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  • August 10, 1997

    Peter Brewster writes:

BREWSTER  ON THE GEORGE RIVER: Labrador is known as the Land that God gave to Cain.
     If you'd been here this morning, you'd have seen Cain raise a little hell.
     Okay, we're actually in Quebec, but the invisible border is just a quick raven's flight away, close enough that if there is anybody just east of here they got smacked by the same meteorological mayhem that we did.
     If you've been following our journey north down the George River, you'll recall that this column has contained some whining of late about the heat, and the bugs. Our Woods Bug Jackets had been doing overtime.
     The Ungava region is not known for heat, especially as Fall begins and the caribou start to gather into small groups before forming herds, breeding, and migrating.
     Camp last night was far too warm for any of our tastes, and we awoke to the prospect of a fourth day of hot weather paddling.
     We had just loaded the canoes and were checking around for forgotten items when one of those cosmic changes took place that are hard to describe if you weren't there.
     I'll try.
     In the space of a couple of minutes the wind, which had been blowing steadily from the south-west since Friday, executed a precise and very violent pirouette. And accelerated hard.
     This was accompanied by a dramatic lowering of the cloud ceiling, bringing grey mist halfway down the hills along the river.
     The icing on the cake was a temperature drop akin to opening a fridge door.
     What had been a humid and warm morning with a balmy 20C. at water level became in the order of 8C.
     There were immediate and fervent whoops of joy that the heat had gone, driving the hordes of blackflies and mosquitoes into semi-retirement.
     And we set off for the first rapid into a headwind that, by the time we'd gone less than a kilometre, was completely unworkable. Running big rapids into a cold wind that strong is dangerous to say the least (it makes it very tough to hold the line you've chosen through the waves and rocks). Throw in the windchill, which by now was about -10C. and there was the makings of a nasty and potentially fatal dunking.
     So back we came to where we'd camped, and after much head-scratching and offering of sage opinions we opted to sit this one out and let things calm down.
     Any time there is a huge low in places that don't normally get them, and the low ends, the new weather system floods in like a train. We have seen Ungava weather shifts before, and once got stuck for three days on the Povungnituk River in 130 km. winds that broke both tents and left us lying on the ground with the canoes full of rocks so they would not blow away. That one came in fast, but at least it telegraphed its intentions the night before.
     Today's shift is the fastest we've seen. It had the two members of the group who are new to northern Quebec gasping at the speed of the transition.
     And so we are in camp, with books that so far have not seen the light of day very often (my own reading matter, Tom Clancy's 1358-page colossus Executive Orders,is clearly going to be mostly read at home); and relishing the warmth of a Woods sleeping bag instead of cursing at the warm, buggy night.
     Clothing items which came out only briefly last week when cold rain lashed our first camp on Indian House Lake are much in evidence, including natty green fleece vests from Clorox, one of our major sponsors.
     I am sitting typing with rather numbed fingers wearing a toque I bought at Pangnirtung on Baffin Island immediately following our first George River trip in 1983. It's been on every Arctic trip and today I know why.
     One piece of gear that isn't getting a workout today is the solar panel charging system and battery we leased from Environergie in Quebec City. If you are following our progress, Clement Bergeron, you may like to know that the system is working as planned, although only in the last few days have we had enough sunshine to make a real difference to the battery.
     And so the misty hills are like something out of Bronte novel, or that scene from Rob Roywhere the thieves get theirs'.
     Is that The Hound of the Baskervilles emerging from the rain ... or the big black bruin we saw yesterday?

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