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  • August 16, 1997

    Peter Brewster writes:

BREWSTER  BELOW THE LAST RAPID, GEORGE RIVER: There is no easy way to start the day with a 2-km. portage.
     Essentially, you stumble out of the tent, eat whatever you can grab, load up and walk.
     This morning, after a superb night's camping beside Helen Falls, we had to carry the outfit down to the end of the gorge. Our estimates of the length of the thing were clearly a little off, and I'd say we ended up doing a total of 6-km. to double-portage everything.
     Fuelled by oatmeal and a large wedge of the peach/pineapple crisp Geoff had concocted overnight, we were back in the boats by 11.30 a.m. and rolling on down the river.

    Within a short distance of Helen Falls is the Ungava Adventures fishing and hunting vamp, and we dropped in out of what was fast becoming a clear blue sky.
     Co-owner Maggie Annanack was in camp (husband Sammy Cantafio was out) and manager Bill Strickland was in the kitchen with girlfriend Marilyn when we walked in.
     As Marilyn is also the cook, we were soon loading up on coffee, cookies and brownies to bring our sugar levels back to normal.
     Bill, who spends two months each year at the camp, is yet another of those amazing people from the Quebec coast opposite Newfoundland. We have run into so many of them in the north, and they are all of the same type: tough, friendly and capable.
     The Jones brothers, whom we met when they were running the old Northern Stores in Kuujjuak and Payne Bay, were more of the breed. As was Hilda Pike, cook at a geology scamp on Indian House Lake when we came through in 1983.
     These people are Quebecers, but for all the world they are Newfoundlanders in talk, mannerisms and and open, warm attitude. Their isolated, roadless communities do not breed the helpless.
     As we stood on the beach, ready to leave, I thanked Bill for the hospitality and he said: " You have to be nice to people up here. I never know when I'll come floating down YOUR river."
     Bill, if you ever come floating down the Humber or the Don in Toronto, the brownies and coffee are on me.
     We paddled on down an ever-widening and slowing George River, heading for a date with the past in the form of the final rapid.
     This ledge-style drop is not long, nor is it severe in height. But the river is very broad, and the rapid itself is much affected by the state of the 12-metre Ungava tides, which actually reach this spot 30-km. up from the ocean.
     The slides we took there 14 years ago are very dramatic. Every time I show them people gasp and check the state of their drinks.
     It was a cold, rainy day back then, the tide was obviously low, and the chute huge. We ran it in part because we were late for our plane out in George River village, and in part because, well, what the hell?
     Today it was still highly interesting, but under a brilliant blue sky, in strong late day sunlight, it did not look as sinister. Positioning of the canoes going in is critical, and we all made it through unscathed.
     Tonight we are camped on an island, tents scattered across a sandy beach where two of them had to be moved as the tide came up fast. We had a lot of fun with Geoff's tent, waiting for him to HAVE to move it back, and losing our bets at the end when the water stopped inches from the bottom of the fly.
     Canute would have been proud of Geoff's instructions to the water, most of which are not repeatable on this family website.
     It is about 30-km. into the village, and we'll arrive tomorrow afternoon.
     There is full moon - or what looks like a full moon, there could be one more day to its peak - and the air of a final night's camp is obvious. I am sitting typing in the tent, and the gang are lying on the sand, eyeing the moon, the northern lights, finishing off the Remy from Sainsbury's and giving vent to the occasional Neil Young anthem.
     The trip may be almost over, but life could be worse.

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