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ALL ABOUT CANOES
August 2, 1997
Peter Brewster writes:
JUST SOUTH OF LAC LACASSE (Saturday): It snowed this morning. But the good news is that our canoes showed up in Schefferville, and after no more than the usual northern delays we are finally on the water. Or, more precisely, camped on the biggest esker in this part of the country - the same esker on which, 14 years ago, we made our first night's stop on what was then our grandest adventure.
The QNS&L Railway was as good as it's word, and at 8 a.m. today our two 17-foot Old Towns and the 20-foot 'mother ship' (with one of the seventeens stuffed inside it) turned up in the railyard. There's nothing more buoying on a trip than laying eyes on your canoes after losing sight of them in transit. Things were busy at the Air Saguenay base, with hunters being shuttled hither and yon, and our plans for a DeHavilland Beaver and an Otter became complicated when it transpired that there isn't an Otter here, single OR twin.
Three of us flew in a Cessna l85, piloted coolly by Eric St. Onge, and three in a Beaver with all the gear, the little plane setting off early and getting a superior view of the big guy splashing down ... just as a pair of caribou walked over the nearest ridge. There was the remains of an old hunt camp where we beached, so the whole outfit was speedily moved a quarter mile along the shore to escape the bleached boards and rusty bunk beds scattered around with that joyous abandon that scars too many wild places.
Sentimental reasons had dictated that we camp here, where Mina Hubbard halted her travels overnight in 1905; and in 1983 the gear soaked in a nasty little dump in rocky water below Cabot Lake was hung out to dry. Minus my sweater and Geoff's knife, lost as the old Grumman hung up and slewed sideways. You learn most important lessons the hard way, and I've never run any moving water since without everything lashed in and safe. Nor, I'm certain, has Geoff.
We looked at each other that day, our first morning of paddling together, and wondered what sort of ***hole we'd teamed up with for one of the North's great river trips. Subsequent experiences together all over the Arctic have clarified our thinking on that issue! The land here is truly beautiful. Sweeping lakes, eskers (though none apparently as majestic as this one), scrubby trees and muskeg, with caribou trails clearly visible on any bit of hard ground.
Flying in, rain streamers wept from graphite grey clouds while splashes of sunshine turned the water the kind of cobalt blue that doesn't need a polarizing filter to make it glow. The snow? Oh, just a sprinkle, but it got your attention, didn't it? The wind off the lake, really just a widening of the upper George, is crisp and the air has that smell of an early fall. Informed thinking in Schefferville was that it always snows along the George in August. Meanwhile, the delicate grey moss outside the tent will look like snow in the moonlight.
Sitting here in the bush, with a $4,000 laptop on my knee and waves pounding the beach - and caribou no doubt grazing over the ridge - is a new hat that will take a few days to wear easily. Never mind the solar panel trickling power into the sat phone battery and the digital Nikon lying on a sleeping bag like it, too, belongs. So what's for supper? THAT I understand. Tomorrow we'll see if there's anything left of the Hubbard aura from 90 years ago as we point the boats downstream, snap on the spray covers, and get ready to dance with the George.
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