Vachon River 2010

 

From  Meteor Crater  via  Snowfed Whitewater  to  Record Tides

 
Pingualuit Crater > Vachon River >
Payne River > Ungava Bay
 
 
 
 

The Vachon River 2010 Expedition was supported in part by a grant
from the Expedition Committee of
 
Rpyal Canadian Geographical Society
 
see Our Expedition Report at the RCGS website.
 
and Many Thanks to our other SPONSORS for their support:

    Kokatat  Outdoors Research
 
 
 
 
The Adventurers:
 
Laco Kovac
Canadian Software developer with Masters degree from Technical University of Kosice, former Speleological Cartographer in Slovakia, and Canoe Adventurer & Cartographer – see http://sites.google.com/site/landltrips/. Immigrated to Canada in 1992, became involved with Y Canoe Camping Club now the RACCC, in Ottawa as trip leader. Published twelve canoe route map sets at the website http://www.cartespleinair.org/ . Caniapiscau book:  http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/1423004

Lynette Chubb*
University of Ottawa BSc Hon Recreology & Minor in Fine Arts         
Professional Artist – see AcrylArt.ca. 
ORCKA  & Paddle Canada Canoe Instructor & Instructor Trainer.
Whitewater Rescue Technician 111 certified by Boreal River Rescue .

Wilderness First Responder First Aid certified by Wilderness Medical Associates .

* My surname “Chubb” is connected to Pingualuit Crater’s toponymic history: this crater was labelled on Canadian maps of the 1950-60’s as ‘Chubb Crater’, after a possible distant relative of Lynette’s (Frederick W. Chubb, Prospector). In the 70’s, Quebec renamed it ‘Cratere du Nouveau Quebec’.  It now has finally (and rightfully) reverted to its original Inuit name, ‘Pingualuit’, the etymology of which is rather amusingly appropriate (it means “skin blemish caused by extreme cold” in Inuktitut).
 
Curt & Wes
Although several canoeists had expressed serious interest in joining us on this expedition, it was not until just a couple weeks before departure that Curt & Wes were able to really committ. Health issues back on the home front were resolved, last minute airline tickets were available, and we  were finally joined by two well qualified guys who brought with them great strengths, attitudes and talents, a 17' Pakcanoe, shotgun & satellite phone.


Expedition Outline:
 
Objective of the Expedition:
Our original intention was to map the Vachon for future canoeists, however, as we were paddling our 2009 Expedition in order to leave our canoe in Kuujjuaq for the 2010 Vachon, Eric LeClair was mapping the Vachon in 2009. We were grateful to be able to use Eric's maps and having them in hand expedited our progress down the Vachon. We travelled at a lower water level, so we made an occasional notation to his maps and consulted with Eric on a few minor alterations to his maps to reflect what we experienced. His assessment of the Vachon was accurate and our trip was made fast & (relatively) easy as a result.

Other objectives
To document the Expedition with descriptions, photos, videos and a trip report. This information, published here will provide much additional information for future visitors of the new Pingualuit National Park and for the more intrepid canoeists who may be considering the challenging whitewater of the Vachon. Our previous Trip Reports can be found here  Our previously published canoe maps can be found by searching "Lester Kovac" or Bassin 7, 8, 10 under "Canot" at http://www.cartespleinair.org/ , a valuable and free database of recreational mapping for the province of Quebec. E LeClair's Vachon maps are also there under Bassin 10.

Trip Schedule
There is very short window of opportunity to paddle the Vachon River. Early in the season the river is frozen, and a short while later, its upper part is too shallow to paddle. Our schedule was to leave Ottawa on July 6th, drive to Montreal and fly to Kuujjuaq. From Kuujjuaq we flew Nunavik Parks charter to Pingualuit. spent 2 to 4 days at the crater and surrounding area (it depended on the weather and ice conditions). Then we started paddling down the Vachon River. We expected to reach Kangirsuk by Aug 1st at the latest and fly home the next day, Aug 2nd.
 
 
The EXPEDITION:

We will begin our 350km adventure at Pingualuit* Crater, where we will hike the perimeter of this isolated 1.4 million year old meteor impact crater in Nunavik, North (waaay north! = north of 60!) Quebec. The crater is 3.4km in diameter, 400m deep, and its water’s purity is world renowned. The crater and the surrounding area are now part of the newly established Pingualuit National Park.
From there, beginning at Lac Laflamme near the base of the Crater, we begin a 60km trek (with our gear & canoe) through the shallow (and maybe still frozen) plateau lakes to the headwaters of the Vachon River which will be one of the steepest and most continuous whitewater rivers ever canoed to the ocean. The original Inuit name of the Vachon was "IKKATUJAAQ" which means "ALL SHALLOW". The permafrost barrens retain no water, so we must time our river run with ice-out in early July. The 200km drop to the tidal fjord will be fast and challenging, requiring extreme caution and safety equipment in such a hostile environment. The water is icy, the open barrens are scoured by relentless winds and the wildlife rules. We expect to see bear, caribou, muskox, arctic fox and wolf and countless smaller fauna who will have never seen humans either – the ancient Inuit tent rings along the way have not been used for many generations now. The flora will be limited to the tough ground-hugging varieties capable of surviving on the moonscape of rock and lichen.
The Vachon empties into the Payne/Arnaud Fjord which will challenge us with huge tidal currents and a seascape of seal, whale, polar bear and 1000-year-old Viking sign (The Hammer of Thor, cairns & long house sites). We will paddle another 70km of Ungava Bay tides into the tiny Inuit community of Kangirsuk before we head back home into the summer of southeast Ontario.
Preplanning:  Our ABS canoe (and some of our equipment) was left in Kuujjuaq after our 2009 Expedition in safe storage so we would not need to pay for canoe transportation from Ottawa to Kuujjuaq. Parcs Nunavik will transport it for us on one of their cargo flights ahead of us, so it will spend more time at the Crater than we will!
 
SAFETY and COMMUNICATIONS
We will wear Lifejackets (PFDs), drysuits, helmets, and carry emergency kits, first aid kit, repair kits, bear bangers and bear spray. The area is known for very high winds so we will tie down the canoe and any loose gear to prevent anything being blown away. Our other equipment (tent & cook/bug shelter) has already been tested on the tundra in such conditions (see our Leaf 2007 expedition). Our trip companions will be bringing along a shotgun, mainly with a view to bear defense. Black bears can normally be intimidated, but the Payne may be home to a few Polar bears. This is the first trip we've been on with such artillery.
For Communications, we will carry our SPOT device and a satellite phone. During the day we will carry these in Pelican cases attached to our PFDs. As in past years, we intend to use the SPOT to transmit our location usually twice every day:  our support crew will maintain on our website a Google map with our campsite locations for each day. We had similar maps published and updated daily during our last 2 expeditions. They can still be viewed at http://sites.google.com/site/landltrips/.  SPOT Adventures will also provide instant location updates twice a day for 7 days on the web. After the trip, we intend to publish our trip report on our Expedition website http://sites.google.com/site/landltrips/ and on our SPOT Adventures site at http://www.spotadventures.com/trip/view/?trip_id=176987.
 
SPONSORS 
Our biggest Sponsor, the RCGS (Royal Canadian Geographical Society), has generously chosen our Expedition for their Expedition Support Program in 2010. Kokatat and their retailer in Ottawa, Trailhead, will supply us with 2 new drysuits and any other new gear we need at their wholesale prices. Outdoor Research has generously added us to their "Pro Deal Program" so we can purchase new gear at awesome prices (Our new "OR" rainsuits were perfect for the RCGS logo patches). Our old drysuits & raingear had seen better days & are no longer waterproof, so the new gear kept us comfortable, safe & dry. SPOT will again be sponsoring our SPOT communications systems and featuring our Expedition on their SPOT Adventures website. We take this opportunity to thank these Sponsors and all of our previous Sponsors again.
 
 
TRIP REPORT
 
 
July 6, 2010   Ottawa to Montreal to Kuujjuaq

Curt & Wes drove up from New Jersey/Pennsylvania during the day, allowing lots of time for gun paperwork at the border, and stayed with us in Ottawa overnight. Extremely hot night in Ottawa: 31°C in the house & about 28°C outside early in the morning. We later learned this was the start of a serious heat wave which we just escaped. We all left Ottawa about 5:30am in Wes's truck and were unloading it at Trudeau Airport in Montreal by 7:30. Left the truck at the EconoPark ($268/4 weeks).
Checking in was a little dicey, with Laco considering his MasterCard to be sufficient I.D. - he sometimes takes traveling light a bit to the extreme. Luckily, we got a sympathetic agent with a sense of humour who forgave him and waved him through anyway (and then later placed herself at the boarding gate to wave him through the picture I.D. process again). They did not charge us for all the excess, oversize & overweight (The Pakcanoe was 33.5kg) baggage - First Air must be used to travelers heading north with lots of gear. We had only one carry-on so Lynette made the mistake of taking one of Wes's small bags through and was caught in the security net - Wes had left his safety knife on his lifejacket & scissors in his personal kit... They sure were tolerant of our backwoods ways and let us just take the bag back and check the whole thing (Wes was not arrested).  We shared a few relieved jokes at finally getting to the boarding gate unscathed, unstripped and with lots of time to spare.
 
The 2 hour flight north to Kuujjuaq was uneventful and well serviced. It was warm (19°C) there & Robert (Alain's son) came for us with the jeep, so rather than keeping him waiting (he was on his lunch hour), Lynette hopped in with him, took him back home & then brought the jeep back so we could use it to shuttle some of the gear to Air Inuit Cargo (c/o Sylvain Roberts) where it would sit overnight. We then stopped at the Coop ($78) to pick up camp stove fuel (4l), fuel funnel, bear spray & spaghetti stuff for dinner. Curt & Wes were going to camp at the airport, so we just took them up to Alain's, where Alain welcomed them without batting an eyelid. His house was full - both his kids (Amanda & Robert) + quiet Daniel, their cousin, so we ended up on a mattress in the basement and Curt & Wes got another mattress in the shed out back. Spent the afternoon watching World Cup Football (Netherlands - Uruguay 3:2). Amanda ordered pizza for us from the Inn (she works there, so she knew who to talk to) & then went to pick it up for us ($120 for 4 XL - ginormous rounds) which stuffed everybody & left lots for breakfast & lunch the next day too. Alain took us for a short drive up to a lake, the float plane base and to New Quebec Hydro. We gave the family some of my AcrylArt window art as gifts - Northern Lights, Tree, Okpik, & Snow - hung it in the window, then played with a crazy little remote controlled plane (Alain's hobby) inside the house. Hair trigger responses on the controls were required to keep it airborne in such a confined space & it was funny watching all the narrow escapes, misses and near stalls as it swooped about.


July 7   Kuujjuaq to Parc Pingualuit via Park HQ at Kangiqsujuaq (Wakeham Bay)

Up @ 7, packed, ate leftover pizza & to airport by 8:10, perfect timing for Alain to drop us and get to work. We dropped our bigger bags in cargo, then went to the terminal.


Wes, Curt, Lynette & Laco
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia Google

The 9am Parks charter left 10min early, because we were the only passengers on the Twin Otter (= lots of weight allowance for our excess luggage, lucky us!) Gorgeous weather so lots to look at - we flew past Leaf Bay (could not see Tasiujaq), but went right over Aupaluk. We flew over the Payne & Kangirsuk @ 60°N. I was glad I'd put on my long undies - it was hot (17°C) in Kuujjuaq when we left, but the snow & ice patches peppered the landscape more and more as we flew due north, and occasional frozen lakes grew more frequent. I spotted 2 pods of belugas and the pilot dropped and circled them for a closer look and better photos, then had to climb hard to clear the increasingly steep Ungava shorelines. Hills & canyons grew higher as we went north. We landed high above the village of Kangiqsujuaq (Wakeham Bay) on a gravel airstrip where Parks employees in matching Parcs Nunavik Arcteryx Goretex jackets took charge of us for an introductory tour to the village & Pingualuit HQ. They used the same plane to ferry other tourists (mostly Raglan mine employees) into the Pingualiut Crater for the afternoon. Monica loaded us into a jeep and headed for town. We stopped at the town water source - a pretty falls - for a drink and for a quick tour of the hillside to point out various plants and their uses (edibles, teas, combustibles). This botanical tour was packed with fascinating information that we used again and again during our trip. I discovered that last year's lingonberries ("red berries") - a deep dark wine colour after a winter under the snow - were absolutely delicious & packed with a wonderful sweet intenseness that lingered with a delectable aftertaste. No comparison to the sour little fresh (this year's) bombs. We continued into 'town' to show us the cemetary, tidelines, art in the coop, garage and boats. A big Inuit man at the garage typified Inuit philosophy for us when, after telling us he was heading out soon to visit several communities along the coast and us asking him how long that would take, answered "It doesn't matter", then explained it could take 11 hours or two weeks, depending on what happened along the way. We were then chauffered to the Parc interpretation center, which was very interesting and expensively put together. We purchased there a few souvenirs - hats & an atlas of Nunavik plants.

We tried to send a SPOT, but the on/off & OK buttons are misbehaving - staying depressed & making it difficult to operate it properly. This was very worrisome right at the beginning of our trip, having never had problems before with depressed buttons! I had had problems turning it off during the previous few days, but had managed to get it off after a bit of persistance. We fiddled about & wondered if we should peel off some of the padding off the inside of the case so those buttons would not be pressed by accident when it was closed. We were able to send the signal, but it was not easy to turn off the SPOT afterwards. Bugs were a little annoying here, but kept at bay by the wind.

Kangiqsujuaq (a.k.a. Wakeham Bay)
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia Google


Monica took us back to the airport, where the plane arrived back from the crater full of people, among them Nathalie, the Parc boss (she had been in Nunavik 9 years, half here, but in only a week was moving back to Quebec City for schooling of her children), Mireille (girlfriend of Sebastien, who paddled Goodwood/Caniapiscau last year).We were introduced to Noah Annahatak, the chief park warden who would be with us at the crater.
 
We boarded the plane again & took off for the Crater. Noah & 3 younger guys, and some film crew were with us. More & more lake ice was visible & the crater rim was visible from very far away as we approached.

Pingualuit Crater (a.k.a. Chubb Crater)
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia Google

There was a film crew doing footage & the pilot had been asked to fly around, take his time, so we got treated to extra airtime circling the entire crater before coming in for a landing at the Lac Laflamme (Inuit name:  Manarsulik) base. The crater was a startling indigo blue, even though it was still mostly ice-covered. Manarsulik was mostly covered by ice also, though the wind direction had blown it away from our end and it was  piling up in big white banks across & down from the cabins, leaving our shoreline & the way to the Vachon ice free. I hoped the wind would not change over the next few days!
 
The short sand runway and crosswind was easily handled by the Otter's pilot, who only needed 1/2 of it. The film crew met us & escorted us and the Park employees on a short walk along a cleared sand path to the park cabins. They were working on a short video about Park safety. We were welcome to use a cabin to keep our gear in and use the kitchen cabin to cook and eat, but we had not paid for cabin accommodation, so we set up our tents to sleep in.

Pingualuit Park - Manarsulik Camp
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia Google

There was lots of flat mossy terrain, though in general, the terrain around the crater looked like all those rocks had just landed in a jumbly shatter zone for a few kilometers all around, seemingly very difficult terrain to hike through. We saw our old canoe - old faithful - leaning up against the base of a cabin and all our gear was safely stacked on the plastic wood decking at the front of the closest cabin, including the stuff we'd left in storage in Kuujjuaq over the winter. Alain had nicely labeled and taped everything for us. It was a great relief to find everything intact and ready to go! We moved our stuff into the cabin, out of the weather (a few sprinkles threatened). There seemed to be no bugs here (we felt like we had to whisper this fact in case they heard & woke up to the attack). The small crowd that was there for their hike to the rim was on it's weary way back & clomped into the cabin with muddy tired hiking boots. They left Manarsulik base about an hour later on the same plane.
 
Pingualuit Crater Rim

We decided on a short walk (about 2.5 km each way) just to the rim of the crater. Skies greyed over so we all packed raingear. All four park employees/guides went with us: Noah, Tommy (Uqittuq), Bobby & Markusi. Wes walked with two very lightweight carbon poles to help protect his knees. He has to take "Vitamin I" to try reduce swelling in his knee joints. Noah & the guys took hiking poles & offered them to us before we left too. The terrain was not easy, but Noah knew the way through the jumbled fields of shattered rock and there were a surprising number of well-worn caribou paths to follow in the general direction of the easiest ascent of the outer rim. Not being used to wearing real hiking boots, Lynette's feet were tired & sore after only that short trip over that terrain though - it was not easy! A few ptarmigan tried to lead us from their nests, allowing us to get quite close, even approaching us if we stood still. Found one nest with quite small eggs. We finally reached the top of the rim & looked down into the deep blue of Crater Lake Pingualuk.

Pingualuit Crater
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia Google

Curt, Laco, Noah, Tommy & Markusi continued down the steep slope to the water's edge to taste the second purest water in the world, while Lynette, Wes & Bobby waited near the top. It was a very steep climb down at that point and the guys disappeared for a long time, so the 3 of us left at the top started to get cold in the whipping wind & occasional blowing drizzles, so we decided to start the hike back slowly. The guys noticed a licorice smell coming from the vegetation they were trampling & Laco thought it was the lingonberry flowers. They found a decomposing body of a young caribou on the slope, drank some water, and filled their water bottles to bring us back a taste too. Markusi managed to slip in accidentally & get his feet wet. The shoreline has a little shallow shelf (luckily for Markusi!) before it drops off into the depths (267m deep water - as deep as the deepest point in Hudson Bay). 

Tommy & Markusi at Pingualuit Crater
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia Google

We got sprinkled on a little as we hiked back to the cabins where we pulled out the beginning of our trip rations and tried Curt's "meal in a bag" - dried stuff from the health food store mostly. It sure was easy on dishes, just adding hot water to the bag, stirring, wait 5 min & spoon feed! There were quite a variety of tasty meals to choose from too.

Hike back to Manarsulik Camp (a.k.a. Lac LaFlamme)
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia Google


The SPOT buttons seemed to fix themselves & we peeled a bit of foam off the inside of the little waterproof case we had it in so that the foam would not press on those buttons. After dinner we chatted with Noah & the guys. Noah showed us in a Makivik magazine a picture of himself - he had been the hunter who had harpooned the 2008 bowhead whale, a history making event for the Nunavik community. We all talked hunting and "country food" for a while. Wes brought out our Satellite phone, recharged it in their chargers, and programmed in their Sat phone numbers so we would have them handy.

The toilets in the cabin were a nice wood seat built over a plastic lined can with foam to spray in it so it wouldn't smell up the cabin - this system worked really well. The bag was changed fairly often & sealed & flown out. Hot & cold running water was advertised by a noisy pump & rattly plumbing. When I asked Noah who did the plumbing, he smiled & said Noah did. The showers drained into a rock/gravel/sand bed directly under the cabin, which was sloped away from the lake, and the same with the kitchen sink. Indoor Water tanks were filled directly from the lake & drinking water was pumped directly from the lake into giant orange coolers which were supplied for each cabin. At this point, Lynette decided she would not worry about using a filter for drinking water on the way down the Vachon (Laco never does on our trips in Nunavik). The sun was still up when we went to bed - it sets 10-ish & rises 2-3-ish, so it never gets dark here through the night at this time of year. We could read in the tent anytime. Daytime temperature today 18-16°C, but felt quite cold when skies greyed over, light rain came in & stiff wind blew.


July 8   Pingualuit Park

Rained most of the night. Lynette woke up @ 3 & went out to red horizon, bright sky & drizzle. Later we woke to rain so didn't get up till 8:30, went in to use toilet & over to kitchen for slow tea & granola. Low fog & drizzle - not a day for sight-seeing, so we puttered, organized & showered. Found the red Esquif Canyon under the garage/workshop where we went to build the PakCanoe. The guys all helped us because they wanted to see how it went together, then 2 of them gave it a test run on the lake with much laughter. Markusi in the kayak following flipped and swam - to even more laughter. That water was shockingly cold - Lynette woulda had a coronary! The lake is still full of ice, though it appears to be melting fast. The wind picked up & changed direction a bit, the temperature dropped to 6°C for the afternoon. Laco went for a walk along the shoreline to the beach and saw a white ptarmigan with red on top of it's head and 3 different groups of caribou.

Caribou at Manarsulik Lake (a.k.a. Lac LaFlamme)

ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia Google

Rest of us watched caribou from the cabin windows. Curt & Wes walked in the other direction & saw snow bunting. Lynette helped Tommy clean the kitchen then found a book to read - The World of Tivi Etok - very interesting. Laco lost a lure to a big fish. Noah shared with us a leg of caribou, a char, and beluga muktuk (skin) as an appetizer (very chewy!). Curt ate the fishes eye when it was offered to him. The rest of us ate the Chinese style stir fry/noodle meal out of my dehydrator. We watched a French DVD about the park & the crater & how huge wind took their tents and hurled them into the crater. 


July 9   Circumnavigation of Pingualuit Crater (18.1km)

Up earlier to a light drizzle which stopped and the sky brightened, so we decided today was the day to try to hike all the way around the crater. Caribou swam past the window as we ate breakfast inside. We got all excited, rushing about to grab our cameras, and as a result spooked them - they ended up changing direction to the east & heading away from us across this end of the lake, probably a longer swim than they had originally intended - a north-bound path along the shoreline in front of the cabins.  The caribou we've seen are all northbound and are still basically a dusky white colour - fairly easy to spot on the open tundra. Some of them are looking fairly scruffy & we see lots of clumps of discarded caribou fur.
From left to right
Standing: Markusi, Bobby, Curt, Tommy
Down: Wes, Noah, Laco, Lynette
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia Google

We packed for a day hike & left at about 9:40 - again, all 4 Inuit park employees accompanied us. This time Lynette accepted the offer of a hiking pole & used it quite a bit, especially in the rocks & on the steep grades. Saw more caribou on our way up the outer rim. We decided to travel clockwise under cloudy skies, a good breeze & mild (13-17°C) temperatures.


Lots of up & down, rough terrain / easy caribou paths / ups & downs, slippery packed snow patches. When we got to the easiest pathway down to the water, we descended switch-back fashion, but Wes lost his footing on one patch of snow & left a nice butt-track till his feet hit the rocks again at the bottom. Luckily, he was wearing his waxed pants,  which the rest of us thought was kinda funny; most folks would want waxed skis for that kind of action.

Laco & Lynette at Pingualuit Crater
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia Google

We each had a good drink of crater water again & filled up the bottles for the rest of the circumnavigation, because the rest of the inner rim is way too steep to negotiate. We ate our lunch down there & then climbed back up to the rim for the rest of the hike. Lemmings scurried between rocks as we ate.

Chubb at Chubb Crater
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia Google

From the top of the rim we pulled out the binoculars and studied the route through the upper lakes towards the Vachon & saw a lot of boulder fields/sieves & shallows between the lakes - looked like it was going to be a tough haul in places. We hiked along the rim, through many ravines, some of them still full of snow. We saw caribou - even up there, several ptarmigan and a lone duck down along the shallow bench along the shoreline. Apparently, the land-locked char in the crater lake are unique because they have almost nothing to eat except each other, so they have huge heads & very scrawny bodies.
Lynette & Laco at Pingualuit Crater
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia Google

Glad my feet had had a rest between hikes & that I'd pre-taped my heels. My feet took a beating, but it was worth it.  The wind kept us cooled & the sun came out. A few bugs appeared but did not seem to be biting. Took about a Zillion photos from every angle - the sun melted the ice in the crater while we watched - by the end of the day, only 1/2 the water still had ice on it.  18.1 km later, at  6:45pm, we finally got back to the cabins. Took off boots & put feet up. Looking out at the lake at the cabin, Lynette noticed a large dorsal fin feeding along the shoreline, so Laco threw in a line & hauled out a 2 foot long land-locked char that had the most beautiful red flesh when we cleaned it for supper. Noah added 2 big sea char to the pot & we had us a big fish fry - VERY Yummy!
Sunset at Manarsulik Lake
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia Google

Loons yodeled on the lake while the young guys played in the park kayaks. Ptarmigan made funny sounds through the night. Sunrise at 2am. Very sore (bruised feeling) feet.


July 10   Puvirnituq hike + Last day at Pingualuit

Slow wake-up. Nice sunny weather with grey cloudbanks all around. Laco, Curt & Noah going for a hike while Lynette & Wes rest, clean, organize & pack for departure into the headwaters of the Vachon tomorrow. Again at breakfast time, another group of caribou appeared beside the cabins at the shoreline (right at the boats), ready to swim, but this time they got suspicious of sounds from the camp as we hurriedly (but more surreptitiously this time, remembering to hide our movements) raced for our cameras. They paused at the water's edge, staring in our direction, hesitated, then slowly, one at a time, turned and headed back south to give our noisy camp a wide berth as they slowly circled west back to their northbound tracks again along the other side of the runway. We got lots of pictures this time, though Laco's batteries died again, after less than a day. I tried to count the herd as they traversed around our camp & guessed there were at least 40 - mostly moms with calves.

Caribou at Manarsulik Lake
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia Google

Laco, Curt & Noah left in the camp motorboat to go to the NW end of the lake, where they would hike 9km to Sangumalluk Camp at the Puvirnituq River. Beautiful weather. Laco & Curt went ashore barefoot while Noah, in rubber boots, pulled the boat up on shore. They had a nice hike through open tundra and wetland with one tall inukshuk acting as a marker. They left Noah at the cabin at the camp while they descended the ravine, where caribou grazed, to the floor of the canyon. The Puvirnituq was characterized by very bony and big rapids. They ate lunch and scouted the rapids, forgetting to send a SPOT message ( Laco did that later, on the way back, accompanied by more caribou). The temperature for the day got up to 20°C, but dropped towards the end of the hike back and the boat ride back was chilling.


Wes & Lynette spent the day doing dishes, cleaning both cabins, organizing gear. Lynette removed a whole bunch of old race stickers from the canoe and replaced them with the Royal Canadian Geographical Society sticker. They went for a short kayak ride (Lynette forgot to don a lifejacket, so they did not go far & stuck along the shoreline). Sprinkly rain. The ice seems to be gone from the lake today, but the water is ice cold. The snowbanks are smaller now too. The boys used the snowmobile & the sled to move lumber over the snow, then transferred it to the big four-wheeler & trailer to move it across the sand. Noah called in from the Sangumalluk Camp around 11am and the hikers got back around 6pm. Lynette made chocolate pudding on request for the boys while Tommy cut up caribou for us. Lynette fired up the BBQ to sear the caribou meat for dinner and we savoured it's tender flavour while the guys preferred oven-baked BBQ-sauce slathered chicken for their evening meal. Tommy & Noah are getting more friendly & opening up with all kinds of stories for us. Tommy will be 22 very soon & Noah is a grandfather (even though he's younger than all of us, somewhere in his early 40's). Beautiful sunset with rain all around (but only a few sprinkles here).  23:45 & still writing this in the tent without headlamps!. Still, the bugs are around, but harmless, not biting, though we did notice that Noah had been bitten on the neck a few times.


July 11    Pingualuit Parc cabins to Upper Lakes on way to Vachon -  km 331.5 to km 323.5 = 8km
  
Happy Birthday to Laco's son, Ladislav III who turns 22 today!
 
Up to dry tent & packing up. Went in for a slow breakfast, then we started loading our canoes. The day was dry but cloudy with showers on most horizons. In anticipation of portaging, we did not bother to install our spraydecks yet. Said good-byes and thank-yous to Noah & the boys. Tommy & Bobby escorted us to the first narrow shallows - we knew to go on the far side of the island because we'd seen the route with binoculars from the crater rim. The first shallows were a quick easy walk & we left the guys waving behind us. We started paddling shallow bouldery ponds with boulder strainers in between. Eric's first marked R3 was semi-paddleable, and the rest were walks/drags. The next R2 was a walk, the next R3 was semi-lineable and the last R3 ended up being a 500m portage - it was a choked strainer with the water disappearing under the boulder field and then under an ice shelf at the bottom. We guessed we were experiencing lower water levels than Eric had had!

Dragging the meagre, shallow headwaters
ACME Mapper Toporama Wikipedia Google

Meagres:
Today Lynette explained that the letter "M" on Eric's maps was french for "maigre" which meant the same as "meagre", meaning "very small amounts" (in this case, of water), in English, so today was the beginning of a trip-long running joke on the various ways the word "meagre" could be used in our daily conversation. Although navigating all the "M's" was a back torturing task, the humour we derived from the experience made it almost worth it. A well developed sense of humour can get you a long way on some of these canoe trips!



Caribou were all over - crossing the river ahead & behind us, loping along the banks, dotting the hillsides. Laco & Curt wore quick-dry pants and neoprene socks. Wes & Lynette wore their drysuits and were thankful for them - there were some deep holes to stumble into! Wes lost his lifejacket knife in one of them as it snagged on his gunwale (at chest height) and it took a deep dive between boulders, never to be seen again - the darn knife that airport security had allowed us to retain custody of!

The wind was constant, with occasional brief showers, but generally the day was pretty nice weather and warm - 17°C - as we worked our way east and south - and no bugs still!


Inspection of the hull of the PakCanoe revealed that it needed 3 patches that evening. We were going to have to treat it more gently in these boulder fields if it was going to last the whole trip. We cooked dinner under the tundra tarp and crashed early - 8:30-ish. Light drizzle & whistling wind. Happy in our solid, tautly pitched tent while listening to Wes's big tundra tunnel tent riffling in the wind. Driving wind, rain, drizzle and mist all night.
Tired, we camped at km 323.5 - Eric's same site. 6 walk/drags & 1 portage, 8km total.


July 12   Upper Lakes,  km 323.5 to 309 - 14.5 km

Up briefly at 1:30 am to a sunset/sunrise along the eastern horizon. Slow morning due to wind & drizzle, though 10°C in tent. At least the wind is from behind us. The Meagres today may have to be portaged - the PakCanoe can't sustain it's integrity - of either it's shape or it's skin, while being dragged fully loaded over the boulder fields. Our ABS canoe is leaving it's tracks (green paint) as we progress also. At the first meagre, we were able to push through on the left along the bank, with the PakCanoe needing to portage the last drop. Next meagre(M) was easy to get through. Then a long paddle with a side wind. From this lake is where we would need to portage up into Lac St. Germain to head north to join the Puvirnituq River (which Laco wants to paddle next season). The next M was a 500m portage on the right - there appeared to be no channel anywhere through the boulder field. Just about stepped on a tiny fuzzy chick who was the same colour as the rocks until he moved. This portage was much more organized - all the 'loose shit' was packed, and we remembered to bring the barrel harness back for the second load! We stopped to eat lunch on the ice shelf at the end of the portage, then packed our boat up on it and did a 'seal launch' back into the river. C&W had a slippery time trying to load their boat in the water from the ice.

Ice Shelf 'dock' at the end of the Portage
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We were all able to paddle and walk between the ice shelves through the next M, then C&W portaged the next M while we managed to drag through the centre, then left channel. Caribou crossed just below us, climbing over big boulders, dropping deep between them to clamber up again. Their legs look so spindly amongst those rocks! Lac Qangattajuuq was a long paddle with a stiff sidewind. At the next M, L&L were able to drag the top to find a deeper (paddle-able) channel down the right, then had to portage the last 80m drop.

Meagres continue...

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C&W portaged 400m on the right. The next two M's we did not even look, but decided to cut the corner by portaging over the tundra on the right directly to the bottom end and camped there at km 309. Curt carried the canoe and two bags on one of the legs - he usually carries at least 2 heavy bags - what an ox! The weather had changed to nice for the last 2 portages.

Camp was spongy wet with the first few mosqitos showing signs of being hungry. The wind dropped and it was very still and sunny for dinner, encouraging the mosquitos.  Wes's turn to cook - he had purchased a new part for his stove and burned his thumb getting it figured out. We boiled water for Curt's 'meal-in-bag' and had a spot of Arak.

We watched the caribou trot up the opposite bank to cross the meagre above us. One lonely caribou crossed the river directly towards us, climbing over the rocks carefully, almost coming into camp for a visit, but suddenly noticed the big red tent and swung away upriver. There is caribou hair everywhere - they are looking pretty scruffy as they start to lose their winter coats.


July 13   Upper Lakes to IKKATUJAAQ (Vachon River), km 309 - 284.5 = 24.5km

Something bounced off the tent, waking us up, then walked around and scrabbled against the tent once more, then woke us up again later, but when we finally looked out, nothing. Laco saw a lemming very close to our back door later, which obligingly posed for a few pictures. It rained through the night. We were worried about being on such wet ground and the tent was soaked through in the morning. Laco's sleeping pad had deflated during the night, and though the marsh was soft, it was icy cold. We had a slow breakfast because of the rain, but we finally headed out about 10:45 and headed into the wind and rain.  Our Kokatat drysuits are much appreciated in these cold, wet, windy conditions.

Curt headed into a long bay, while we took the direct route and we got worried about getting out of sight of each-other, but he finally noticed, followed, and caught up again. Those two guys paddle faster than we do. I hefted Curts "Monsta-Momma paddle" and laughed that I wouldn't last an hour using it - we are spoiled by the lightweight carbon bent-shafts we use on the flatwater sections. Stiff sidewinds created a need for a lot of crabbing into the wind to get around points and paddling on the same side on some of the straights.

Almost all lakes today. Stopped for lunch at 1pm on a shore that wasn't too rocky to get to (OK campspot?) Regular rain showers all day. Regular caribou sightings all along the left shore - dirty white moving spots all over the tundra. The landscape seems to have been bulldozed by glaciers into long green, yellow and grey rock stripes as caribou followed the green and yellow highways. They move amazingly efficiently through that rough landscape, their antlers free in the wind.

Finally saw the plywood shack in the distance at the first R1 of the Vachon. It didn't look too appealing so we just passed it by. It was nice to be finally able to paddle an R1, but it was pretty shallow and rocky, luckily narrow enough to funnel the water, and us, right through.

The Vachon starts to grow:  Class 2-3 rapid
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The next corner was an R2-3 which had a nice left channel to a short pool, but the next R3 had marginally enough water to pick through to the next pool where we contemplated the last R2 for a while - C&W tried left and had to get out and walk, so we tried right and had to get out and walk even sooner. More flatwater and rain showers until we talked at 5pm about where to camp. We noticed a line of small inukshuks at a narrows and decided to check them for camping. It was a well-used, multi-lane caribou crossing. The inukshuks were very old - evidenced by the lichens growing on them. It was a great camp - flat spots & dry, so we set up and changed into dry warm clothes. The weather cleared enough for sunny spots between the rain showers and a beautiful rainbow. We set up the cook tarp and made much appreciated spaghetti for dinner with gummiworms for dessert.

Lone caribou topped the rise behind us, stared, veered off north. This is the same herd we experienced on the Leaf, but at this time of year the calves are tiny, they all still have their winter coats, though the chunks of fur they are losing - revealing patchy new grey underneath - ends up all over the landscape and floating along the shorelines. They are all heading north, keeping just ahead of the bugs, in small groups up to about 40 and lots of singles. We have seen no sign of any predators. The hillsides are dotted with moving dirty white spots. 

Did dishes and Arak. Seems darkest around midnight, but still light enough to read all through the night. Looong twilight! Camped at km284.5 at Inukshuks marking a caribou crossing.


July 14   IKKATUJAAQ (Riviere Vachon), Km 284.5 - 265 = 19.5km

7°C in tent, cold, grey & windy, but our cook shelter was OK left up through the night.  We usually drop the paddles under it and rock it down for the night so it won't blow and flap all night. We were up earlier, but Laco experimented with the twig stove which required a lot of that flowering resinous plant that Monica had shown us, but it was too slow, so we fired up the fuel stove. The caribou stopped to stare during my morning quest for a 'private' spot on the tundra. We were paddling by 10am. The wind was behind us and lots of caribou moved along the hills. We could feel we were begining to drop in elevation into a river valley. Saw eskers and sand beaches. The weather slowly cleared and we got out sunglasses and sunscreen. The first R2-3 was a good run on the right. The first three meagres were passable but the fourth was a drag down the middle and a super-drag on the left.

We stopped for lunch on an esker and climbed it for the view ahead so we could see the best channel through the M's coming up. We finally got to where the river narrowed and started carving a deeper channel through the boulder fields and the rapids started having enough water to make them runnable. The first R3 was a long strong chute with a couple features to miss - a good ride.

Wes & Curt in the class 3 rapid


The second R3 was not so easy and we took on a lot of water in the first section, making the rest of it pretty dicey, so we stopped to install our spraydecks.

A tailwind kept pushing us into rapids too fast and made steering and dodging difficult at times - needing to always compensate for the wind as well as the current. A series of short drops were easy to scout - the river banks are high, giving a good view ahead. The R4 was too messy at the bottom so we sneaked an M channel down the left instead of lining and liftover.

The Vachon squeezed into a Class 4 rapid
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The R2 was easy at the top with a lot of white at the bottom but OK. We then started looking for a camp spot and our second try on the right, opposite a river coming in from the left, was very nice. Set up camp with a few mosquitos. The sky slowly cleared completely so we laid everything out to dry. I picked up a thick chunk of caribou hair and it felt immediately warm in my hand - it was very dense and looked like it peeled off with a thin layer of skin that still held it together at the base of the hairs. When I broke it apart, it peeled a bit like a cigarette filter. It had a gentle, slightly horsey scent. We wondered if it would make good sleeping bag stuffing. I remembered when DuPont came out with "Hollofil", a hollow polyester fibrefill modelled after the hollow hairs of the caribou.

Laco caught two trout to go with dinner and I used Wes's candle wax to lubricate our drysuit zippers. Curt brought out fresh carrots and humous too. Laco lost another lure and washed up a bit. The mosquitos were a little annoying but not enough to go into the shelter. The sun set at 9:55 over the hill and off to bed in a nice soft dry bed with the sound of the tributary dropping into the riverbed across from us. It did not rain (on us!) today at all.


July 15   IKKATUJAAQ (Riviere Vachon), Km 265 - 248.5 = 16.5km

10°C in tent. Laco says mosquitos are bad this morning. There's no wind and the sky is broken grey with sunny patches and seems to be clearing up fast. Laco hiked 1.5km up the hill behind camp to take some pictures and build an inukshuk. The weather ended up sunny & warm (hot, Laco says!) - up to 16°C - and the wind veered from the north in the morning to easterly later in the day.

Today was rapid after rapid, rated R1 to R5, the R3's sometimes dicey. To find out more about how rivers are classified for paddlers, see "Whitewater Classification Explained" or the "International Scale of River Difficulty".

We did lots of scouting then sneaking via Meagre side channels because many of the rapids would typically end in a boulder sieve drop-off. At km 257 the guys ran a challenging R3-4 while we did the chicken route down the far right. The R5 was a big ledge / small falls, very chewy, so was portaged by the PakCanoe and was a carry/drag/lift-over for the ABS.

The ABS took a beating in lots of bouldery shallows and the PakCanoe was not happy, sustaining a few dents to it's frame. We quit for the day just before an R3 and an R3-4 that both needed scouting. We were able to climb the hill to a plateau along the river behind our campsite for a wonderful view of the rapids downriver.

The water was cold but we washed our heads with no ice-cream headache. Curt actually jumped in & hooted, but got himself all washed up too. Sunset, then temperature dropped to 7°C. Mosquitos quite active, and though not thick yet, warranted the use of headnets. We had a nice relaxed dinner in the bug shelter. Tonight was the first time we used our head lamp to write. We noticed no caribou today.


July 16   IKKATUJAAQ (Riviere Vachon), Km 248.5 - 229 = 19.5km

Sun rose and hot in tent, but opening up ventilation cooled it off again.  Laco was up early and went for a hike to the top of a hill but ran out of memory for his camera. He saw ptarmigan and got a good view of the rapids ahead from up there.
We ran the R3 easily after scouting it the day before. The next R3-4 was scouted from the hill which was trampled with muddy caribou tracks, then run. Then we were able to boat scout the next two short, sharp R3 drops OK. A lone caribou was spooked by us on the river. A huge sand esker down the left side of the river would make for some very nice camping. Lots of flightless young geese running and hiding along the river banks. Lots of ducks and mergansers.

Most of the day was clear, sunny and windy - very hard to paddle into. When we stopped paddling the wind would stop us and the current would flow under us, sucking at our hull. The wind switched to behind us at the end of the day.  Lots of easy rapids before another R3-4 drop which was run-able.

Why we use a spraydeck:  Class 3-4 rapid
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We finally got to the looong R3 where we stopped for lunch, scouted first from the hill, then started running. There were short calm sections breaking it up so we could pause to scout the sections, but it was a case of usually following the main flow and rock dodging, and the whole thing went by very quickly. There was a calm section just before the last R3-4 drop so we paused to scout and were able to run it out fairly easily. The last corner was marked by a huge sand cliff that dust devils were being blown off of and when we got there, two falcons made a noisy fuss while we scouted and took turns running the last drop and taking pictures and video of each-other.

Class 3-4 rapid

Today we also used the helmet-cam for the first time, but it ran out of battery power during the long R3. It was a relief to have that long scary section over with. It was fun to watch the crystal-clear aqua river bed zipping by underneath us. We've been drinking the water straight out of the river since day one at Lac LaFlamme.  Next came a short R3-4 which Curt river scouted, ran and we followed. The R2-3's were fairly simple, then the river widened into an M that Eric had labelled R2-3. (In 2009, he had a snowy winter with good spring run-off and in 2010, we experienced a dry winter with meagre run-off.) All channels ended in huge boulder fans. Stay left as much as possible.

Following came nice long swifts with the north wind behind us now and we stopped at a tributary draining Kapijuq Lake which came in from the right and camped there. C&W went for a walk to the hilltop and saw Lots of ptarmigan, Laco washed hair, took GPS picture with his main camera and tried to fish (2 bites / no luck) and Lynette did laundry. Lemming burrows all over. Frost heaves created large flat tent pads here. The river valley is deepening so the hills are getting higher and greener. We saw our first little bush - dwarf birch - today and a few dead roots from former bushes - firewood! The sun dropped and the air temperature dropped like a stone. We're all feeling fried from paddling mostly south into the sun. The glare off the water makes the rapids hard to read, especially in mid to late afternoon. Relaxed dinner & off to bed 10:40.


July 17   IKKATUJAAQ (Riviere Vachon), Km 229 - 201 = 28km

Woke to a hot sunny day & an active mosquito colony. Laco went for another hike up the ridge where he spotted a group of about 20 caribou, then built a small inukshuk to mark the campsite. The sky slowly hazed over as we paddled and the wind built in our faces, driving off the mosquitos but bringing cold drizzle. We were able to run all rapids, scouting from the canoe, the spraydecks keeping most of the waves out.


We spotted 4 caribou, one with big antlers and we are noticing that they are all darker colour now, having finally lost their winter coats. Many flocks of young geese run & hide in the rocks as we pass. We stopped for a drizzly cold lunch at the confluence of the Kimber River, but the weather slowly improved.

We came upon a strange plywood box of a flat-roofed hut, containing 2 bed platforms, a stove, lamp, heater and windows. It was surrounded by discarded fuel barrels, and a well-punctured (bear teeth?) yellow oil bottle.


Soon after, we found a nice campspot where a short hike netted us enough twigs from the low bushes to fuel our Zip stove to cook our dinner.


Here, we took a GPS picture with each camera so that we could chronologically amalgamate our pictures and videos into a single file after we get home. The weather improved so much again that the mosquitos became annoying even inside our cook shelter tonight. Travelling south into the sun is taking it's toll on our faces - we are all a little sunburnt and red-eyed. Curt, even though he wears his bandana over his face, is suffering from very burned & scabbed lips and Laco's nose is peeling in spite of the 60 sunscreen he slathers on.
 
 
July 18   IKKATUJAAQ (Riviere Vachon), Km 201 - 179 = 22km (& 3km? hike)
 
Hot in tent but opened ventilation & enjoyed the warmth. Laco built another inukshuk to mark our camp and boiled our morning water on the twig stove again. We were all quite chatty over breakfast, so we ended up having a slow start, but we headed out right into a series of R3's & 2's, ending in R-4's, only the last of which we stopped to get out and scout; most of them were boat-scoutable & OK. LOTS of rapids - our knees were siezing up because there wasn't time between rapids to sit up.


Lynette wore the helmet-cam after lunch to try catch some of the action today. We saw a spectacular bull caribou with a huuuge rack up on the riverbank and we hope the helmet-cam caught his silhouette between rapids. Also saw a huuuge otter(?) - it dived, popped up, dove & then was gone - it was so big and so fleeting that we were left wondering about the possibility of a freshwater seal.
 
We stopped early (2-3:00?) at an Inuit historic campsite and wandered amongst many old tent rings spread over a rocky plateau with a beautiful view up and down the long river valley. The sun clouded over, the temperature dropped and the wind picked up as we hiked up the hill behind camp for an even wider view up and down the valley. It's fun looking back upriver and saying to yourself "Hey, wow, we just paddled that crazy looking stuff!"

Inuit Historic Tent Ring Site
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The creek joining the river here was a true meagre, so we dubbed it "Meagre Creek". We picked bolette mushrooms on the way back to camp to fry up with dinner. The wind scoured our tents, chilling off the evening as we tryed to stay warm in the shelter, sharing a round of grappa. Early to bed to warm up and escape the wind. We believe we have landed exactly in the same spot as Eric camped last year, because we found his 'very fresh' tent ring of rocks very close to the river.
 
 
July 19   IKKATUJAAQ (Riviere Vachon), Km 179 - 155 = 24km
 
Laco went to bed chilled, wearing long johns, sweater and hat, and had a hard time getting warmed up - not like him at all. He ended up waking up at 1am with a sick stomach. It was dark enough that he had to use his headlamp to put in his contacts and then exit the tent for a bout of diarrhea. He was glad it was too cold and windy for bugs. He had another episode at 6am, when he retrieved the 1st Aid kit to take a dose of diarrhea medication, then a third episode after 8am.  We took a slow morning... but Laco ran the twig stove again anyway and was able to eat breakfast. It had drizzled in the night, but we packed dry.
 
We got on the water after 11am, but it was fast going. We disturbed lots of geese - the parents herding their goslings into their rocky disguises - if they did not move, we would not be able to see them! - however, their curiosity would get the better of them & we would see their long necks poking up to watch us pass by - and as they saw us, they would spook and waddle further into the rocky landscape, only to stop and crouch into another rock form again. Two playful, fearless ducks landed close and ran the rapids ahead of us. We ran everything, scouting only one R3-4.

Final drop of a Class 3-4 rapid
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The day was dull grey with a stiff wind first from the northeast, then from the southeast, making it hard to paddle straight into it & then sideways to it. We stopped for lunch in the lee of the shoreline, but the temperature (9°C), kept us moving. We stopped for the day at "The Ramparts", a campsite guarded by dark rocks reminiscent of an ancient castle. Laco thinks he found two ancient Inuit tent rings up on the plateau above the site. Drizzle, then rain accompanied our tent erection, so we retired inside for a short siesta before emerging to cook dinner in the shelter. It was 4°C with a wind-driven drizzle, so we retired to our tent cocoons again before 9pm for a long night. Laco is very happy that his stomach seems to have settled back to normal.

"The Ramparts" Campsite
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July 20   IKKATUJAAQ (Riviere Vachon), Km 155 - 131 = 24km
 
C&W heard strange animal noises outside our tents all through the night, but we were oblivious, and had a much needed solid sleep, despite a loon serenading and swimming just offshore of our camp. The morning was a snappy cold 3°C, but Laco was back to normal, taking a short hike up the rocky hill and then building a small inukshuk on the 'Ramparts'. It started to rain & drizzle as we cooked on the Zip stove again. Lynette dressed in her drysuit right away, with an extra layer under it, because of the rain and cold. We took down the tent by collapsing the poles first, so that the fly would keep the inner tent dry while it rained on us.
The maps say to expect a lot of R3-4's today, including one long 4 that needs lining. It was a high-stress day.

Messy class 3-4 rapid
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We were able to run everything except we lined the centre section of the long R4 (but C&W found a right side sneak route they were able to paddle all the way, and then had to wait for us). We found a few inconsistencies today in Eric's map marking, including some surprise R3-4 drops or trashy endings to some rapids - when we looked back upstream, we were shaking our heads, wondering how we had found a route through!  We were able to scout all the marked R4's either from eddies or from shore.

Typical Class 3 rapid with a final class 4 drop
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We ended at what Eric had said was his favourite campsite, but we found it too sandy, so we tracked up the tributary 250m to a wide mossy plain.

Campsite July 20-21
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We enjoyed a nice big late dinner. Everybody tired. Tried to doctor Wes's scraped hand which has not had a chance to heal and is starting to get infected, and Laco's back which hurts enough for muscle relaxers. Late to bed - 11-ish - needed headlamps to write this. We all had double tea, so needed to pee a lot - darn! The mosquitos came out in big numbers after dark, in spite of the cold. That was 24 tough km earned today & hey - there appeared to be many options for good campsites along the way today.
 
 
July 21   IKKATUJAAQ (Riviere Vachon), Hike day, km 131 (6km hike)
 
We decided to stay in the same spot today and hike instead of canoe, so we had a slow relaxed breakfast and packed our lunch to take with us. Laco tried fishing and lost another lure - no bites - and then built another inukshuk (so his back must be better!) Did a little laundry. The skies were overcast all day, with a light breeze that was not enough to keep the bugs down, so they followed us in personal clouds. The day ranged from 14°C to start, 10°C at lunch (bugs still crazy) and 16°C afternoon.


We climbed straight uphill behind our camp for a fantastic view both up and down the Vachon and up the alternately tumultuous and meagre tributary. We then followed the ridge upriver to build an inukshuk looking upriver. Passed by a berry-filled bear poop as we crossed the peninsula along a lake-filled gorge where a pair of falcons continuously screeched at us over our lunch, alerting all inhabitants of both river valleys to to our presence.

Hike July 21


We crossed & followed the tributary back to the top of our hill again and descended back to camp about 3pm & 6km later.


Bandaged Wes's hand again - the Tegaderm does not want to stay on - while Curt tried fishing. Then we paddled across the tributary to investigate the old Inuit camp on the  island & found 2 or 3 small tent circles at the high point of a grassy plain, where we found also a few examples of grassy bear poops.

Historic Inuit tent ring site
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We collected mushrooms behind camp and fried them up as an appetizer to dinner. We retreated to the shelter where we could take off our face nets and had a relaxed dinner cooked over the twig stove. We then rearranged our food barrels all into one while cheering on a striped yellow horse-fly type of fly as it hunted and munched down mosquitos. We joined it in killing a LOT of mosquitos inside the shelter, where there was no end to the supply. We retired early to the tent again - 7:30 - what a bunch of party animals we are! The mosquitos are dive-bombing the tent - sounds like rain out there.
 
The day was dry all day, but grey - even dark grey at times, a couple peeks of sun to tease us. We'll get back on the river tomorrow - it should be a relatively easy day unless the weather disagrees.
 
 
July 22   IKKATUJAAQ (Riviere Vachon), Km 131 - 107 = 24km
 
Woke up to hot sunny buggy weather again. Drysuits = personal steam baths. Water is icy cold though. Claimed 1st descent of last 250m of Meagre Creek II. Headed downriver for an easy day of good current, easy rapids. Stopped for lunch after seeing two bears foraging along the beach and the vegetation ridge behind the beach - floated & watched them for quite a while. Saw a dead tree almost 2m tall. Washed hair at lunch - that's the nice thing about drysuits - makes getting a clean head much easier!

Bears forage along the shore
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Finally did a few more easy rapids and got to the 'haunted' ***cabins but found them in very rough shape, and surrounded by bear scat. They still had bibles in them - in Inuktitut and in English. The last cabin was the newest but also ransacked - door ripped off, insulation all over, boots, stove parts, garbage everywhere, though an ice crawler was still in good shape in the vestibule. Not a nice place to stay, so we continued campsite searching (Laco found a lure high up the riverbank at one spot - he thought it was a sign that the fishing was about to improve, but it was not to be...) through a few R2's and a 3-4 to end at km 107, a very nice campspot with a good breeze to keep the bugs down. With the early stop and the heat (up to 24°C!), we all got ourselves and our laundry all washed up. What a nice feeling to be clean all over again! Dried fast in the sun and wind. No luck fishing but lots of bolettes again for appetizers. Laco built an unstable inukshuk with lots of character while we watched the sun set over the river - some clouds appearing on the horizon.



*** Eric told us one ghost story he heard from the Inuit about these cabins:
In the dead of winter, an Inuk came to these cabins, seeing already from a distance that there was a fire going in the stove. As he stepped in, he saw a man warming up at the stove, his back turned toward the visitor. The Inuk entering was happy, and as he stepped in he removed his gloves and put them on the table. At that moment, the person at the stove turned toward the visitor and - lo and behold - he didn't have a face!! The visiting Inuk turned and ran away in terror, leaving his gloves behind, which made for a difficult journey back home.When we were at the cabins, we didn't find gloves, but instead, a pair of boots...
We felt uncomfortable in the vicinity of these cabins and continued downriver to seek a campsite. See version 2 of the story of the haunted cabins under July 24th...



July 23   IKKATUJAAQ (Riviere Vachon), Km 107 - 81.5 = 25.5km
 
Another hot sunny morning of 17°C. Laco went for another long (4km) walk up to the top of the ridge to overlook the valley.  It was a beautiful hike, first crossing two creeks, then up steep-stepped rock. Gorgeous views & almost no bugs in the breeze. It was too hot to cook in the shelter, so we lined up in a row, facing upwind, to eat breakfast. It was very hot in the drysuits, even though we wet our hair before starting. We were able to boat scout everything. Many rapids now are digging main channels in giant S-curves, back and forth across the river in the wider sets. Lunch was at a very pretty sand beach eddy. C&W's canoe seat is missing some parts now, which traps Curt, so they had to re-rig both seats to fix it.

Laco on a hike with only his teddybear for protection
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The narrow sets are getting to be big water. Lots of sets tend to end in boulder strainer drops, which are difficult to find a safe channel through. We missed one channel and got bounced about by some rocks and ended up sideways on a rock, then swung around backwards and stuck with one gunwale dangerously low. The spraydeck saved us from taking on much water while we stood in our cockpits and pushed off the rock backwards. Luckily that was the end of the rapid and the rest was deep, just waves and we hadn't taken as much water as I thought - worst scare of the trip - the water is Big now!

Rapids on the Vachon River
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At about km 83, we wanted to camp, but the shoreline is steep and not looking too hospitable - stopped in one large eddy/bay on the left where we could have camped, but we decided to continue, however the banks look even steeper downstream, so we stopped between rapids (R2-3's) on the right and were surprised to find OK camping at km 81.5. We set up our shelter for the shade but it was too hot inside it - the temp got up to 26°C today! Set dinner to soak and went down to the river to wash, soak feet, do laundry, etc. Wes stayed in the shade of his tent while Curt & Laco went for a walk uphill behind camp. Laco tried fishing again, lost a lure to a rock and ended up officially declaring this a fish-free river. It was too hot for bugs in the shelter so we used the fuel stove and had a slow dinner. At 10pm, it's starting to get too dark to read this and the maps very easily. A lonely duck plays around our canoes. Clouds begin to gather. Laco builds another inukshuk on the small hill just above our camp. The GPS screen is wet and fogged up fairly badly inside, making it difficult to read.



July 24   IKKATUJAAQ (Riviere Vachon), Km 81.5 - 72 = 9.5km
 
Intermittent drizzle & light rain. Little breeze and fairly warm - 14-16°C today - whips the mosquitos into a total frenzy during poop duties. Laco built a second Insukshuk close to the first one, but was driven back into the tent by the bugs. The guys had to face the gauntlet of the bugs and drizzle to get water heating in the shelter, but the shelter was too high across the back, so the bugs filled it too and breakfast was a hurried mosquito-flavoured murder frenzy.
 
On the water at 10-ish, almost leaving behind Laco's gloves. We had to lift our headnets to see the rapids - mostly R3's, but we ran everything today very well. The one R3-4 we scouted very carefully, then ran the right side to a shore eddy just above the big drop, where we re-scouted a narrow slot in the boulder sieve R-4 at the bottom. Both canoes had a hard time making the slot but did OK with some last minute panicky side-slipping. We were relieved to have the last of the tough rapids finished.

Scouting a Class 4 rapid
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We continued through a few more R2-3's to Johnny Nassak's cabin on the left and were amazed to see a few people on its roof. They were equally amazed to see us, although it turned out that we'd spoken to Johnny on the phone and he realized it was us and that we were ahead of schedule. We pulled out in an eddy above the cabin and were greeted by teenagers Adam and Kristina. In the cabin we met Johnny and Vanessa with baby Johnny, and Bobby and Sylvie with Adami, Kristina, Matthew and Jeremiah. Bobby is the mayor of Quaqtaq and the uncle of Vanessa. They'd arrived at their cabin the night before, only to find it ransacked by a bear, so they'd been up all night trying to make it habitable enough for the kids to sleep. This was the second time in 15 years that their cabin had been destroyed by a bear. The same cabin had been threatened by the high runoff in 2005 - it had reached their doorstep and had wrecked several of their friends cabins downstream. We could not imagine what the river would have been like to paddle at such a water level!

Black Bear

 
We ran our boats through the rapid beside the cabin, pulling into the quiet bay where their freight canoes were moored. They were quite intrigued by us and took lots of pictures. We visited with them in the cabin for a while, shared our lunch, and then set up our camp on their beach in the bay. The bugs were atrocious - the kids didn't like them either and invited themselves into our suddenly tiny tents. We found lots of tracks on the beach - bear and wolf - and lots of bear scat scattered around the cabin. As we set up our tents, the bear appeared about 100m up the hill, headed towards us all - we were notified by the kids yelling "Bear! Bear!" as they clambered up onto their roof again. The bear appeared nonchalant, curious as to who was invading his territory, until Johnny began to climb the hill with his rifle in hand. The bear took off at a gallop, Johnny getting two shots off that just made it move faster. After it disappeared over a rise, the kids abandoned the roof and invaded us, so C&W headed out on a hike, soon followed by us with a couple of teenagers in tow. They gave up the chase quickly - cabin comforts beckoned over a drizzle & bug infested climb.

Nassak cabin close to the end of the Vachon River
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From the top of the hill we could see the end of the Vachon, where it braided out between sand and gravel bars and was finally swallowed up by the mighty Payne River. The rain and bugs increased in intensity as we turned to descend back to the bay of Nassak's cabin, keeping a watchful eye out for the bear. Johnny and Bobby were back up on the roof, re-installing their satellite dish. As we cooked dinner in our shelter, Kristina delivered a freshly made bannock, the first fresh bread we'd had in a long time. Blackflies are appearing more and more, filling one corner of the shelter, but were not much of an issue compared to the mosquitos.

After dinner, we went back to the cabin for a long visit, sitting in the bear mangled couch, around a cooler coffee table and talked while the kids bounced and played around us, eating lots of candy. The guys had not been able to get the TV operational so we all entertained each other, trading stories and information all evening long - they told us ghost stories about the haunted*** cabins, we went over maps with them, asked about storage for our canoe for the winter, talked about Pamiok Island, about canoeing, discussed fishing, hunting, religion, bears.



***Ghost story we were told by Bobby at the Nassak family cabin:
Some time ago, an Inuk died near the cabins by falling off the cliffs with his sled (it was not clear to us whether it was with a dogsled or a skidoo). Since then, there has been an evil presence lurking nearby. One day, an Inuit elder was in the cabin when he heard someone arriving. The visitor did not enter directly, but walked first around the cabin, scratching his long nails on the walls as he went. He then entered the cabin and immediately it was clear that his presence did not belong in the realm of the living. The elder felt scared and uneasy to share the cabin with an apparition, and tried to get rid of him several times, eventually asking the visitor to tell him something about Jesus. Upon hearing this request, the visitor immediately turned and left the cabin, leaving the elder alone and safe. We had found bibles in each of the cabins, in both Inuktitut and English.
 
The kids dropped like flies onto the sleeping mats and we finally left at 11-ish, when it seemed almost too dark to walk back to the tents. Lynette got the bear stuff out and we slept with it between our heads again.
 

July 25   IKKATUJAAQ to the PAYNE River, Km 72 - 49 = 23km
 
Warm, sunny morning, but the bugs weren't too bad.  Laco went for a hike / photo excursion on the hill again, discovering fresh lingonberries. Slow morning. We said goodbye to the two families as they headed downriver in their two big freight canoes, in time to ride the high tide back into town. We followed soon after, and even before we got out onto the Payne, we were startling seals off the sand bars.  C&W took a last meagre as a "shortcut" but we ended up well ahead of them even taking the long way around past all the left shore cabins at the end of the Vachon. There were people at one of the cabins on the island, but the strong current whipped us past them before we barely had a chance to wave.
 
The Payne was shallow with a strong current. We were on the high receding tide too, so the R2-3's were more like 1-2's. We stopped for lunch in a cove on the left at some big black rocks / island? We pulled up to shore and while washing my hair right beside the canoe I did not notice the fast dropping water level and by the time I lifted my head both canoes were high & dry. The current beside us grew into a rapid as the tide receded. We dragged the canoes back to the water and chased the receding water out to deeper water where seals popped up occasionally around us. It was a stiff paddle to stay along the left shore with the off-shore wind. Big swells and rollers developed as the current rolled out underneath us against the wind.

Seal


 
The water became salty, so we had to stop at a shore creek to fill all our available water containers. We started looking for camping, but the shoreline appears to be endlessly steep all along the Payne. Laco noticed a possible hill beside a falls and it turned out to be a surprisingly nice campsite tucked into the side of the fjord, though it was quite a steep and strenuous hike up.
 
We arrived just as the tide was starting to recede across the mudflats, so we paddled the canoes to the base of the rocky climb just barely in time to miss having to hike them and all our gear across the mud flats also. We hiked up with the packs and then 4-teamed the canoes to above the high tide line. Set up camp in a lovely little inset moss meadow - "a room with a view" - close by the freshwater falls. We were lucky to have perfect weather all day. A pair of falcons mewed incessently - they must have a nest close by. We took lots of pictures of the view as a full moon rose through a haze on the horizon. As the sun went down, the temperature dropped fast (from 20 to 9°C) and the falcons retreated and quieted.

Campsite high in the cliffs above the Payne, July 25
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Lynette clogged & disabled her fuel stove by accidentally spilling pasta water into the burner. Disassembly and cleaning didn't help much, so spare parts will have to be retrieved later. Another cleaning later seemed to do the trick. Wes hiked down the hill to fetch his stove, but we could have used the twig stove - the landscape was very rocky and barren, but lots of vegetation flourished in the protected nooks. At the same time, Laco managed to damage his GPS memory card while trying to close the GPS after opening it to try to dry out the screen (unsuccessfully), which has become more and more difficult to read as the moisture builds up inside it. The GPS can still read maps from it, but we are afraid we may not be able to extract the data and tracks from it once we get home. The card appears actually broken.
 
Quite a long discussion ensued in the bug shelter over what to do with all the extra time we've made up with such good conditions all through the trip. The good weather has allowed us to travel whenever we wanted to. The huge, open Payne fjord is not a location to languish in though - if bad weather did hit, we'd be holed up for the duration.

Our camp high above the tideline, July 25
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July 26   PAYNE Fjord, Km 49 - 25.5 (Hammer of Thor) = 23.5km
 
6°C & sunny, but buggy in camp. Laco went for a hike up the hills to the east - no bug protection needed in the breeze. He came across a procession of caribou and as he took pictures & videos, they grew in number and approached quite close. As Laco shot footage, one large bull limped by, favouring his left hind leg. A large group of them (200?) spooked and turned downhill towards the Payne and then ended up swimming across it in several very long lines, all nose to tail. As Laco returned to camp, another big group began to cross in a long string & we all watched from our high vantage point.

Caribou


 
By this time the temperature was 14°C and by the time we'd packed up and headed out on the high tide, it had reached 19°C. None of us used our drysuits today, as we planned to follow the shoreline on the receding tide. The stiff wind, however, kept us quite chilled, even when paddling hard.

Caribou traverse the hills behind our camp above the Payne
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The memory card on our GPS did not seem to be working at all and Laco is afraid we may not be able to recover much of our track data. What a huge disappointment! The GPS is also impossible to read now that the screen is completely fogged with interior moisture. This unit has never been very waterproof, even though it was supposed to be. The battery compartment has always needed drying out at night. It also turned itself off for no apparent reason once today.

Caribou swimming across the Payne River

They swim like geese fly - drafting behind each-other 

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We loaded the canoes as the tide rose quickly and embarked around 11am. Launching and landing canoes in Ungava tides is quite a novel experience for us inlanders - it's so easy to end up hard aground if you turn your back for a few minutes, or, conversely, to lose your canoe entirely! It was a hard paddle today into a fairly stiff breeze, but weather and conditions were near perfect - warm sun and cool breeze. The long steep shoreline disappeared endlessly into the horizon. Reverse shore eddies created by the rising tide carried us swiftly downstream past more caribou. We paddled hard through the slack tide and stiff wind, then our speed picked up as the tide reversed and started to ebb again. Interesting currents and anomolies surprised us continuously. Shallow drops caused big sucking whirlpoools and confused waves along their edges. Wind and surprise boils knocked us sideways and all over. Even that relativelly light wind caused whitecaps as it blew against the mid-river current. There were quite a few motorboats (the north's typical big square-sterned freight canoes) with people fishing in the vicinity of the hunt camp. 
 
The wind would have blown us back upstream if we stopped paddling, so we landed ashore for a quick lunch on the slippery rocks surrounded by pools of seaweed. We tended & followed our boats as the water level dropped, herding them into deeper water as we munched hungrily. By the time we finished eating, the current had slowed, but was still in our favour against the wind.



We paddled into the bay where we expected to find the Hammer of Thor monument. The tide was dropping quickly so we had to beach the canoes fast along the west side of the bay at the base of the rocks before we ended up out in the rock-speckled mudflats. Within minutes we were high and muddy above the receding waterline.  Knowing our canoes would be safe for the next 10 hours, we hiked up into the bay looking for the Hammer, finding it quickly in the lush green enclave of the little valley scooped out of the steep shoreline. Laco convinced us that the short portage further into the bay would be worth it to be able to camp right at the Hammer. It was very pretty and protected in the little valley, with an aura of 'safe haven' or 'good presence'.

Lynette, Hammer of Thor, Laco
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There were few bugs but lots of human litter. One of three old buildings was still standing and a relatively new wood platform looked like someone had started on another. The landscape was littered with mostly old and rusty garbage - cans, bottles, bed springs, glass, nails and shredded canvas. We walked the 350m back to the canoes, pulled them up amongst the shoreline boulders above the high tide line and portaged our gear over to the monument to set up camp.



If we had arrived 30 minutes earlier, we would have been able to paddle much closer to camp. Our tide tables seem to be off (again) by about 3 hours. The mosquito population seems sparse here along the salt water coastline, which is why the traditional Inuit summer encampments tend to locate along the coast as well. As soon as the sun dropped behind the hill, the temperature dropped to 8°C and we gathered in the cook shelter for dinner and the last of Curt's apricot brandy. Curt mis-poured hot water on his shoe, a painful experience. Everybody is happy to be here.  Even after we retired to our tents, we could hear the occasional motorboat passing.

Hammer of Thor guards our kitchen tarp
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July 27   PAYNE Fjord, Hammer of Thor, Rest Day & Hike
 
Cold, bugless night, missing the customary symphony of buzzing wings and staccato bombardment of the tent fabric. Laco photographed the 4am red sunrise silhouetting the Hammer of Thor. A bit of rain peppered the tent before the previous evening's beany dinner forced Laco out of the tent again, around 7am, so he went for a short photo-hike along the eastern slope. Once we were all up, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and retrieved our canoes while the tide was high, around 10am. Then 3 of us headed out for a hike in the hills, leaving Wes and the Hammer of Thor behind to guard camp.

Curt, Wes, Hammer of Thor, Lynette, Laco
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It was 6°C in the morning, rising to 10°C after breakfast, and cloudy but no rain. During our hike, the wind picked up and even though the temperature remained around 9°C, we wore all our layers to keep us warm against the biting wind. We climbed the hill behind camp up to a little lake. Moving silhouettes of caribou dotted the ridge in the distance and we followed heavily tracked caribou trails in any direction we wanted. We traversed the landscape in an easterly direction towards the next lake so we could follow it's drainage creek back towards the Payne's shoreline where Chute Qurlutukallak fell back into the Payne.

Watching caribou as they graze their way across the tundra
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Small bands of caribou popped in and out of the gently rolling plateau landscape. The cold wind scoured us into adding our final layers of clothing. We slowly approached the grazing caribou from downwind, then took shelter in a rock outcrop as they turned towards us and grazed their way past us, a few passing within 10m of our suddenly noisy cameras. As I was taking some "up-close-and-personal" video footage of one bull raising his tail to leave a series of pellets behind him, my battery light started to flash red. What timing! Luckily I had extra batteries, so I crouched low, fumbling with cold fingers and noisy plastic to replace used batteries with fresh ones, and continued shooting.

Caribou

 
We followed the stream back down to the pretty little falls. From a distance, the Payne's shoreline appears to be all barren, bare rock, but the vegetation is actually quite lush in amongst the rocks. I stopped to admire the sedges and flowers and to gather a last handful of bolettes to compliment our dinner one last time. We wandered back to camp to make hot soup and tea for lunch. Rain started during lunch, so Laco dumped the twig stove ashes into a small hole between the rocks, where it later started to smoulder, almost starting a forest fire in this place with no forest. We were amazed that the vegetation had insulated the tiny coals long enough from the rain for it to smoulder like that. The spattering rain urged us into our tents for a lazy, cozy afternoon. We were happy to not be paddling into the cold wind and rain today!

Qurlutukallak Falls
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Hoping the rain would abate, we delayed emerging from the tents until 7pm to cook dinner. Dry puddle beds all around the tents were filling up with rain water and the little stream running through the valley was growing noisier. The temperature dropped to 4°C as rain and fog obscured our view of the opposite shoreline and muffled the sound of the occasional motorboat passing. The cold wind built until we could hear surf breaking in the cove. We double-checked that our canoes were securely weighted and tied down between the shoreline boulders. We plan to paddle tomorrow - if conditions improve, that is! I'm wearing most of what I own, including so many layers of hats and hoods that this headlamp does not fit! Noisy surf pounded into the cove all night.

Our kitchen at the Hammer of Thor
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July 28   PAYNE Fjord, Km 25.5 - 18 = 7.5km
 
4°C and gentle drizzle at 4am, changing to gentle rain with gusts, so we breakfasted late and took our time in the cook shelter. We tested two 'new-to-us' teas - plants we had identified yesterday with our new Nunavik plants Atlas which included information on the traditional Inuit uses of some of them. The fern tea was too bitter and left Laco with a queazy stomach, but the dwarf birch tea was fine.
 
It warmed to a whole 6°C as we packed in the driving rain and drizzle, broken by short breaks. The wind drove mostly from the north, sometimes from the east, so our shoreline was mostly in the lee. As usual, the printed tide table we have with us is irrrelevant, so we are guesstimating that today's high tide will occur around 1pm and we shoved off around 11am. A herd of caribou waited for us at the waterfall - they probably wanted to cross the Payne, but our appearance scared them into turning back until we passed.

Lynette on the Payne (holding her paddle backwards)
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Even though we were dressed for the weather, we had to paddle hard to stay warm. The cold wind strived to blow us off shore, and the closer we stuck to the shoreline, the less we had to fight wind and waves. Large flocks of sea ducks were also hugging the lee shore and the ducklings scattered and dove when we got too close, regrouping after we passed. We passed a falcon nest with a fuzzy chick, the wind barely allowing us to drop a paddle long enough to snap a quick picture. Arpaaqattaaluttalik Bay had to be crossed with a wind ferry technique that had us working hard and finally got us warmed up. As we slowly approached Point Nuvukallak, we knew the wind would not allow us beyond it, so we began inspecting the shoreline for possible camp spots.
 
We paddled into another small bay as it started to rain again and pulled into a small pebble beach to scout for tent spots. The canoes were left high and dry quickly again as the tide retreated in a rush at 1pm. A 100m hike into the protected cove found us a couple tent spots directly on a caribou highway. I hoped they would go around rather than over us if they came through in the dark! We set up the cook shelter backed up against a cliff that allowed us some extra head room and sheltered us from the blast of the wind. It felt positively balmy once we were sheltered. We watched from our nook as the Payne turned into a froth of huge whitecaps and blowing spray as the incoming gale battled the outgoing tidal currents.



We cooked up a hot soup lunch, then Wes and I retreated to the cocoons of our tents while the tough guys - Curt and Laco - braved the elements in search of fresh water. They found lots of old tent rings on the other side of the valley, but no water other than standing pools, so they hiked over the ridge, leaning into the full force of the wind as they emerged into the open, feeling like the "Scientists at Pingualuit Crater" in the Park video which had shown the gale which had blown people and packs around and lifted the research tents into the air before flinging them into Lake Pingaluk.
 
Finding no flowing water, they resorted to using Curt's water filter to bottle some water from some muddy, caribou excrement filled pools connected by seeping water and interesting patches of floating sandy/gravelly crust that moved like walking on a waterbed. From their vantage point, they could see that Kuuraq Bay in low tide was just a jumble of rock, one green cabin visible on the opposite shore.

Hiking on Point Nuvukallak
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After carrying the water back to camp to be boiled and finding Lynette quietly snoozing & Wes noisily sawing logs, the two explorers continued over a few more hilltops to get a better look at our path ahead across Kuuraq Bay and
downriver along the Payne. The hiking was a bit treacherous in the wet conditions - the rocks and wet lichens were very slippery - and the stiff wind attempted to blow the two guys off thier feet a few times. They were able to see Kangirsuk in the distance and a motorboat heading that way from upriver. It will be challenging to cross Kuuraq Bay in high tide tomorrow, unless the weather improves a lot. There were two more coves along this shoreline before the point, both appearing to have nice camping. The middle one had pools of water above the tide line, presumably fresh water that would also need to be filtered. Upon their return, they took shelter under the cook tarp and watched the lemmings in the rock piles go about their business.

Camping in the shelter of the cliff July 28
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The cliff face behind us sheltered us from the blast, though the bugs had 'gone to ground' anyway. As we ate dinner, a group of caribou crossed between us and our canoes, about 50m from our shelter, which was deceptively quiet and still behind the cliff. We wondered if they would be trying to swim the river in these conditions or if they would be taking shelter like us in the next quiet cove. The stillness behind the cliff could almost trick one into thinking the weather is not so bad, but the temperature read 5°C and the frothing white of the river in the distance is ample warning. We retired early - around 9.
 
 
July 29   PAYNE Fjord to KANGIRSUK, Km 18 - 0 = 18km
 
In the morning, the sky seemed to open, allowing a few blue patches to peek through. Laco went for a short hike to the Inukshuk on the hill west of us. The wind seems now to be coming from the west, which would be good for our travel. The temperature rose quickly from 6°C to 9°C during breakfast and the wind was tearing the clouds out of the sky.



We launched around 11am as the tide was still rising and cautiously approached the tip of the peninsula, driving flocks of ducks ahead of us. The wind and waves were with us, North-West, slightly off-shore, and once we started to round to the north around the tip of the peninsula (Point Nuvukallak), we became more exposed and our progress slowed while the last of the clouds were driven out and the sun warmed us. After the Point, there was a bit of a bay 'protected' by a row of huge boulders where we stopped to consult on whether conditions were OK for attempting a crossing of Kuuraq Bay or not.
 
The wind was still up and the whitecaps looked scary just outside the line of boulders, but they seemed to look not so bad further out and the opposite shore seemed to be in the lee again, so we decided a wind ferry would be worth a try. We left the shelter of the boulders, paddling into the wind and waves, which soon settled down into regular waves which we were able to ride easily. We actually made too much progress upstream, so our angle gradually widened as the waves seemed to calm and we ended up being able to paddle almost sideways to them, keeping our eyes peeled for the occasional larger ones. We lost a lot of ground to the wind, but downriver, in the direction we wanted, so we made it across Kuuraq Bay in about 45 minutes, the conditions getting easier as we approached the lee shore just past a little brown cabin.
 
There were lots of patches of snow along the shoreline. We turned downwind, but had to keep ferrying into the offshore breeze, so we could not do a drift lunch to take advantage of the tide which was now also sucking us offshore and downriver. We had to stop ashore to eat, herding the boats constantly to keep them afloat on the receding tide. We continued along the shallow shoreline, passing over rocky, weedy flats that would soon be exposed.

Kangirsuk in the distance
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Kangirsuk was visible from a great distance and it took forever to get there. Unusual dots of snow slowly transformed into white tents set up along the shoreline not too far out of town. We got to the point about 3pm and decided to paddle right into the harbour rather than camp at a nice little sheltered take-out bay just before, so we paddled around the first man-made breakwater and pulled up on the boat launch where Willy and Joseph were dealing with their boat in the 14°C sunny weather, very pleasant (the weather and the guys!).
 
They welcomed us to Kangirsuk, and then Minnie and her crew arrived in a truck to also welcome us to town. Eric had been watching our
SPOTs and had called them to tell them to expect us. She asked if there was anything they could do to help us and we asked if there was a place where we could camp or where we could rent and have a hot shower each. She said she would go back to her office to make some calls and for us to come up when we were ready.

We arrive in Kangirsuk as the tide retreats
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We unloaded our boats for the final time, organizing our gear into a neat pile and stacking our boats, all above the high tide line. We followed Minnie's directions to the Municipality Office of the Northern Village of Kangirsuk up the hill in the big beige building. Minnie was busy signing salary cheques. We talked to people in the waiting room, including Daniel, a white french guy who was here helping to set up the business of making natural skin lotions (Ungava Brand) from sea weed. Minnie was able to find us an empty house with 2 bedrooms for $480 for all of us for the 4 days we had left before our flight out, which we were very happy to accept. More expensive than camping, but way cheaper than the hotel, which we did not have enough money for.
 
We also asked her if she knew of anyone with a motorboat who could take us out onto Ungava Bay to visit Pamiok Island (a.k.a. Nugu Aktchuk). She did not know where Pamiok was and thought that most people with boats would be gone for the weekend, but said she would put our request on the air (on the local radio station that everyone listens to) and see if she could find anyone.



We walked back to the harbour, now dry at low tide, stopping at the Northern Store for Coke and potato chips (!) We disassembled the PakBoat, rolling it tightly into it's huge bag again, ready for shipping south with the rest of our baggage. Minnie arrived to shuttle us and our baggage to house 234-2 up the big hill in 2 trips. WE EACH LUXURIATED IN A HOT SHOWER! Looking at each other afterwards, with clean hair & our last saved clean clothes, we were all big smiles. Lynette cooked up a batch of spaghetti out of our trip rations and discovered a last 1/4 liter of Arak.
 
After dinner, we went for a walk to explore the town, and as it got darker the mosquitos got more aggressive. Dusk fell around 10:15 and on our way "home" we listened to the noisy children of the town all still playing outside as if it were mid-afternoon. We did laundry with the noisy washing machine. The dogs tied up outside were quite noisy all night and a banging swing was tied down the next morning.

 
 
July 30   KANGIRSUK Hiking
 
We woke up and there was suddenly nothing to do. We had arrived and our nomadic lifestyle was at an end. What an odd feeling - we were all uncomfortable with it. We would be in limbo for a few days before we would fly back to our high tech homesteads in the south where our lives would fill up with all the inconsequentials of our usual existance.
 
We discovered that Minnie was our neighbour. Laco got on the phone, looking for someone willing to take us out to Pamiok for a day. His best response was from Joseph Annahatak who got to work trying to find someone in the community. The first guy he found asked $500 + gas, which we found exorbitant, but the second, his step-father Iitsak, said between $200 & $300 would be fair and said that if the weather was OK, tomorrow would be good, if we could leave between 11 and 12.
 
C&W went to check out the airport and to see if there was any chance of getting an earlier flight out. We could tell Curt was missing his wife. L&L checked out the second Coop Store, where we all met up again and examined the carvings available there. Minnie met us there and told us that the first price she'd gotten was from someone else and that that 'deal' had fallen through and that the house we were in was cheaper, so we were happy. C&W discovered the free local bus service and Sandy the driver sold Lynette a beautiful little walrus necklace and then was able to deliver to us 2 gigantic frozen sea char, which were so big we were unable to finish them over the next two days.
 
After lunch, C, L&L went for a longer hike, first to visit Johnny & Vanessa Nassak - it took us three tries to finally find the right house and it turned out they were not home! We then continued along the road east out of town. We passed the local "gas station" - a container with a fill line and hose that all the kids were using to fill up their ATV's. The ATV's buzzed constantly around town, the same load of kids or reflective-sunglass-encased-youthful-faces zooming past us numerous times. Not a helmet in sight.

Kangirsuk cemetery
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A long climb rewarded us with expansive views up and down the Payne to the open Ungava Bay. A quick shower doused us as we turned inland up a valley, past some sewage overflow dams, then the sewage ponds, then the dump, a major scrap metal yard of dead skidoos, past the busy quarry, then across the end of the airport runway to the graveyard where there were many young people buried, including a 14 year old with coins on top of his grave as well as all the plastic flowers. Most markers were in Inuktitut syllabics. Then we wandered past the airport, where a helicopter landed, and we started down a long paved hill with well-used and abused guard rails, past the Hydro-QC generator and yard, then back into mid-town and across the bridge again. The bridge was under construction while the stream it crossed was at low levels. The constant stream of back and forth traffic (!) bounced down to cross the temporary stream pipe and back up to bypass the bridge. There was a large team of white, french speaking construction workers (& one woman) who were cutting and spiking huge (12x12") timbers. A load of scrap lumber went past us towards the dump.

Kangirsuk harbour at low tide
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We detoured away from the shore to pass the huge privately owned houses up on the hill, construction scrap and partially unwrapped new appliances scattered about. Our path took us past the community pool and gym, both shut up tight and seemingly unused (at this time of year?). Another building which we guessed to be a police station turned out to be the halfway house.  Lynette went back to prepare a char for dinner while Laco & Curt carried on to hike up the west hill out of town. Laco brought back dwarf fireweed (it grows everywhere!) to test as a tea - it was OK. We all pigged out on the huge baked char and Lynette fed Minnie's husband's dogs with the fish remains in the hope that they would not be so noisy tonight. We retired around 10:30, camped at #234-2 Kangirsuk, and between the taped down swing and the well-fed dogs, we all got a solid night of sleep!

Kangirsuk at night
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July 31   KANGIRSUK  to Pamiok Island, Ungava Bay (60km round trip?)


It was sunny and windless today - perfect for our trip out to Ungava. Laco went for a short hike on the hill above the halfway house. A few mosquitos accompanied him until a breeze picked up. He found an old trap, booze bottles and some kids toys which he handed off to the first kid he met on the way back. Curt met him with the news that Iitsak, our guide for the Pamiok Island trip, wanted to start earlier and would be picking us up about 10am. We packed hurriedly and were ready when Iitsak showed up with his friend Peter to act as interpreter for a few introductory sentences before limping off home down the hill.
 
We packed ourselves, our packs and lifejackets, and Wes' gun (when we asked if we should bring it, Iitsak emphatically said yes and had another of his own with him in the boat as well) into his truck to drive to his house to pack his boat. His shed was full of stacked seal skins, caribou skins, and hunting paraphernalia. A seperate shed with a screened top section housed drying fish and other meat hanging from racks. We paid Iitsak $300 which brought a wide happy smile to his wonderfully expressive face. Kiddy, Joseph's wife, showed up to tow the boat down to the harbour and launch us.
The weather had clouded a bit, but it was not cold and the boat was packed full of cushions and caribou skins to sit on. We were all well dressed anyway, knowing it would be cold sitting in the boat. There were two other boats heading out to the bay, but they were not going as far, so we left them behind, the last one waiting for calmer waters in a huge tidal eddy while Iitsak gunned his engine to front ferry across the trough of a tidal wave that was roaring around the corner of a small island. The trip out was about 30km of varying tidal currents, especially where the Payne runs into the open ocean.
 
+++++++++        Pamiok Island         +++++++++ 
 
We landed in a tiny natural harbour on Pamiok Island and Iitsak tied off his boat temporarily to scramble (I hope I'm that nimble when I reach his age!) up the rocks to show us where the longhouse walls were. They were so obvious once we climbed the rocks that we did not need a guide once we were landed, so he motioned that he was going to leave and be back in about an hour and off he went. We figured he was using the time to hunt or fish. We wandered about the island, investigating the layout of the various ruins - the longhouse walls, the caches, the rings and other structures that human hands had rearranged the rocks to serve as shelter and protection.

Inside the Longhouse on Pamiok Island
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It was an amazing place, filled with ancient, lichen-encrusted rock arrangements and history. There were many small 'piles', some of them hollow, serving as storage, cairns, possibly graves. Beyond the big longhouse was a small pond above the high tide line, a freshwater source. The biggest structure, the longhouse No. 2, had stacked walls as high as my chest in a few places, and was 25.3 m in length, 6.1m wide (measurements are from Thomas Lee's book - see below) with rounded ends and divided into several sections with interior walls. It looked like it would be an ideal structure to turn a huge (viking?) longboat over on top of it for the winter to act as the main shelter for a small tribe of people. There were a two more longhouses that were not as big or as elaborate as the main one, and all of them were surrounded by many satellite structures and cairns. Inside the longhouse were several large boulders to sit on and nice soft moss carpeted the entire 'floor' area. At one end, a large boulder was encircled by many small rocks echoing its rounded shape. 

Longhouse on Pamiok Island
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Longhouse on Pamiok Island
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Longhouse on Pamiok Island
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There are several theories as to who built the longhouses on Pamiok Island. According to Thomas E. Lee, the archeologist who excavated them, they were built by Icelandic Norse. The discoveries of part of a bow and an ancient iron axe head certainly point that way. Carbon dating of ashes found in the smaller of the longhouse rooms (kitchen) indicates the date 1050 A.D. Lee even suggests that the main longhouse ("Longhouse No. 2") could have been the house of Ogmund, the ruler of the  outlaw kingdom of Skuggifjord ("the fjord of shadows"). The Saga of Arrow Odd describes how Ogmund was killed by Örvar-Oddr. It was also suggested elsewhere that Pamiok Island should be accepted as the site of the tomb of Raknarr, mentioned in the Barthar Saga. Mainstream archeologists tend to believe that longhouses were built by Dorset people, but the major problem is with "the technology" used to build a roof over such huge square footage in a land far from the nearest tree large enough to support such a structure in that environment. Andres Paabo suggests longhouses and beacons were built by seafaring whaling Dorset people from Greenland, using wooden poles & skins universally for both umiak and longhouse roof structures. And then there is Farley Mowat's theory of the 'Albans' described in his book The Farfarers. The drawing below is an artist's concept (Isabelle Diaz) of the appearance of Pamiok Longhouse No. 2 from Lee's book "Archaeological investigations of a longhouse, Pamiok Island, Ungava, 1970".



Iitsak returned as we ate lunch on the rocks. There seemed to be very few bugs out here, but caribou trails and droppings peppered the landscape almost as much as back on the mainland. We loaded ourselves into his boat regretfully - the place of the longhouses seemed to want to keep us longer - but Iitsak had more plans for us. He headed in the general direction of 'home', but along the northern shoreline this time. He took us next to a tall marker beacon which we could see from a long distance, losing sight of it as we drew closer. He dropped us off on the downstream shoreline and indicated that he would take the boat around the island and pick us up on the upstream side, after we had visited the huge cairn. It reappeared as we climbed the small hill it was on, yet it had been visible from very far away when we were out on the water. The marker was a cleverly stacked hollow column of rock, about 3.5m tall & 2.5m diameter at the base, with a thick encrustation of lichens and even some mosses. We enjoyed the view and continued past the marker to a cabin where Iitsak had appeared. He told us it was his cabin. We had to embark quickly as the tide was dropping fast, threatening to ground his boat, and we barely squeezed out of the little channel which served as his docking area before it dried up behind us.

Hollow stone marker (cairn?) at the mouth of the Payne River
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We cruised on slowly, the water glassy calm, zig-zagging in search of seals or belugas and zigging between little cloudbursts of rain, Iitsak cleverly keeping us dry and mostly in the sun. We were going against the outgoing tide now, so he used his knowledge of the currents and used reverse shore eddies and calm pockets behind the islands to traverse the Payne, pausing in a calm bay on the south shore to make a call with his satellite phone. He brought us back to the harbour at the Coop end of town, where we were met by a young man in a truck who gave us a ride back home. Iitsak stayed in the boat and headed out again in quest of fish.
 
Sandy, the bus driver arrived with more little carvings for Wes, then we walked back to the Coop to examine the carvings more closely, Lynette purchasing a couple small soapstone seals to keep her dancing bear (from Kangiqsualujjuaq) company. We ate as much of the second char as we could for dinner. Laco called Joseph, who came over for a visit. He'd been upriver helping a friend fix another cabin that had been ransacked by a bear. Joseph had been Mayor of Kangirsuk for 10 years and was now in regional politics. Kangirsuk has an annual quota of 15 beluga, 11 of them already having been harvested, so he'd been out looking for more. They'd come across a small pod of 3, 2 of them being a mother and calf, so had not hunted them. He was not surprised at our surprise at the huge private houses on the hill. He says he has a high income compared to most of the community and he could not afford anything like those, leaving it unsaid that the income that had built those houses came from sources that the government would not approve of in this 'dry' (meaning no legal alcohol for sale) community. Curt and Laco went with Joseph to retrieve L&L's canoe down at the harbour and stash it safely in his shed until it came time for us to make arrangements to transport it. Lynette gave Joseph a small piece of her art (it had travelled all this way at the bottom of our barrel) as a small thank you. The 4 of us then made popcorn, sitting around and talking for the evening. We decided to try again at the airport tomorrow to see if we couldn't get an earlier flight south. The kids had untied the swing to use it today.
 
Aug 1st   KANGIRSUK
 
There was no spare space on any flights today, so Laco headed to the small but clean and tidy Anglican church, where the service started as he walked in the door shortly after 10. He was surprised and delighted to find it was Iitsak who appeared to be the priest who was leading the service in Inuktitut (with one reading in English). He had two servants (one of them Lizzy from the municipal office) and another 13 attendees. Lizzy introduced Laco to everyone and made him feel very welcome. Lynette sank into the couch for a good part of the day, devouring a book about a North Pole Expedition. She was there so long her back felt strange after she finally rose, not a good sign. Wes had a nap while Laco & Curt went for another walk, finding the Northern store open for a few hours and drunk girls staggering around. We are all anxious now to get home, where much to do awaits us. Laco wants to write a novel entitled "Four nights in Kangirsuk". There was still enough char left to feed us all again. It was a cloudy, windy day with a bit of drizzle overnight.

Kangirsuk Anglican Church
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Aug 2nd   KANGIRSUK to Kuujjuaq to Montreal to Ottawa
 
We tidied and swept, leaving the place as clean as we could, with a few of our still usable trip rations labelled in the cupboards and fridge. Leftover char landed in Minnie's fridge. The Air Inuit truck and bus appeared, as booked, to deliver us and our pile of packs and barrels to the airport where we checked everything in and paid the price (this time) for overweight charges. We were told that our baggage may or may not be on the same flight as us, depending on the weight of our flight. We crossed our fingers. Minnie came to see us off with gifts of hats from the Kangirsuk Festival.
 
In Kuujjuak we did some souvenir shopping and visited Pierre at the Park office and Alain at his office. As we moved our luggage through, First Air threatened to impose excess luggage fees but relented and let it all go through. The security checks were serious (headed into Montreal), but Laco's lack of ID was never noticed this time. The flight was again smooth, uneventful and well serviced, with good food and even some wine with dinner. All our luggage arrived with us safely in Montreal and Wes and Lynette took the bus to his truck while Laco and Curt moved the luggage through to "Arrivals" after telling us to meet them at "Departures", creating a little extra circling of the airport to finally find them. We drove into Ottawa about midnight, where we celebrated with a beer at home before hitting the local pub for a good beer. Curt & Wes decided to continue driving, figuring the border crossing would be much easier in the wee hours of the morning than during the day (& Curt was awful lonely for his wife!), so they headed south while we hit the sack at 3am. City sounds again.

 The End


Logistics continued... See our Puvirnituq 2011 trip page for our canoe's adventures as it overwinters in Kangirsuk, accompanies a caribou hunt on a komatik behind a skidoo between there and Kangiqsujuaq, and finally returns to the Crater by the spring of 2011.