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  • August 6, 1997

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

    GEOFF PEAKE  The rain has passed and the bright glow of sunshine is illuminating the tent. As I write I am busy killing mosquitoes that were foolish enough to have accompanied me inside--present count is 40. At last I can relax. We are camped about 80 feet above river in a beautiful but impractical spot. Beautiful because we have chosen a broad and steep sided esker as a campsite. Rolling hills of green moss are broken with sand and gravel flats that stretch up the hillside nearly a kilometer to the east. I feel liked we are camped on a golf green. Tonight our tent sites are flat and perfectly situated for a view up the river towards the rapids. But it is an impractical spot because of the steep and awkward climb up from the water, especially when you're hauling nearly 1000 pounds of gear! Needless to say, though, it's a superb site and a fitting reward to another difficult day on the river.
     Another 21 kilometers on the water today, and believe me, they were hard won. Past our campsite we entered into a series of ledges too steep to easily run. With a combination of portaging, lining, and judicious paddling, we worked our way slowly through the bewildering array of channels, some scarcely wide enough to fit a canoe.
     Gradually, as we rode downstream, the many channels became one and we were faced with a substantial set of whitewater. We generally try to avoid the largest waves as we descend. In this set Tom, my trusty bowman (or is it bowperson?) and I led the way. Ahead the river ran over a series of ledges in the middle with a good portion being deflected to the left bank. From above we could plainly see the standing waves of 4 feet or more that erupted as the water piled on top of itself. We chose a narrow course between the course and shore that seemed hardly wider than a razor's edge. To head too far out means risking riding in those waves. To head to close risks hitting the back current which, at our speed, would flip the boat around in a second--and would surely mean a dunking.
     I shout my commands to Tom, and he obeys.
     "Draw...a little more. OK. Crossdraw. Forward! More!. OK. Here we come. Good. Backpaddle. Backpaddle. Brace. Great! Almost through"
     And so the rapid goes. We hit the razor's edge and ride down, racing past wave on one side, rock on the other. Right on course. What a great feeling.
     The others follow through and we pause at the end to bail and drink some water. The stress and adrenaline of whitewater creates a powerful thirst. Below that we hit a difficult section where the river flows over a seeming endless series of ledges, throwing up huge waves in mid-current that would swallow our boats in a flash. We skirt the edges, lining and hauling when necessary, running as much as we can. It's exhausting work, though, both mentally and physically. We keep looking ahead, hoping the river will calm down. The river keeps dropping.
     Finally we approach the last drop that we all remember from the last trip. Here the river funnels into a gap of less than 100 feet. Shooting through this gap is several thousand gallons of water per second, flowing in a smooth tongue that erupts into standing waves as it slows. A steep bank and ledges on either shore would force our course right into midstream.
     I walk ahead to scout it. Normally my 'inner voice' will tell me whether to run or not. I look. Watch the water. Study the waves and current. Nothing comes. Occasionally I just draw a blank. And to make matters worse, lining is not an option either. It's either run or portage, and believe me the last thing we want to do is carry.
     We discuss it among ourselves. Finally, a decision is reached. I'd love to say we braved the rapids and won, that we faced down those waves yet again. Alas, mortality and practicality got the best of us (visions of lost satphones and computers danced in our heads). We portaged. At least I know that my mother, reading this, will sleep a little better tonight.
     With nearly one-third of the rivers drop to Ungava completed in these last three days, we have now finished the upper river. Tomorrow, we're on to Indian House Lake, and a break from the rapids.

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