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August 15, 1997
Peter Brewster writes:
HELEN FALLS, GEORGE RIVER: We are camped tonight, close to the end of our journey, at one of the most stunning scenic sites in all Ungava.
This is a wild chute more than an actual falls, surging down through a rocky canyon.
By some careful lining and a little brute force hauling the canoes over rocks, we have managed to reach a spot about one third to halfway down the wild water.
I am sitting in the North Face tent, on flat rock, a mere 20 metres from the full majesty of the mighty George as it roars downhill, dropping 23 metres over the 1.6-km. chute. At one dramatic spot there is an 8-metre drop, with massive standing waves.
I don't know who Helen was, but she must have been one wild lady.
When Peter Scott, Mike and Geoffrey Peake and I came this way in l983 the weather was grey, wet and misty. The traditional takeout for the portage around Helen Falls is, obviously, at the head of the gorge. From there, a maze of trails, some made by travellers, others stomped by caribou, leads around the falls.
Mike and I were somewhere on these trails when Geoff and Peter stumbled onto the rocks and actually bumped into the legendary Bob May, who was dragging his boats up to start the season at his camp. They saw a little of the view, Mike and I saw nothing.
Today we approached the whole thing armed with much more information, 14 years more experience in canoe craft, and a keen desire to see as much as possible.
The weather is much kinder than last time, and although a storm that has been threatening for 24 hours still looks like it might happen, we have ideal light for photos.
The other two tents are set up on a pristine beach, obviously pounded by the spring runoff and looking for all the world as if no-one has ever set foot on it. Of course, they have - but wave action has that wonderful ability to cover tracks.
Mike and I are on smooth rock of the Georgian Bay variety, a bit higher and arguably with the better view.
Our day up to Helen Falls had been a challenging one, with two of the better rapids on the whole river. One, fully 2-km. long, was well worth the second visit.
I frankly don't remember many rapids vividly and in detail the way some people do ... you know, every twist and turn, ferry and cross-draw. But this one had always stuck in my mind.
For one thing, the length is most impressive, and although the water was lower in '83 that doesn't impact on the feeling that this is an endless rapid. Further, Mike and Peter jumped out and lined the last bit back then, while Geoff and I, with less weight in the bow (me!) bounced and splashed our way through.
Leaping out, we high-fived and told ourselves that if we could run THAT we could run anything.
Today it was a good workout for Peter Scott and myself. Peter reads white water exceptionally well, and he and I have paddled together now on a number of long trips, including twice on the Coppermine (one of them after he'd lost his glasses. Most interesting!)
Today we all stopped to take photos that actually have people in them, as opposed to most of our earlier George River pix, shot after or before a run as we felt our way down what was then the biggest river we'd done.
From here to George River village is about 70-km., with the river dropping 10 metres after Helen Falls. We plan to be there sometime Sunday afternoon, depending on the 12-metre tides that surge through the Ungava coast.
In 1983 we arrived at low tide and had to carry everything through oozing saltwater mud to the the village.
There's nothing like ending a trip with a portage.
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