the distance between it's dorsal & tail fin was impressive. We went into a panic: what are we supposed to do now?!!! We did not have a net, so I tried to ferry us towards the bank where our chief angler could maaybe get out of the boat & maaaybe pull the fish into shallow water where we could maaaaybe grab it? If any 'real' fisherman had been watching us, they woulda 'bin rolling on the ground with laughter - we were right outta the cartoons, I tell ya! Anyhow, that fish was waaay too big for our line, so it immediately absconded with our lure, our only leader & a small length of line. We re-rigged the line with a sinker (BIG mistake in such shallow rocky waters & a true indication of our fishing savvy). After almost losing another lure to the river bottom, we re-rigged again with a simple spinner, from shore & our second cast into the eddy line brought us a much smaller fish, which we were able to drag into the shallows & get our mitts on.
The fish got free of the hook & the hook hooked both of us in turn (luckily, not seriously) before it lodged itself safely in our bow rope. The poor fish valiantly flapped about trying to escape our clutches until Laco got both hands on the beast & asked "what now?" I pulled the (lent by another canoe-aholic friend) filleting knife out & said "you kill it, I'll figure it out from there (silly me)! So Laco peremptorily slashed off the head & happily handed it off to me. Flummoxed, I searched my memory banks on what to do with a headless fish, &, not having tin foil, or an oven, or much firewood, decided to try filleting it & cramming it into our teeny-tiny cookpots. Hum... at that point I remembered that you kinda need the head still attached if you want to do a good job (or even a passable job) of filleting a fish. Oh well, without much room in our pots, (unless we wanted to eat sushi), I had to give it a whirl, & we ended up with rather hacked up fish bits, peppered with blackflies, quickly poached over our twig stove. This first fish had golden yellow flesh & my guess at its' species was speckled trout? - because of it's shape & the beautiful speckles (dots with rainbow colours) along it's sides.
After the fishing fiasco, the river ran into a seemingly endless boulder strainer, with no main channel anywhere, that disappeared into the distance, appearing completely un-navigable, so we pulled out to the left side & scouted ahead, the maps telling us that a 600m portage over a ridge to the left might save us a major grunt dragging the boat through shallows & between & over boulders. Getting organized for our first portage took us a little time assembling our respective loads so that we could do it all in 2 passes. I took 'instruction' on the use of the GPS on the first pass so that I could re-trace our route during the second pass while Laco followed (with both canoe & pack), semi-blinded by the semi-rolled spray-deck. We were quite amazed that anywhere we wanted to go, there were caribou trails to follow. We came across another couple cleanly picked caribou skulls/antlers on our way.
Through the day, the weather got nicer & nicer & the bugs (black flies, mosquitoes & warble flies) came out & became quite vicious. Camped at km 409 & used the bug walls on the tarp, which worked only because, once black flies are inside, they desperately try to get back out again, rather than being smart & realizing they are trapped inside with us warm-blooded mammals! So we are able to remove our head-nets & eat quite comfortably once under the tarp. Travelled 18km.
Aug 1 Wed
Awake early, but didn't want to get up to face the hoards. These 'northern' species seem to persist all night, rather than retiring during the darkest hours. I'm now thankful Laco has convinced me about the advantages of the pee bottle over the minor expedition required to face the gauntlet of the bugs (& bringing them back to feast on my fellow inmate as well!) 5:45 - finally poop duties call & first one out gets to fire up the stove & warm up breakfast while the last inmate gets to pack up the tent interior. We tended to wake with the early light & fade as fast as the bugs gathered strength, so we rarely got to see the moon rise or the northern lights flicker. Bugs were so bad this morning that the concept of crouching for a poop was daunting, so out came the 'personal bug shelter' (a one-person-size bug net) & careful rock placement experimentation ensued, with great success! Whew! Blackflies worst in day & mosquitoes took over in the dimmer hours - both practicing a never-before-noted dive-bombing technique, landing so aggressively that we couldn't tell if the noise on the tent or our hats was rain or bugs!
Packed up & on the water 8:15. Calm (no wind!!), warm (13-15ºC), & thus extremely buggy. The day warmed up to almost 20ºC today. Had to wear our head nets even out on the water. Lots of geese. Goose shit in the water everywhere, yet Laco continues to dip his cup & drink directly from beside the canoe. I've chosen to filter (Sweetwater filter) my water, as the concept of a possible case of diarrhoea (or anything else) in these buggy conditions is just not worth the risk to me. We portaged & saw 3 ptarmigans.
A mom ptarmigan pretended to be wounded & walked circles around us, trying to distract us from her half-grown chicks. Ate lunch 1/2 way through the portage on a rise where the wind blew enough of the bugs away so we could lift our headnets enough to eat. I'm just beginning to realize what a tough trip this is going to be & that we've budgeted NO rest/laundry/wash/anything else days at all & our schedule requires us to keep moving. My back is hurting from carrying/dragging our stuff & my period is a chore in these conditions too. Wind picked up a bit from the east (almost a tailwind!) in the afternoon & at the end of the day (5:45pm) we got to paddle a fun R2-3 just before making camp at the head of a long gorge (km 384.5). Absolutely gorgeous place! We took a long walk with our cameras down the river, following caribou paths (with fresh large & small wolf tracks) to scout out the next day's strategy to get past this km-long rapid.
We decided it'd be easier to portage in one long shot rather than trying the endless in&out short portages between possibly navigable stretches - there were enough danger spots that it wasn't worth the risk & the long walk (936m) appeared very easy in comparison. Beautiful campsite facing the setting sun & the rising moon. Tried labrador tea - it was growing right in our shelter, so we didn't even have to brave the bugs to harvest it! Actually up a little late tonight - still writing this @ 11:20pm! Paddled 24.5km.
Aug 2 Thurs
Relaxed morning. Oatmeal (too much). On water 9:20. Started portage 9:40. Finished both laps by 11am - we'd been all organized for it in camp & had chosen our route & GPS tracked it the day before. It was 822m as the crow flies, but 936m by the time we routed ourselves between ponds, tangled willow clumps etc. Caribou trails everywhere. Caribou bones, hooves, hair, tracks. Wolf tracks - large & pups. More ptarmigan. Vicious wind made carrying the canoe over the rises extremely difficult - almost lost it a couple times. Ate lunch & fit willow hoops into spraydeck, got all organized & battened down - the river is big & scary now. Lined around the last corner. The crazy, crazy east wind made everything much more difficult. Everything else runnable. Went wrong way for 50m before GPS warned us we were going in the wrong direction & even turning & going back in that wind was nutty.
A couple easy swifts & S-turns were made difficult by gusts which would just blow us sideways off our line into the shallows. An R-1 with a nice tight right clear shoot. Noisy rapids after the R-1 had us eddy out & ferry into the lee side so we could slide down to an island to scout. Tied up well, expecting to portage, but WF (waterfall) on left could be lifted-over & right side ended up being runnable with a series of drops with V's that all lined up nicely. The flats had us "crabbing" into a side wind. Line of bad weather had been slowly approaching all day, but around 2pm started to look ominous, so camped around 3pm - just in time to set up the tent dry & hop into it for a snooze while the 1st rainstorm passed over. Really happy to have a solid "wind tunnel" tent that can take these barrenlands winds, driving rains & keep us cozy. Woke up to brighter sky & bugs bouncing off the tent instead of rain, so went for a short walk to the top of the nearest rise.
Views always spectacular up here - you can see great distances & the scale of the vegetation makes them seem even more grand. Bugs nutsy, but the wind at the top of the rises keeps them down. Cloudberries starting to ripen. Then we went to the next rapid around the corner with the fishing gear, knife & pot (forgot the pliers, so it's a good thing our 10 casts got us nothing). We knew we were too far below the rapid & there were not eddies where we were, but the willows along the bank were too thick to allow us to get anywhere better. We need to trip with someone who knows how to fish, how to rig a line for what, etc. Back to the bug shelter for chili dinner & labrador tea. Into the tent 9:15. Called in (day ended km 377) to Nigel. Travelled 7.5km.
Aug 3 Fri
Woke up 6-ish. Reluctant to get out of bed - not sure if sound on tent was bugs or rain. It was bugs - they were horribly rude today. Took a long time getting organized & packing up - on water 9:12. Simple R1 right away. Lake. Lots swifts. R1. Narrow R3-4 which we examined closely before deciding to run left - top easy but bottom had a tight corner around side of ledge/holes across right side @ bottom. Rapids @ km 369 were just R2's, follow the flow. Swifts, Flats, R2, 1, 2,1,2,2... Caterpillar I rapid marked @ km 364 started off R2 but changed to R4 & ran out thru a rock garden & ledge at the bottom. Not runnable for us. We skirted the left shore R2 for 100-150m & pulled out to portage. Blueberries! No caribou trails this time - through rough terrain - lots of hidden holes to break your leg. Higher ground easier. Not too windy, so buggy! Thunderstorm in distance & rain approaching fast, so we set up camp at the bottom of the rapid at 4-ish. Had time to cast - hooked but lost on 2nd, caught pretty trout on 4th.
This time we left the head on & used all 4 hands to hold the slippery fellow while I filleted it. No injuries this time & the fish flesh was a bright orangey-salmon pink. Fried it up in olive oil & lemon pepper. VERY YUMMY. A real fisherman would be in heaven up here - if two dummies like us can catch 'em that easy! Ate with shrimp stir fry. Organized food barrel & got ready for a longer day tomorrow - looks from here like it'll be a tough portaging day - we can see from our campsite here that the next set is a portage too. Noticed sandy beaches & spruce & tamarack starting to grow in the dips along the river banks as we drop in elevation. (Day ended km 363.5; travelled 13.5km.)
Aug 4 Sat
Rainy, cold. Although the weather is cool & wet, we didn't feel any frosts - on the few mornings that I looked at the temperature inside the tent, it was commonly about 5-6º & seemed to range 3-8ºC. Daily temps ranged 6-20ºC, commonly dipping cold enough (8-12ºC) to slow the bugs down quite a bit.
More R2's, then we stopped for lunch & to scout an R3 - a fairly easy run but with an exciting right hand turn at the bottom that built into a chute with a bumpy wave train - our skirt kept us from taking in water. Then another R3. Sand beaches. Esker. Series of SW's & R1's. Split around island looked bad right side, so we headed left. Left way worse (boulder garden), but stopped & scouted to bottom of island, so got a good look at the bottom of the right hand side run - a shallow ledge at the bottom, but runnable (bump & scrape) over the left side, so walked back up & canoed back around to the right side chute again. Scouted top & ran left all the way. R2 next. Caterpillar IV on map 12 appeared to be a falls from above - horizon line & fair drop to the lake below. Top WAS a falls, then 2 ledges & R2 runout. Getting tired & cold. Rocks wet & slippery for scouting. Camping not good at top. After much debate in the rain - whether to portage (thick willows)/ line left/ lift over right/
commit suicide/ we ended up dragging over the top falls on the right & bump & scrape/line (rocks dangerously slippery) right most of the way. Swift, R1. Rain solid now. Bad head wind. Cold, wet & tired... & I'm not good in the rain... Stopped @ Falls (big falls - we named them Chutes Bleu). Right looked best for camping, except steep banks & ground so soggy now that we decided on the flat rocks on the left, right at the brink of the falls instead. Set up tent right away. Had to harvest rocks out of the riverbed to tie the tent to. Broke a rule & took cold food inside the tent to eat (no place to set up cook shelter & too tired & cold). Dry clothes & warm sleeping bags. Marked up the maps - the permanent marker wouldn't work in the rain, nor would the space-pen (which is supposed to be able to write underwater on Anything- ha!) on the plastic maps, so we'd torn a waterproof page out of our journal to make notes (with good old-fashioned pencil) during the day,
after the "waterproof" writing on Laco's hand was washing off... Laco's camera also stopped working today (moisture seeped in) & I'd refused to pull mine out in the rain at all, wanting to keep at least one of them operational for the rest of the trip. Day ended km 354 @ waterfall; paddled 9.5km.
Expecting to portage around Caterpillar II, but dressed warm anyway. We were going to run the 1st section we could see, so we battened the hatches & after scouting, ended up figuring most of it was runnable once we found a creek down the right to line past the chute (BIG Hole/small waterfall) all the way across the main river). Lined mostly down the right, then took a side chute on the right past the shallow run-out which seemed river-wide at the bottom too. Afterwards we ran a few SW, R1, R2, all runnable before Caterpillar III (multiple 'furry' cross-slashes marking rapids along a length of the river) which ended up being sneakable down the left shore 1/2 way, after which we were able to power across & run the rest of it right.
Aug 5 Sun
Chilly again (6º in tent) & wet morning, though not actually raining. Shelter not up, so ate dry, cold granola. Decided to wear our drysuits finally. We portaged around the falls (very short) & ran the following R1, 2 & 2. Lake followed & we had an ugly wind & waves against us. Cold sun finally came out, but with that wind, we were very comfortable in our drysuits. The landscape has been changing to more hills, cliffs, big rocks (huge, smooth), & trees! Heard the sound of the wind in the trees & weren't sure if it was unexpected rapids. Camping spots are easy to find.
Km 350 - 4 rapids started with R2 - ran on right & landed to line overthe next 2 ledges (BIG HOLES!) then paddled to island & dragged through a sneak route over the last ledge at the bottom. Bad northwest wind on little Charpentier. Stopped on lee (left) shore for a quiet lunch out of the wind (& in a bear pooping area!). Crabbed into the wind to get to Caterpillar V. Top R2 ran directly into a wild looking R5. We knew from the topo map that the total drop was substantial, so we just decided to portage the whole thing on the right. The terrain was very rough - large boulder fields & thick scrub willows. Occasional caribou trails helped a bit, but not like before. No scouting - we just picked up our loads & headed downriver, trying to get to higher ground, which was clearer. It took us 2 hours for 2 loads over 631 m. We were not expecting anything significant between the end of this set & Big Charpentier Lake,
but we ended up doing a SW, R3, R2, R1 & the last was an R1-R4 which we did the top right, then front ferried to the island for lining (Laco's leg fell into a surprise deep narrow hole in a rock crack - lucky he's OK) & lift-over & sneak route along the bottom of the rock into the river just below a big hole. 6pm - paddled out into Big Charpentier Lake, the wind suddenly quiet. Decided to paddle on to some islands for a campspot. A downwind sandy beach was pretty but too buggy. Upwind caribou bedding area on island @ km 343 was better. Cooked curry. Lynette's back acting up - took Robaxacet at 6pm & 10pm. Bed lumpy. Bugs quiet thru dinner - 10º - but we're inside a hive now with bugs bouncing off the tent like rain again. We did only 11km today, but it was a very tough day. Funny bird sounds during the night.
Aug 6 Mon
Rained all night. Woke to rain. Went back to sleep. Laco finally got up when rain slowed to drizzle (we both used the opportunity to poop fast!), but rain picked up again as he was trying to shift the shelter around so it's back was to the wind, & I decided the rain was an opportunity to rest my back & went back to sleep without breakfast. Laco finally gave up & came back in & we both slept till 1pm in the rain. When the rain slowed, we ate lunch & got going: hit the water @ 3:20 & did 10.5km, mostly flatwater with a breeze & rain from behind. 2 SW, 1 R3-4 which we were able to sneak left & pull over rock.
None of these are marked on the topo maps - even the WF we came on next. At the WF, we were able to land on a huge smooth rock in the middle of the falls & use our throw ropes to line the canoe over & down the rock face to a tiny access point we were able to climb down to. Both the Falls & the lining operation were worth a series of photos, but with 1 camera already dead, Lynette refused to subject hers to the pissing rain. We need a waterproof camera!
Then we headed to the top of a series of rapids that ARE on the map. We looked briefly at a possible portage start on RL (river left) in the bay behind the hill, but it was overgrown & treed, so we continued on down. The first set is R3, but Lynette's back is painful, so we camped here (6:45pm) & will look tomorrow. Camped on a sloping rock which will have us climbing back uphill all night. Pissing rain still ...& buggy all day too! - HOW do these things fly in the rain?! - I watched them buzzing about in the rain & they'd get splattered to the deck by a rain drop,
they'd stand up, shake off, wipe their wings with their hind legs & buzz right back at me again! Running rapids in the rain with headnets on is a little nutsy - you just cannot see well enough through a wet head net, so you'd have to lift it long enough to see where you were going. I tried to use bug dope to keep them out of my eyes & ears & neck, but the rain washed it off so fast (& washed it into my eyes too...) There were a few times on this trip I was asking myself WHAT had I gotten myself into... The wind & rain started to pick up even more at 8-9pm & the temperature dropped - at least that slows the bugs down! Camped at km 332.
Aug 7 Tues
Rained & rained all night long. Wind picked up to a howl. Camped on a slippery slope of rock & very soggy moss. Everything so wet & heavy to pack up.
Laco facetiously wrote that Lynette seemed to be in a good mood & Lynette wrote ha ha ha. Actually, I'm quite worried about my back - I've had it "go out" twice in my life & I'd truly prefer to go through childbirth again - the pain is immobilizing & this is not the kind of situation you want to be immobilized in. So I'm trying to be careful, I'm using up my personal supply of Robaxacet too quickly (I'll have to check the big 1st Aid Kit soon). And I'm feeling guilty about not feeling able to carry/drag my usual share of the load. The rain stopped in the morning & the solid gray of the last few days seemed to be breaking up, clouds were driving across the sky fast & maybe moving out... we hoped for sun. The wind kept the bugs at bay. We used the fuel stove to cook breakfast - didn't even try to look for dry twigs. Donned our drysuits again & on the water by 9:20. We had camped right beside the R3, so we loaded the boat part way down it, past the bigger stuff at the top, & even so, Laco got a couple waves in his lap
- our willow hoops are far from perfect & keep needing re-installation. Next came an R5 which we snuck/lined/carried over, all on the left. Next came a short R2-3 which was nice to run. After that we came to a series of ledges/holes which we lined, carried-over, dragged over, all on the right with paddle-able pools in between. Took us an hour & 15min after a long scout to get to the bottom which ran out via an R1 into a lake, where we ate lunch in the lee of a rock.
Wildly windy today - partly why we didn't try portaging - the terrain is much rougher now too - trees, alders, bush much thicker along the shorelines. The high water marks are quite spectacular - this river would be suicide in some places at high water! The level it's at now is doable - my guess is ideal. Watched ducks & ducklings swimming huge rapids like corks. Paddled into the wind to cross the last Charpentier Lake - the lakes are deeper now, so the waves get bigger.
We took about 1.5 hours to cover 3km & were happy to quit early in a semi-protected spot at the top of the rapids leaving the Last Charpentier Lake.
At 3:30 we set up camp & laid EVERYTHING out to dry. Washed our hair (brain-freeze!), ourselves (sort-of, mostly), our laundry, dressed in semi-clean clothes, dry shoes (Oh, what a treat!) & hiked down the rapid (200+m) with fish rod & pot. Got a bite on 1st cast, caught a small trout on 2nd, so tried a 3rd & brought in another smallish trout. Filleted them right there into pot & walked back to camp to cook them & spaghetti. Laundry dried fast in sun & wind, everything organized, tidied up & DRY, so Lynette's happy again! Such simple things...
Day ended @ km 327; travelled 5km.
Aug 8 Wed
9am - day started off by running/lining/running the R3-4-3 1st thing.
Right away we were looking at another R5 &, upon scouting, found 2 beautiful waterfalls (Laco christened them ‘Chutes de Burin’) so we portaged 186m down the left side - easy caribou trail & pretty. Put in below the falls & paddled the outflow. After another pool we came upon a series of R3-4's, all splitting around islands into different channels. Nothing looked good, so we snuck eddy to eddy down the right side, then crossed to left eddy & scouted for a caribou trail/portage on the left. Found a nice well-used trail (228m) along the left bank, over smooth rock, through a cloudberry bog - they're ripe (yellow & orange) here & taste like sweet fermenting wine when they're this ripe - I actually prefer them still firm, red & tart. Ate quite a few on our way back for our second load.
Paddled across the next pool to the next series of rapids. Could see far enough ahead that we had two 'clear' runs at 2 large right side eddies,
but a shallow shelf of guard rocks had us backwards & stuck as we got to the 2nd - very inelegant! Then we crossed to the left side after scouting around the corner via an R1 approach to a bouncy, holy R5 chute. Thought we were in for another portage, but discovered a sneaky left side trickle that allowed us to line & lift past the big stuff. Had lunch there on the well-worn rocks (sunny, 11º). END OF CHARPENTIER RAPIDS!
Into the FW bay & into the wind (no bugs!). Pretty campspot on left point. Thought we'd have the wind behind us as we rounded the corner into the tail (east) end of Lac Minto / Riviere aux Feuilles, but it was across us & variably strong, so we bobbed around for another few km on big deep water & found a rocky point to camp on @ 5:15. Bugs bad even in wind! Cooked chilli.
Decided to start early tomorrow (hoping to avoid the wind on this big lake), so we took down the bug shelter after dinner & re-arranged the food barrels. Weather mostly sunny & windy all day. Day ended @ km 316; we paddled & portaged 11km.
Aug 9 Thurs
Not happy with north wind & our slow progress yesterday, so intended an early start today, with plans for a dry cold breakfast on the way. On the water around 8 - not so early - oh well. Day started sunny with lots of clouds moving in, little wind, so hungry hoards instead. We were able to paddle fast (5km/hr) in the slight cross wind, though not fast enough to escape the bugs - they hounded us all day -we had to wear head nets & gloves & at one point, I thought my imagination was getting the better of me when my skin was telling me I was getting bitten on the back of my hand,
but on close examination, a mosquito had managed to drill her way right through my neoprene glove! I just had to laugh before wiping off both hands & continueing to paddle... Water here is cold, clean & fresh tasting & so clear you can see quite deep. It rained a bit here & there, sun disappeared as sky lowered & grew gloomy again. Tiny insignificant breeze from the south. Bugs a permanent annoyance, so we skipped breakfast altogether & lunched at 11 instead. Stopped on shore for it, but had to sit together inside the bug mesh bag in order to be able to lift our headnets & eat. Lynette lost her granola bar under her butt & Laco worried about running out of peanut butter.
LEAF RIVER - 'WELCOME' RAPIDS
We finally approached the "Welcome Rapids" at the head of the River of Leaves/Riviere aux Feuilles as it leaves Lac Minto. Now it is clear how big the Leaf is. The first set we could not scout because of how big & wide it was. We saw a pool & went down - it was R1-2 with nice waves, deceptively powerful current - on such a wide river you don't really realize how fast you are moving unless you are close to the bank or are watching the bottom zip past underneath you. The next rapid looked much scarier - narrower & big white waves, especially near the bottom where the main current bounced off the right hand bank as it took a 90º turn into a large lake where a fishing boat sat. People! Our first since July 29 (11 days ago)!
We pulled out on the right to scout & walked down the bouldery shore (would be a difficult portage), surprising another fisherman who had walked up from his boat parked at the bottom. Jean-Paul (from Quebec City area) was quite surprised to see us, but friendly. There were 2 boats with a guide & 2 clients in each. We ran the rapid - there was a ledge with a nice chute through it across the right, big waves in the center & a mess on the right at the bottom, so we ran it right, through the chute in the ledge, & used the quiet water behind the ledge to help us power across the main current to the left side at the bottom, getting bounced around as we crossed but the spray deck kept most of the water out of Laco's lap. The guide & fisherwomen at the bottom said hi, but were much more interested in fishing than us. It was flatwater paddling again for the rest of the day, only noticing a current when the river narrowed. The weather was back to normal - yucky & rainy. Took a long time to find a nice spot to camp
- the beaches are rocky, the shoreline usually thick with willow & alder. Checked one spot & found fresh caribou skeleton. Fishing boats passed us around 4:30 - 5 & actually stopped to say hi, ask where we were from, take pictures etc. Far ahead looked like a red beach, so we headed for that & @5:45 we found "Pointe Charley" (painted on a sign there) a well-used, very pretty spot, with TONS of tent space. Nice spot but lousy weather, lousy bugs. We set up camp in the rain, amazed that the bugs were as thick as the rain. We used the fuel stove again to cook spaghetti alfredo, with (smoked) fish & mushrooms. As we lie down in the tent, the wind is picking up again... Laco has been taking his camera to bed to try to dry it out.
Day ended @ km 273.5 (=42.5km today) & daytime temp 10-13ºC.
Aug 10 Fri
Laco's camera started to work again this morning!!
It was an amazing day today. The morning was quite gray and there was a bit of wind from the north (i.e. against us), which kept the bugs in check (we were able to bathroom net-free). We cooked breakfast on the fuel stove again. In spite of the wind against us, there is now a current under us, which we notice most of the time now, so we're travelling pretty fast. We were on the water shortly after 9am. Three fishing boats passed us going back upriver - the first 2 stopped for a chat - the guide in the 2nd had been in Slovakia's High Tatras for a skiing vacation (Laco’s natal nation; small world!). 3rd boat could not stop - we were in the shallows, away from the main channels they use, so they just waved. Close to km 265 we saw a cabin on the far right in a bay. We had been invited to stop in at the Leaf River Outfitters, but were expecting more than a single cabin, so we bypassed it (it was a bit out of our way deep in that bay). The cross wind made steering difficult
& I ended up staying mostly on the downwind side & doing a lot of prying, which is not very efficient. We stopped at noon at km 260, just above a set of rapids, to call Nigel. He had asked us to call then because he was leaving on vacation - otherwise we would normally wait to call from the dry tent in the evenings. Then we continued on around the corner & down an easy set of rapids. Just below them, a couple boats were parked & the eddy at the bottom was being fished, so we landed just above & joined them at their campfire 'shore lunch' & ate our lunch while watching their guides pouring massive amounts of oil into a massive frypan over a massive fire & frying up lots of potatoes & the fish their clients had caught & serving a fresh raw fish salad, with tons of fresh lemon being squeezed all over everything & the oil being poured out on the ground after.
|Jean-Paul & the fish|
The guides have been telling us the water levels are 2-3 feet higher than usual for this time of year. This river seems huge, wide, shallow & powerful with not too many obstructions for us. Maybe in lower water, you'd have to be a lot more careful, 'cause there'd be a lot more rocks you'd have to go around rather than over??? Or maybe there'd be more obvious channels to follow...? The outfitters are using jet boats which draw only about 6 inches.
From this point on, we found the river had a strong current, varying from 2-3 km/hr (not paddling & against the wind) up to 16-17 km/hr (while paddling in the fast sections).
LEAF RIVER OUTFITTERS
We noticed a small helicopter a few times buzzing about 'the neighbourhood'. As we were getting close to the outfitter's camp, we saw a Turbo-Otter coming in for a landing. When we arrived (3pm), people were busy unloading it. We met the owner of the camp, Alain, who was happy we had made it this far - our pilot, Pierre had asked him to keep an eye out for us. He told us he had a new tire for us back at the Caniapiscau/Lac Pau air base. That was good news - we were going to need a better spare than the donut for our drive home. He invited us to go up & have a hot coffee & a hot shower. We met crew & staff working in the kitchen
(two women are from villages in east Quebec, Harrington Harbour & Tete a la Baleine, on both sides of where the Petite Mecatina ends - no roads there), and the helicopter pilot, originally from Belgium. The mining exploration crew he's ferrying around is taking mud core samples from the bottoms of all the little lakes, looking for uranium & metals. I asked Alain whether there was a cabin available, but he laughed & said "in two years!" - they are fully booked all season (June - early Oct) with fishing & hunting clients. Most of the ones we talked to were Quebecers (who pay at least $5000 out of Montreal for a week of fishing or hunting). So, we set up our tent down by their dock & took out fresh clothes & went to share a hot (&cold) shower. What a treat to feel clean all over! Rain came from upriver, chasing their clients back 4-6pm, the dock filling up with lots of boats (18 clients/week with a guide & boat for each couple), so we had to shower as fast as possible.
They do dinner in 3 shifts (20 chairs in kitchen). They were also accommodating the geological survey crew (pilot, mechanic & 2 geologist students - young women). Alain also told us that we were only the second party to paddle down the Leaf this year; after two guys in kayaks who passed through in July. So beautiful a river, and so neglected by paddlers!!
The Leaf River Outfitters would be a perfect location for a FOOD DROP. Rain came, so we sought shelter to cook & eat & ended up inside the fish cleaning shed/meat hanger, cooking on a table. Went to the bathroom & it seemed that was where the party was starting. They were asking us all kinds of questions, including was there anything we needed AT ALL, & one thing I admitted was my back was hurting & I was running out of Robaxacet. It turned out they were a group of pharmacists, & the first one we met (Jean-Paul, the fisherman at the 1st rapids),
relayed my woes & very shortly, one of them came back & handed me a prescription bottle of Naproxen, one a day for the rest of the trip! Sometimes I have horseshoes 'where the sun don't shine'! We went back to the kitchen to try give Alain some $ for the hot shower etc, but he wouldn't take it. Then we were invited to the 'salon' where the drunken pharmacists were taking turns telling jokes. Rain slowed & off to bed.
Day ended km 245 (Leaf River Outfitters) 3pm. We paddled 28.5km.
Aug 11 Sat
Woke up to generator & boat launching noises around 6am. Got up 7-ish. Flush toilets! Breakfast of oatmeal in the meat hanger (no meat, 'cause there's no caribou here yet - Jean-Paul got a quick photo of one in the distance yesterday). Said many thankyous to Alain & headed downriver @ 9am.
Beautiful day - clear, cold, wind in our faces, but good current. River narrowed @ R. Goudalie & started into 20km of continuous rapids, mostly SW, R1&2's, but big river made them fast & strong, so had to keep eyes peeled ahead, so could plan route well in advance. Wanted to stay close to shore for safety, but main channel wound from bank to bank & obstructions tended to be along the banks & on the inside of curves, so ended up out in the big river most of the time. I’d judge our drysuits to be a necessary safety measure in these conditions. The guides had told us the water levels were way up, so we'd GUESS that the rapids would be much more challenging (?!) in lower water. To us, they seemed one looong big slide downhill - we dropped 50m in 20km, with nothing major to worry about. We passed one of the camp's fishing boats. A little flatwater (with current & north wind). Then, when we were approaching the one corner that we had been warned about, we were going to stop & scout ahead, so we stopped & ate lunch while contemplating the LONG (1km?) rock-hop
which would be a much cheaper way of doing the Leaf River
- if you had time, more energy, a Pakboat & took commercial flights. The gradient smoothed out again, but the whole river was moving at quite a clip - 16km/hr thru the rapids & 6-8km/hr on the flats, even in cross-winds & head-winds. Started looking for a campsite around 3pm. Saw the last of the camp's motorboats heading back upstream - they waved - their motorboats allow them access to at least 100km of the river. The banks were steep & had obviously been plowed high by the ice going out in the spring - this river must be absolutely spectacular in spring flood. Finally found a gravel bar another couple km past R. Vizien, with a creek coming in. Weather nice until about 2pm, when we were hit with several windy showers. Stopped by 4 & set up camp dry, sun came back & we fished the creek runout - 1 pan speckled & then another big one, which I made a mess of filleting this time - could the filet knife need sharpening that often? - or am I getting worse rather than better with practice?! We ate fish & cranberries for dinner instead of curry & barley. Flock of geese being noisy nearby. Day ended @ km 200.5, after 44.5km of paddling.
Aug 12 Sun
Woke up to gorgeous clear sunny sky, calm, mist on the water. Laco cheered a spider on as it caught & ate a mosquito in the vent mesh of the tent. Planned to maybe not wear drysuits, but while we made breakfast, dark clouds & wind came in from the NE. Back on with the drysuits & headed into the teeth of the wind late (9:42). This is the 3rd day of paddling into a stiff wind - this river flows east & we had hoped to have the advantage of the prevailing (tail) winds. Ha! Not in north Quebec! The combination of the stiff wind blowing upriver against the current combined to create quite a choppy river. Still going 6km/hr anyway. Waves & wind got stronger through the day, building to rollers & whitecaps, so we tried to keep closer to shore, but still in the current.
OUR FIRST BEAR...
We stopped for lunch on a gravel bar at a creek. When packing up the PB(peanut butter), Laco saw a black bear on the opposite bank coming down to the water. We got out our cameras as it waded into the water & started to swim towards us. I was thinking it had smelled the PB (NOT in that wind!), & was coming to join us for lunch. It aimed for a spot above the creek just upriver of us. I thought the current would sweep it right into our laps, so packed & loaded, ready for a quick getaway, but it landed about 50m upriver, & wandered slowly out of the water. It finally got upwind & smelled us, pausing to check the smell & look at us & then picked up speed & beat it up-river(down-wind), finally disappearing into the willows/alders. Laco got lots of photos & I managed to get movie footage as he walked out of the water. Back into the canoe, with conditions worsening: rain, drizzle.
OUR FIRST CARIBOU...
After 4 km, Laco saw a caribou on the left bank, & as we approached, it finally saW us, stood & watched us, then spooked downstream & disappeared around the next corner. As we followed, I saw it in the water swimming for the other side across in front of us, so we gave chase in spite of the big waves, & crossed the river after it, but they are very fast swimmers & we didn't get any closer to it. Watching those big antlers cresting the waves ahead of us was impressive. It jumped out of the water, shook off & trotted quickly back upstream along the bank. Would have made another great movie, but too afraid to drop paddle & pull out camera in the big waves.
We continued into the wind until Lynette got tired of fighting it, going so slow & needed a break. No bugs! Ha Ha! Started again, but gave up another 1/2km when meadow/caribou bed spot appeared that was good for camping. Stopped around 4pm & set up camp ASAP, ate curry & into tent @7:45. It was actually warmer even in the cook shelter - that wind just sucks the heat & energy out of you. Cloudberries here not ripe. We'll try get up earlier tomorrow to beat the wind. Rapids marked 5km downstream - anything that's actually marked on the maps is usually pretty big.
Day ended @ km 175.5, after 25km of paddling & fighting the wind.
Aug 13 Mon
Wind blew through the night, but not too badly. Woke up to another gray sky, cold windy morning. ...No bugs!... We tried to leave early, to avoid the worst of the wind, but didn't get on the water till almost 8am. The N-NE wind picked up right away & we thought we were in for another hard 3km/hr day. Pushed hard to get to the 1st marked rapid - R1-2 & the next the same - huge, wide, easy to miss the occasional boulder. Big waves, which we tried to avoid the worst of. Then the current picked up & didn't stop & the wind started to actually lessen by lunchtime. Saw caribou, no... flock of geese?... no... yes, a herd of caribou swimming ahead of us, so we approached with the current, taking lots of pics. The next herd, we paddled really close & took movies as they climbed out of the water, shook off & climbed the bank into the bush, then up onto the high ridges. Noticed other caribou far up the high ridges after that. Then, as we were approaching an island, I turned around to take a panorama behind us & saw another herd crossing really close behind us,
so we used the wind & a big eddy to help us back up reeealy close & got some amazing photos. Then we saw more coming, so we landed in the little bay where the first ones had landed & ran up behind the rocks on the point for some real close-ups as they came out of the water just below us. We were right in their path, but they didn't see/smell us & would stop to graze hungrily as they passed right below us. We decided to stop & eat lunch here & watched more strings of caribou crossing & climb the banks both up & down river of us as we ate. During lunch the wind dropped & as we continued east, caribou continued to cross the river (always from North to South, except for 2 confused ones). We ran quite a few more large R1-3's that were not marked on the topo maps. Surprised an otter which popped up again close to shore with an indignant squeak. Nothing but rapids, swifts & a light North wind, so we made good time & looked for a creek to camp beside.
Found a beautiful one with a nice flat sandbar for the tent. As we were setting up, caribou kept crossing from just the other side of the creek & swimming right past us. We got movies of the caribou swimming past our tent, our shelter, our canoe & us. Then Laco decided to throw a line in & the first cast caught a beautiful trout which I filleted (trying not to be too distracted by all the caribou swimming by as I handled the slippery fellow & the sharp knife) & added to our stirfry/noodle dinner. While we were in the cook shelter, the caribou parade continued, uninterrupted & uninterested by our mundane culinary rustlings. I would dip out of the shelter for more water, or whatever, & start laughing that we were 'missing the parade'! The wind died a bit, a few blackflies had hovered while we were paddling & we thought they'd be bad, BUT they weren't (!) & we could have actually cooked outside, if we'd wanted to.
We set the tent up with an amazing view of the creek rapids & the caribou launching point. We must've watched at least 2-300 swim past us. Some of them seemed not too smart about getting out of the water & would sometimes swim parallel to shore, upstream, getting nowhere, for up to 15 min, before following others passing them to climb the steep banks. Called Rob (Patty) @ 8:30 - the Sat phone battery says it's low!?! Huh?! Could I have left it on?
Day ended @ km 132.5 (43km) @ almost 4pm.
Aug 14 Tues
Woke up to cold & gray. Rained overnight. Bugless & slight wind from W-NW. No caribou crossing from our campsite this morning. Set out with slight tailwind & good current. Swifts, covered 25km in 3 hours. 3 rapids - 1st one was R2, then R2-3, then, in the last R2-3, we hesitated too long deciding which side of a large rock
to go at the bottom & glanced off it - rather scary! The river here is so powerful, you don't have time to speculate! Eddied out behind a small island to eat lunch out of the wind - it is COLD when you stop paddling! We've been wearing our Drysuits (Kokatat Goretex) every day, especially since we hit the big river & have been very comfortable in them & we are obviously much safer in them (in the event of an upset) in this huge, strong, COLD river.
After lunch we came upon another unmarked rapid which ended up being quite big - we got bounced around, but the spray deck works well to keep most water out. More caribou today, but only 7!. River widened & deepened but the current is still strong & a slight cross/tail wind kept us going (3-4km/hr when not paddling & sideways, & up to 10km/hr when paddling). Long, long views into the distance down the river valley. Sky broke up, sun came out & we got too hot paddling in the drysuits so we lay back for a short break
in the wind & it clouded over quickly again to cool us off. Swifts around islands & gravel bars. Then we started looking for a campspot by a creek (for fish to go with dinner instead of tofu), but we ran out of luck by the time we got to km 85, which appears to be a major rapid, so we pulled out & walked ahead for a look around a sharp left corner. Right beside the roar of the rapids, we saw what appeared to be an injured big bull caribou - it was standing/lying down/head down/not moving/not grazing in the same spot in the rocks on the opposite bank for 1.5 hours. He (Huge Rack!) appeared to be unable to use one hind leg. After we scouted the rapid (it is big & needs scouting!) & went back for the camera, took pics of him & went back to the canoe, it was 5:15, late in the day for tackling a big rapid, so we decided to camp & tackle it when we're fresh in the morning. We turned our backs on the 'injured' caribou to set up camp & when we looked next, he was gone!
We hope he was recovering from a bad swim & the leg was OK? Didn't try to fish - a bit late, so tofu alfredo for dinner. When we got into the tent, we pored over the maps - we're getting close to the end of the river & LEAF BAY: 52km from here to the Goodbye Waterfall/rapid/high-tide run-out.
Day ended @ km 85 (=47.5 km of paddling 9 to 4).
Aug 15 Wed
Woke up to rain & drizzle. Didn't get up till 7-ish. Dry granola under soggy shelter coated in dust-fine sand. Packed up wet. Too windy for bugs, butwind against us again (from E). Ran the big rapid (R3) nervously but perfectly - ended up not as bad as some we'd done blind. (We knew from previous trip reports that the entire length of the Leaf is paddlable, no portages necessary, but whitewater & river-reading skills absolutely necessary.)
Swifts & strong current helped counter the wind - we did 20km in 3 hours to lunchtime. Saw caribou all day, but herds of them soon after lunch - we had to slow our paddling to let them cross in front, behind & around us - so we wouldn't spook them into having to swim too far out of their way to avoid us. One large group just went ahead & jumped into the water right beside us & crossed just ahead of us, so close we could hear them breathing, snorting & see the whites of their eyes as we floated past. We stopped on the south bank to watch them come in & they just trotted right past us, stopping to stare at us once they figured they had a 'safe' distance.
Around 2:30 we spotted a cabin on the north bank. The weather seemed to be worsening, so we decided to check it out & were very glad to find it habitable after crossing the river in big waves, a stiff headwind & driving rain. Moved in for the night & set up tent inside to dry & sleep in. Cold enough outside to steam up the windows as we dried out & cooked over our fuel stove. The cabin was 2 separate cabins built as one (for 2 families?) & when we got there, one of the doors was hanging open & the interior of that side had been demolished, we assume by a bear. We re-secured it's door & the other side was still in very good shape - the bear had started to chew up the mattresses etc, but a big load of dishes had crashed into the sink, probably scaring him off, & the door was shut again. We cleaned up what we could & carefully secured (sort-of-bear-proofed?) both doors when we left with a kakivak (3-pronged Inuit fishing spear) that Laco had found outside. If a cabin like this was built around Ottawa (for example), it would have been teeming with mice, their little black pellets everywhere. Here, to our surprise and good luck, there is no trace of them. Extra food in the cabins remains untouched (unless a bear invades!).
Winter is probably too harsh for them to survive?
We took the time to re-organize the food barrels under the dry roof. The rain continued on into the evening. What a treat it was to have a bench to sit on & a table to eat at! Cabin surrounded by cloudberries, fuel barrels & garbage. Very straaange to see bottled water (from Mississauga) sitting in the windowsill of a cabin with such huge volumes of unpolluted clear northern water flowing past it's doorsill! Two beautiful bulls grazed their way past the windows. Caribou swam past our canoe in the teeming rain. We expect to reach the end of the river/beginning of Leaf Bay tomorrow.
Day ended @ cabin @ km57 = 28km paddling 9-3.
Aug 16 Thurs
It rained the whole night, but we were dry, cozy & well-protected in the cabin. Morning dawned grey with low clouds & mist hanging on the mountains. Herd of 5 head passed the cabin & entered the river just above our canoe for their swim south. SOOO nice to pack up dry! Laco found a long handled Inuit fishing tool/spear (kakivak) & we later used it to bar both doors shut as we departed. Hopefully the bear won't be able to get back in again! We headed out shortly after 9 into a headwind & rainshowers, but a good current (and some rapids) was always with us. We watched caribou crossing everywhere again. They seemed to not care where they swam across, or how far the swim was.. We saw a patch of snow in a ravine on the slope of the north side. Many shoals & sandbars.
We kept tasting the water, wondering if the tidal action reached this far, but no, no hint of salt. I was also expecting to be able to smell the sea by now, but could not. Originally, we had planned to camp at km 35 beside a small river on the left, but when we got there, it was a caribou highway - they were swimming & walking down the stream bed - so it was gray with silt & thick with floating caribou hair - no good for fishing or drinking - so we decided to continue downstream cautiously along the north bank to look for more suitable camping closer to the waterfall.
OUR FIRST SEAL...
As we floated down, Laco suddenly said "Look! Look!" & Lynette just thought it was just more caribou, then she saw the head of a big seal pop up from the water & neither of us could believe it! We stayed on the edge of a big eddy while the big bearded seal swam all around us, popping up & down, trying to get a better look at us too. It was very curious, but very cautious, just popping up, bobbing a bit & diving right away, making it hard to get a good photo with the delayed timing of digital cameras. I got some movie footage too though. He seemed a little indignant that we had interrupted his fishing in that big eddy. For such a huge mammal, it moved very gracefully in the water. It had a very moustachy face too. We got out on shore to stretch our legs & I tried a few silly antics to see if I could entice it in for a closer look, but once we were separate from the boat & walking, it kept an even greater distance. It eventually disappeared upriver.
LEAF RIVER - 'GOODBYE' RAPIDS
We continued along the shoreline until the river started to bottleneck & the current suddenly started to gather power near the top of the "Goodbye" rapid. Previous trip reports had told us this rapid exited into the (15m) tidal waters of Leaf Bay & that tidal levels determined whether it was navigable or a falls. We got there at about 1-1:30pm, right at high tide, according to the charts we had with us, & a quick look at the rapid revealed a deceptively benign looking R1-2 at the bottle neck & big waves in the Bay beyond - due to the mix of outflowing current & incoming winds. No worse than anything we'd done so far, but we were curious to watch the change as the tide retreated. (The tide tables - for Aug 16 - told us we were here during the phase of the moon when the tides fluctuate the most. We wondered later if the phase had been different whether the effect of the not-so-high tide would result in this rapid being maybe an R-3 at a lower high-tide level?)
We sat down with our lunch & the rapid grew as we watched. We had to get out of the wind though, but we could hear the sound of the rapid getting louder & louder, & each time we popped out for another look there was more & more whitewater as the slope increased as the Bay's water level dropped. We decided to camp right there, as it seems that the tide does not make it back up into the river - that seal must swim up the rapids at high tide to get into the river. The high & low water lines were hugely different out in the Bay, but no evidence of much fluctuation up here at the head of the rapid & the water had remained sweet the whole way down to this point.
We had to rearrange the bouldery landscape (a bulldozer would,ve been handy!) to make a spot flattish enough for our tent, & set up camp as more rain moved in. We used one of the giant boulders as a back wall for our cook shelter, allowing us, finally, to be able to combine two paddles into a nice tall center pole for it & to stand up inside it.
When camp was set up, the seal came back for another few pop-up peeks at us. At 3:30 we headed over the rise for another good look at the rapid from a higher vantage point. It had grown into an R5(=suicide!) in two hours! Wow - how impressive it was! While our backs were turned to our camp, some more caribou wandered through it & passed us towards the receding tide below, some of them walking & some swimming past the steep slippery looking shoreline below. None had been foolhardy enough to attempt swimming these bottleneck rapids! We scavenged for firewood, but everything was so soggy it was a challenge cooking our stirfry with it. At 6:30pm we went back for another look at the rapid at low tide & it was now a long R5 with a ledge at the bottom & more R2-3 after that, much longer with lots of big rocks & huge waves. The dropping water levels in the bay had revealed mud flats peppered with enormous (house-sized) boulders down either side of the huge wide powerful Leaf River as it continued, unabated, flowing out to sea.
Caribou kept going by - they weren't swimming south from here; they were travelling east along the north shore out onto the tidal flats & along the north shore. Ate & went to bed early. Tomorrow, if the weather cooperates, is going to be a long haul (33km) into Tasiujaq. We're hoping the receding tide will suck us out of Leaf Bay & then the rising tide will help us back into the Harbour. Just before 9pm, as we were snug in our tent writing this, we were startled by noisy clattering outside, & when we unzipped for a peek outside through the pouring rain, we saw dark gray wet caribou walking past our tent amongst the dark gray wet boulders against the dark gray wet sky. I wonder if they keep walking/trotting/swimming all night too? Laco's putting the last of our bandaids on his feet - strange that he's gotten blisters since wearing the drysuit? His feet prefer being wet? High tide tomorrow is 12:49 & we want to leave just before it peaks & when the Goodbye Rapid is at its mostly drowned (R-2?) stage. Called Patty to report we're at km 33, after 24km of paddling.
Aug 17 Fri
It rained heavily all night. Our rustlings in the morning scared the caribou & they started to give our camp a wider berth. The morning looked very gray - the clouds are very low, intermittent drizzle & rain. Cold NE wind again - does not look favourable for getting to Tasiujaq - may have to stop at the Leaf River Estuary Lodge & call for a boat Taxi. So we spent most of the morning in the tent, trying to stay warm & listening to the wind & rain. At 11:40 we had to decide: to go or not to go. Still windy, but not as bad as first thing in the morning. So we decided to go for it: at least as far as the Lodge...
We packed up in less than an hour & on the water at 12:45. The rapid was a wavy R1-2, but there were huge waves below caused by the conflict between the current and the wind. We had to veer over to the right shoreline for safety, so could not take advantage of the current sweeping out into the bay. As a matter of fact, we were probably fighting a giant eddy current as well as the wind to get over to that shore. It was a tough paddle all the way to the corner, where suddenly the current started sweeping us out to sea - just like the current leaves the bottom of a little eddy in a little river.
LEAF RIVER ESTUARY LODGE (km 26.5)
The paddling as we rounded that corner suddenly became much easier & we made excellent time the rest of the way to the Lodge, which was quite a bit further than we had marked on our maps. We landed there at 2:20 for lunch. It was abandoned & neglected - no people around, only another black bear & a few ptarmigan. Two of the buildings were unlocked & the other two nailed shut. Laco claimed to see caribou out in the bay & I did not believe him at first - it did not make sense for them to be swimming the huge bay at high tide, when they could cross at the river? But he was right & the parade out here was just starting. We watched thousands swim the Bay - it was peppered with swarms & lines of them - as far as the binoculars could see. They swam like geese fly - in streams, drafting behind each other. With the binocs we could see what looked like huge whitecaps in the distance - to me it looked like the open ocean wind was whipping around the corner & building breakers in a line right across the bay, but Laco had already read about the 'reversing falls' that guarded the mouth of this Bay...
LEAF BAY'S 'REVERSING FALLS'
We decided to call the Tasuijaq Municipality office, to see if they could arrange for a water taxi to come out & fetch us the rest of the way into town. After several phone calls (the first battery finally died), we were told that everyone in town who owned a big enough boat to fetch us was out of town, 100km (6-12hr boat ride) down the coast for the Aqpik Jam Festival (Inuktitut for 'cloudberry' - a clever double entendre - it's a music festival) being held that weekend in Kuujjuaq, so we were eventually told that Edward would bring the municipalities rescue boat to come & get us & to watch for him in about a 1/2 hour - it was 3:20 then & an hour later we finally saw an orange speck in the distance with the binoculars.
We watched the speck of orange grow into boat, but could also see that between him & us was a seemingly solid line of huge whitecaps all across the Bay as if there was a huge shelf & the outgoing tide was making giant waves as it hit the incoming wind-driven rollers. We watched thru the binocs as Edward tried to cross the line. The boat bounced around like crazy in the rollers, looking like a rescue boat that was going to need rescuing. The boat came to a standstill several times, dropping back & circling back to take a run again & again, using the eddies behind a couple house-sized rocks (he disappeared behind them) to try to get momentum into the force of the current, but he finally had to give up & we watched him turn back & his white wake retreated back into the distance.
Meanwhile, thousands of caribou continued to swim towards us & climb up the slippery rocks all up & down the shoreline around us to disappear into the low bush (where that bear was waiting) & then rack after rack popped up onto the bare hills, each silhouette disappearing over the rise at a trot. Babies bawled for their Moms when their exhausted little spindly legs went out from under them & they landed on their noses. Their Moms would turn back & nudge them on with quiet, hoarse grunts. An occasional cow would travel back along the line - maybe searching fruitlessly for a missing calf? Lots of them fell on those slimy rocks, but they clambered on relentlessly...
We called Tasiujaq & they said they'd try again on the next high tide, so we left a message that we'd be ready any time after noon the next day, hauled our gear into the cabin & the boat well above the high tide line & settled into the cabin for the night. At least we're under a relatively dry roof & out of that incessant wind. The temp outside in the late afternoon was 6ºC & we can see our breath inside the cabin too. We could see the caribou shivering as they climbed out of the water. As the tide continued to drop, the swim got shorter for them as wide mud flats appeared with house-size rocks peppered all over them
- the caribou looking the size of mice amongst them. Low tide was supposed to be 6:50, but at 9pm the tide had dropped even lower & the caribou were still streaming across. I bet that 'reversing falls' ledge across the mouth of the bay delays the rise of the tide at least until the water level matches the ledge - & then the tide must reaaally flow back in with a LOT of power behind it - hence the 'reversing' phenomenon... pretty mind boggling & very glad we stopped at the Lodge & took a look first...
Used the fuel stove to boil up labrador tea & minestrone soup to get some hot liquids into us. Sat on the couch to watch the caribou stream past the windows - better than TV! We're wearing most of our fleece as we snuggled into our bags on a fold-out futon in the cabin. Lynette is so happy to be high, dry & safe, after the earlier contemplation of a late night paddle with the tide into Tasiujaq. Paddled 6.5km today.
Aug 18 Sat
Woke 5:30 to the Bay still peppered with swarms of caribou, as far as the eye can see. 6o in the cabin, but can't see our breath. The olive oil has finally congealed. Watched the caribou from our sleeping bags. Tide low & getting lower still. Light wind appears to be from the NW now? If it is from the NW at high tide, we could probably paddle to Tas, but the janitor had said they'd return for us at high tide & the municipality office won't be answering calls on the weekend. Big whitecaps at that shelf across the Bay still. Cabin had wet patches on the floor & 1000's of big black dead flys. I had tried to sweep up both yesterday before we moved our stuff in (no mop, just broom), so wet patches still here & there, though it did not appear to have rained overnight this time. Low gray clouds still thick. Blueberries, lingonberries & unknown dark blue/black berries on conifer-like branches. Caribou still crossing, but the numbers seem to be dwindling now. We took a walk up the hill behind the cabin, staying clear of low bear-hiding brushy areas. Caribou trails to follow everywhere. Low cloud, but no rain, & not too windy - it would have been possible to paddle out now, but we knew the boat was coming back for us. Beautiful view of the rocky mudflats over the whole bay & once the tide started to come in, it came up FAST.
Edward, George & Peter arrived sedately (this time) in the orange semi zodiac/semi aluminum planing hull rescue boat, near high tide (shortly after noon), & anchored close to the rocks & loaded us up quickly, stowing the canoe across the back of the boat, a couple feet sticking out each side. I think that they were quite happy to have the excuse of a couple stranded tourists & to use us for a "practice rescue run". We gently motored out between the caribou herds & when one of the groups spooked & turned to swim in the wrong direction, Edward quietly circled back around behind them to steer them back onto the correct heading.
We chugged out slowly, seeing one more seal. Once we were clear of the caribou, he picked up speed enough to get the hull planing, but they were looking for Beluga to show us, as they'd seen them on the way in. The instruments in the cabin were showing a quite shallow bay, with lots of blips marking the big rocks under us, but the depth gauge fell off the bottom of the screen once we passed over the line marking the 'reversing falls' that guarded the mouth of the Bay. The tide was high & still rising & the reversing falls had been drowned/reduced to a ripple & a couple gentle waves across the surface at the mouth of the bay. Once past the ripple, he opened the throttle & we skimmed at 70 km/hr - a very powerful fast boat with twin humungous outboards (I forgot to note what flavour (I think they were Evinrudes?) & hp (my guess 200 each) - my boys would be ashamed of me!), & arrived at the highwater harbour of Tasiujaq in 39 minutes.
PADDLING YOURSELF This Last Tidal Leg:
Trying to camp out on the Bay would be questionable - the shorelines appeared very steep & where not steep, there were wide mud/rock flats you would have to portage at lower tide levels. Fresh water was pouring off every hillside though. Both the Goodbye rapid of the Leaf & the "Shelf" rapid out in the Bay need to be negotiated at high tide. The shelf rapid seems to delay the time of the incoming tide at the Estuary Lodge by at least a couple hours, so there must be at least a couple metre drop there? - with currents that the rescue boat (400hp?) could not negotiate as the tide was going out.
Paddling Leaf to Tasuijaq would require calm conditions & timing the tides - it would take 12 hours in ideal conditions. The tidal currents are VERY strong & it'd be a complete waste of time & energy to try to paddle against them. We left the Goodbye rapid minutes before the charted high tide, but because the stiff wind was in our faces, we followed the right shore instead of the main current because of the size of the waves & whitecaps. It was a tough paddle until we reached the corner, where the outgoing current started to help & the wind became a crosswind - our speed went from 2km/hr to 7-8km/hr & we quickly reached the lodge. From there, the wind would be a headwind again, & our binoculars told us that there were huge whitecaps & a line of froth/very rough water a few km's ahead. You would need high tide to get over this 'reversing falls' & then incoming tide to get the last 10km (maybe only 5km if you stop at the new low-water harbour at Rowe Island) up the Finger Bay into Tasiujaq.
It was worth it to us to stay a day at the Goodbye rapid to watch its spectacular metamorphoses from benign R1-2 to Killer R5 as the tide receded. The tides here are 15m - rivalling the Bay of Fundy's claim to the 'highest tides in the world' by a mere average of a cm!
The landscape on the way in was spectacular - steep mountains & islands. 5km north of Tasiujaq is their newly (constructed 2006 or 7?) deepwater harbour (on Rowe Island) with a new causeway & road access to the village. This harbour can be used at all water levels & we think it would even be possible to camp there - nice smooth, protected gravel parking lot. We were driven to the highwater harbour, where they had to take the rescue boat out & trailer it back to storage.
The only visibly drunk (?) person in town - it's supposed to be a dry village - greeted us quite affably down at the harbour with lots of friendly questions (the others were cocking their ears to overhear our answers, but mostly remained polite & shy). They carted us, our canoe & our gear in a pick-up truck up to the hotel & we checked into the most expensive accommodations we've ever paid for - the Iqaluppik Hotel - it was $336 for the night! They were very welcoming, even with all our river gear. We propped the canoe against the entrance ramp. I'm sure we could have easily asked for permission to camp anywhere & I think we would have been quite safe, but it was nice to put a few bucks into the local economy & we REALLY enjoyed the hotel - clean, new construction, hot showers, laundry facilities & really helpful friendly staff (manager: Martha Berthe) & fellow inhabitants. We asked Martha if there was any way to hire a local to show us the 'neighbourhood', drive us up to Finger Lake the next day & maybe even get us out to the hills where the muskox were. She said she'd look into it overnight & let us know in the morning.
We first visited the Co-op - only open 1-3 on Saturdays & crowded with the local populace, all speaking Inuktitut. One little girl had a much littler girl stowed in her hood on her back. The population here is very young, but proud of traditional ways. 3 items - potato chips, icecream bar & bandaids - came to almost $20. Another local woman - she said her name was Martha, too - approached us with soapstone carvings for sale, so we traded her $40 for an inukshuk. We also heard French being spoken - turned out they were the two guys staying at the hotel.
While doing our laundry & cooking dinner in the hotel we met the 2 others who were staying there - one who works maintenance & upkeep for the Coops all over the north of Quebec, & the other a contractor who was still trying to defrost the town's waterline - we saw the town's water truck making regular deliveries - it seemed to be continuously busy. We tried to visit Edward to thank him for our 'rescue', but he wasn't home, so we just wandered the village end to end. We got to the harbour & watched a family working on a plywood hut, which they said was a temporary shelter that they'd live in for the summer. The main drag is recently paved & some of the kids have roller blades. There's an arena, police station, public school. We met two other 'whites' out for a walk - they were the new teacher & her husband exploring too - they said they'd checked out the mud flats & had very nearly been trapped by the tide rushing back in - an important lesson learned, I expect! Few of the homes are privately owned - most of the village is government-built & rented to the inhabitants.
The construction style is fairly uniform, except for individual colours, very practical & sturdy. It took me a few minutes to figure out why front doors & oil tanks were 6 feet off the ground - snow - duuhh! Most jobs seem to be government jobs. There is some evidence of traditional ways - caribou parts & skins hanging out of reach of the dogs, muskox skulls on display, people out on the mud flats at low tide gathering something? The fishing is apparently amazing in the Finger river system - Martha was saying the char harvest is unbeatable & was going cloudberry picking the next day with her family. Martha works for the hotel & her husband, Matthew is the weatherman at the airport.
It was soooo sweet to have a long hot shower & get into freshly laundered clothing again! And a clean, warm bed with real sheets... aahh... even watched a movie on the telly... hum... how quickly we fall back into our decadent ways...
But... the adventures are not yet over...
Aug 19 Sun
We woke up to a beautiful day - just a few clouds & almost windless & just a light breeze from the north. After making breakfast & coffee at the hotel, we called Martha & asked whether she had found anyone willing to tour us around, take us to see muskox & then drive us up to the Finger Lakes (labelled "Berard" on topos). She arrived 20min later & offered us her husband's 4x4 truck to use for the day & her husband Matthew (born & raised here) could also drive us up to Finger Lake @ 4pm. She did not know anybody who knew where the muskox were & was willing to take us. So we packed the daypack, waited for another guest to check in & went with her to her house to get the big truck, fill the tires & drive to the new boat launch on the "island" (now connected by a causeway). Stopped on the way to take pics of the cemetery.
Saw a lone caribou on the tundra as we drove out to Rowe Island. The landscape here is completely tundra - no trees anywhere. The tide was coming in at the boat launch & when I paused to pee at the edge of the water, I had to keep backing up to keep my toes clear of the fast-rising water level! Climbed a bit of this island, but it was steep, so we only got about 1/2 way. Drove back, stopping at a handmade circular canvas tent pitched on the tundra. Caribou napping on the mudflat.
Next we drove up to the quarry & walked to the top of the hill for a 360º view, including Leaf Bay behind. Ate lunch on the top of the hill - breeze cool, but sunny, a few sprinkles of rain just to keep us wary, & mosquitoes clustering on our downwind backs. Drove back & climbed Qamanialuk hill behind Tasuijaq for another great view. Not much wind & hiking warmed us up. Drove back through town & towards airport. The road followed the Finger River, so we were able to get lots of pics of it - it seemed to be steady whitewater all the way. The Finger River runs right behind the hotel, so, theoretically, you could travel/canoe/line up the Finger yourself, however, you'd need the rising tide for the first little bit & the rest of the river is continuous, rocky, shallow, rapids, so it sure wouldn't be easy! The airport was a small, quiet, gravel runway. Government putting 2.5 million into it for improvements: Big machinery & construction in the distance. Back to the hotel to pack.
Matthew was going to give us & our gear a ride up to the Finger Lakes, where our Pilot was due to pick us up the next day. . Pierre had not been willing to pick us up in the tidal basin of the Tasiujaq harbour because of the multitude of ”iffy” factors:
Not only would the weather have to be good enough for flying a small float plane, but the tide tables & sea conditions would also all have to be ideal, all at the same time, and he did not want to subject his plane to the salt water either. So... we had agreed we'd find our way up to the Finger Lake Outfitters, which he knew was accessible by float plane. Rain showers starting. Pissing rain when Matthew arrived, so we waited to load the truck. Tied the canoe down well - it turned out to be a very rough road - high clearance 4x4 definitely required. The road followed the river & we were glad we weren't trying to canoe up it - would have been very difficult & the 15 km might have taken us a few days? But we would've saved on the hotel!(?!) Stopped along the road to collect antlers & inspect a fresh caribou kill - Matthew & Martha said it must have been a young hunter because he left the skin behind. The "velvet" on the antlers was really fur - it appeared to be as thick as the fur on the skin! Saw an old winter skin left behind too.
Caribou who stray too close to the roads don't last long - there were a lot of skull/antler sets to choose from on our way up the road! New bridge at a ford, but the road was pretty washed out around it. Got to a small group of cabins at the base of a small lake portion of the Finger (Berard) River, & stopped there to put in - the "road" is no longer passable after that point, even though it is still marked on the topo maps as going all the way to the Finger Lake Lodge Outfitters' cabins, whose red/orange roofs we could see in the distance. We loaded our canoe up, perched 2 of the 4 sets of antlers we had chosen on top of the load & said goodbye & many thanks to Martha & Matthew.
We had had patchy rain showers on the drive up, but the lowering sun peeked out between the rain clouds & shone on us as we paddled 2.5km upriver to an 800m portage into the main lake. The river was thick with char - we could see their backs & tail fins - we reeeally wanted to pull out the rod & take a fish with us for dinner, but the sun was going down, rain clouds threatened & we did not know how long the portage & paddle to the cabins was going to take us. Carrying those antlers was awkward & uncomfortable! I'm glad we'd had the sense to not attempt to carry any down the Charpentier/Leaf! The portage was across/around a splitting river delta & involved a few fords. The circling rain showers held off & we arrived at Finger Lake tired but dry from the knees up. We had another km to paddle to the cabins where Pierre was scheduled to pick us up around 10am the next morning. Arrived to a nice little beach at the first cabin at 7:30pm with rain showers finally starting to pepper us, so we each grabbed a pack & ran to dump our stuff in the first dry cabin.
It was mouldy/musty/crowded & boarded up, so, like Goldilocks, we went from cabin to cabin trying to find better shelter. Most of the cabins were boarded up. The kitchen cabin was completely destroyed - Papa(?) bear had thoroughly trashed the place after digging through the side wall, the floor & the window. The only thing he hadn't eaten was a huge bottle of dried hot chilli peppers, which was scattered all over. Later I found bear scat that was the biggest I've ever seen - two separate piles, one mostly brown with lots of caribou hair in it & the other purplish with lots of berry seeds. All the doors were shut but not locked. Most doors did not even have locks on them - it's just not part of northern & native culture to lock your door to anyone. We found a sleep cabin which had not been boarded up that had a nice central gathering area & moved our stuff in there. We did not want to risk sleeping in the tent overnight with such obvious bear 'ownership' signs all over. Plus, it continued to shower off & on all night. Cooked chilli for dinner & folded out a futon/couch to sleep on.
Aug 20 Mon
OUR LAST BEAR...
5:08am - Clumping/thumping sounds inside the vestibule at the door slowly dragged us awake, wondering who the heck could be arriving at such a strange hour in such a remote place. Looking at the big black silhouette in the window of the door - Laco briefly dreamt that it was some strange huge man in a black cloak - we both suddenly, heart-stoppingly, realized it was the silhouette of a big bear's head & that he was standing up & bouncing his paws against the thin, unlocked door that was between him & us. A simultaneous shot of adrenaline had us out of our sleeping bag (almost plastered to the ceiling) & me scrambling for the daypack at the end of the bed, which had the bear spray & bear bangers & Laco letting out a huge yell & scrambling for the camera. At Laco's yell, the silhouette disappeared & all was quiet again... we tiptoed to the door & cautiously peered out to an otherwise quiet, windy gray morning, not a bear in sight. Lucky for us they don't know how door handles work. That morning's expedition to do bathroom duties was brief, cautious, out in the open & as well-armed as possible. Made breakfast & used the Sat phone a final time to call Air Saguenay at Lac Pau to confirm ETA of Pierre = 1-1:30pm, so we relaxed & puttered about slowly getting packs re-organized.
The weather was cold (10°C in the cabin & the windows fogging up), it had rained all night & the morning was very windy, but by 10am the weather seemed to improve a bit.
Suddenly, early at 12:30, we heard the plane overhead, so we rushed about trying to pack up the last few items & dress for the plane ride. Laco, still in his long undies, grabbed one of the packs & ran with it for the beach & the canoe so he could wave Pierre towards the beach, a good landing spot for the plane. On his way back from the beach I thought I heard him yelling "Pierre!" - which confused me because the plane was still circling overhead. Pierre had to circle a few times to check out the landing possibilities as he hadn't landed here in 20 years. As I exited the front of the cabin, heavily loaded, Laco was frantically running towards me, still trying to yell over the roar of the plane, & that was when I realized he was yelling "bear!".
I turned & looked behind me & there was that big ol' fat black bear again! When I saw him, he was retreating a little bit, but Laco, afterwards, told me he had been right up beside the cabin (seemingly completely unbothered by the roaring of the plane circling overhead), & heading towards the front of it, where I was on my way out... Laco had caught sight of it approaching as he was running back from the beach, but had to stop & yell his guts out, because continueing would have brought the kitchen cabin between him & his view of the bear & he did not want to race around the corner right smack into that bear! But his yelling (or the racket of the plane) did not seem to dissuade the bear's approach this time, so he actually started to run towards the bear, which DID make it retreat enough for me to be relatively safe as I turned around to see it. Another adrenaline shot had me dropping my load (the packs I was carrying to the beach, I mean) on the walkway & retreating FAST to the cabin to dig the bangers & spray (which I should have been wearing!) out of the daypack & heading for the back door of the cabin to peer out to see where it was.
By the time I got there, Laco had chased me into the cabin, grabbed the camera & we both burst out of the back door - the bear had retreated to a safer, though not safe enough yet, distance & stood up on it's hind legs again to get a better look at us. Laco dug out his camera while I shakingly loaded & armed the banger & I hesitated so he could get his shot off before I did. The whistle & gunshot-like BANG! dropped him to all fours & his bouncing black back remained visible for a few hundred meters before disappearing rather unnervingly quickly into the tundra landscape. We wiped our brows, closed the back door, finished dressing a little shakily, shut the front door & loaded up for the last little jog to the beach.
BACK TO LAC PAU
Pierre was backed up to the beach, standing on his pontoon, wondering what was keeping us. He asked Laco to lift the tail of the plane & pull back so that the floats would anchor in the sand & we could load. We excitedly told him about the bear & he hadn't seen it at all - too busy inspecting the water depth & landing conditions. He told us that he's had to shoot a few bears over the years - he carries a gun in the plane - because 'camp bears' learn that planes bring people & people bring food. We used the canoe alongside the float to keep our feet dry as we loaded, caribou heads & all, then cinched the canoe to the struts. Easy fast take-off - we were in the Turbo Otter again. For the next 2 hours & 420 km, we watched the tundra turn to taiga & skimmed over zillions of caribou pathways & waterways, lakes & ponds of all colours - copper to brilliant turquoise & green, the sandy Melezes & rocky Aigneau Rivers. The forest had thickened quite a bit by the time we landed safely on Lac Pau again.
BACK TO OTTAWA
$4115 plane fare. $100 tire. $20 (N/C -tip to the cook) for dinner.
The 'new' tire remained a little iffey - the seal not a sure thing because of the rim & the rim guaranteed to throw off the steering, so we left the snow tire on for the long drive back to Ottawa & headed out shortly before 7pm. We had rigged the antlers into the canoe - they're too smelly & too big to fit into the car. We had enough spare gas (we added our spare 20l to the tank) to get us to Pourvoirie Mirage where we could get gas at 6am. We're hoping our notable adventures are over - we're running out of paper in our logbook!. Set up the old tent at midnight at the side of the road.
Our spare tire was not ready yet - they had not realized Alain had it in his storage. They did not have an easy time getting it onto the damaged rim - it took them 3 hours in between other planes coming & going, mostly hunters & fishermen. They fed us spaghetti while we waited.
Aug 21 Tues
5:50am - 5ºC Pretty sunrise. Stopped @ P. Mirage on the Polaris River for gas - had to wake them up to get the gas, but the cook was up & we hogged a big bacon & eggs breakfast. Not going to eat oatmeal or granola for a while... Talked to a guide & a cook on their way up to the Nastapoka outpost for the fall (caribou) hunting season. On the road again at 7:30. Beautiful day! Sunny & warm. Road is in very good shape - freshly graded - we passed a couple graders. On the Trans Taiga we saw a skunk & a red fox. Got to the intersection at the James Bay road around noon. Gassed up again @ Relais. Checked out of the James Bay Rd.@ 5:15. Gassed Mattagami 24ºC! ! Pizza in Amos. Gas in Lovincourt. Home in Ottawa @ 2am, 1887km driving later. Left car unpacking for next day & crashed heavily (&heavenly!) in our own bed.
Back to work & city smells & noises.
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