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  • August 15, 1997

    Geoffrey Peake, Chief Guide of the Hide Away Canoe Club (HACC) writes:

    GEOFF PEAKE  Tonight I feel a definite sense of relief. We sit camped on the edge of the final obstacle the George has thrown in our way, Helen Falls. We have descended the last of the big rapids. It would be hard for me to say exactly how many rapids we have run, but in distance it would probably be nearly 200 kilometers worth of whitewater. I think if you were go back and look through my journals, you would likely see how much space I have dedicated to talking about rapids. On a river like the George which easily has more runnable rapids than any other river we have paddled, it's difficult not to think of them. Almost every day for the last two weeks we have been putting ourselves and our gear on the line (pardon the pun), and after a while the strain does begin to show. Today we completed what I feel was the hardest rapid of the upper river. It had been occupying my thoughts for several days, and this morning I could think of little else until that rapid was finally in sight. It was fitting that this rapid is the last major (runnable) drop on the river, a sort of final exam to test the skills we had practiced over the previous weeks. The river has grown tremendously from that first stream we found at the outlet of Cabot Lake. Now nearly 400 meters in width, the river has a flow nearly 20 times greater than at the start. Crossing from one side to the other is a major undertaking in its swift current, and so it is important to choose the correct side of the river when running rapids because, once committed, it is almost impossible to cross over.

    In this case, we knew to stay to the left shore. Unlike many of the rapids since Indian House, this demanded precise negotiation through the many boulders that blocked our way. The higher water definitely helped us float over those rocks, but the steepest drop came at the end. Working our way over that final drop, there was a strong feeling of elation with another obstacle down, and relief that the many challenges were almost done. Even though I love the rapid work, especially on this river, the fear of dumping and losing gear--or worse--is always lurking in the background. Eventually the odds catch up with you. As we floated on past that last rapid, a real weight was lifted from my shoulders knowing that we passed our 'final exam'.

    Tonight we are camped by a spectacular falls. The incredible volume of the river plunges over ledges and drops, building up into massive waves over 4 meters in height. For a while we stood on the bank and studied those waves, imagining how it would feel to be caught in a canoe, with very little hope of surviving through rapids of that magnitude. This is probably the most turbulent piece of water we have ever seen in our northern travels; the rock shelves where we have pitched camp have been scoured smooth from centuries of wave action upon them. In one spot we found a 'kettle', a round hole that is caused by the action of a loose rock grinding deeper and deeper into the rock by the action of the water, over many years until it finally disappears. This kettle was over 2 meters deep, half full of water, and included a fish that had become stranded during high water and patiently awaited a rise in river level.

    Tomorrow we will portage about a kilometer around the falls and have but 10 meters left to drop to Ungava. Weather permitting, it should be our final night on the river. It's hard to believe that after all the many months of planning for this trip, finding sponsors, fretting about batteries, computers and solar power, buying the food and gear, not to mention worrying about the rapids--all those things will be gone. What on earth will we do then?

    I guess it's time to start planning the next one.....

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